We head to Botswana to see how women, wildlife and wanderlust work together in one of Africa’s most peaceful countries.
Although the word “safari” (which means “journey” in Swahili) originated in East Africa, Botswana has undoubtedly perfected this sought-after wildlife experience.
While visiting the Okavango Delta, I stayed in a tented suite at the Pom Pom Camp. In just one morning we had witnessed lions and hyenas quibbling over a kill, joined a pack of wild dogs on their morning jog, and glided tranquilly among water lilies and the African jacanas that so delicately tread atop their oval leaves.
Challenging Safari Stereotypes
Hailing from the Moeti ward in Maun, Wabone Temane is the current camp manager of the Pom Pom Camp. She has been in tourism for almost 20 years and is just one of many women who have been challenging safari stereotypes in Botswana for several years.
“As a female manager, I still come across people who do not want to be supervised by a woman. They are afraid of change and do not accept criticism easily. It is very disrespectful at times,” admits Wabone.
“Having so many women work in the company was never a policy, it just happened that way, Sue Smart of the Maun office says with a shrug. “I guess women were just more capable.”
For 12 years, Sue held the helm as director of Kwando Safaris, a group of lodges across Botswana that prioritise the environment they are in rather than an outrageously swanky stay.
The Wonders of Working With Women
HR officer Thuso Sarefo testifies to the positive effects of being surrounded by so many women. “I met my wife when we were working at the Lebala Camp.” He admits that working with women across the company also “makes my life as an HR officer easier”.
At each of the camps across the Kalahari Desert, in the Okavango Delta and further north in the Linyanti swamps, for every male camp manager, there is a female one too. “Women are strong, firm and fair,” Thuso continues, “so I don’t have too many problems to deal with.”
He has two girls himself, and I ask whether any lessons in the office are applied at home. “Culturally in Botswana, men are the leaders, but girls are smart too. The majority of our population is young, and I think they are acceptive of new ideas.”
Youth Leading The Way
Botswana’s youth sure lead by example. At 32, Bogolo Joy Kenewendo is the youngest person ever to be appointed as Botswana’s minister of investment, trade and industry (possibly the youngest in Africa too), and is shaking up stale state stereotyping.
In a recent interview, she quipped, “If you look at history closely, you will realise that youth leadership in Africa is not new. Most revolutionaries were young people.”
Like Bogolo, Kelly Ramputswa has also claimed a title. Kelly is the youngest station manager for the radio station Yarona FM, and as a role model for aspiring youth in the country, she shares crucial ideas about travel.
“I think the biggest mistake we made in Botswana is that we never sold our narrative well. There is a human element to conservation. As Batswana, we have lived with animals for years. We know how to take care of them. We need to sell this narrative that we can and shall ensure that we do the right thing to preserve nature and our animals. As the youth, we need to be more involved. We need to own this space.”
Forging The Way Forward
Lonely Planet reported in its trend analysis for 2019 that more people were searching for culture than adventure. Cynthia Botshelo Mothelesi, from Tsabong in the Kgalagadi region of Botswana, is another female forging the way forward. She too has identified the shift.
“I started my travel company, Happy Soul Adventures, at the beginning of the year because I want people to come to Africa, not just for safari experiences, but also to immerse themselves in our culture.”
Based in Gaborone, Cynthia worked for the Botswana Tourism Organisation for seven years (interestingly, the CEO of the organisation is also a woman) before leaving to grow her own business.
Happy Soul Adventures offers local tour experiences such as cycling and even karaoke evenings. “The tourism industry is very much white-dominated and also male-dominated, and the way in which you approach your market can be a challenge,” Cynthia says.
“Tourism in Africa, and not just Botswana, has always been sold on the safari model. This is a very expensive model to set up, and therefore, there is little participation by the locals. However, there is another model which can benefit the locals, and that is people-based tourism.”
Females Flying High
Camps such as Pom Pom are famed for their remote locations, but to get to this wilderness, you have to fly there. Ungwang Makuluba is Moremi Air’s first local female pilot. “I want to work for Air Botswana. It is great flying across the Delta, but I want to work for my country,” she says when we meet at the Maun airport.
“About 20 pilots here are women, and I think 12 of us are locals too. The men I have worked with have been very supportive, and I have learned so much from them. I think we are past the stage where the industry had been dominated by men,” says Ungwang.
Back in the Okavango Delta, I chat to my guide, Dalton Moringirwa. “‘Pom Pom’ means ‘soft ground’ in our language,” says Dalton, a male guide. Save for the famous female guides called the Chobe Angels, who work at the Chobe Game Lodge in northern Botswana, most guides in the industry are still men. Maybe because it is soft, ground-breaking in Botswana is a little easier.
SAA domestic partner Airlink flies to Botswana’s major cities and towns several times a day. It flies to the capital, Gaborone, four times a day, to Maun twice a day, and Kasane once a day. Book your tickets now!
Words by Melanie Van Zyl