Chief Mayuni offers us seats with a graceful gesture of the arm. I don't speak Sifwe or Silozi, so there is an interpreter and a senior headman: an Induna. To arrive without one at the Chief's house would be a breach of protocol.
Despite the formality of the occasion – Mayuni is wearing a suit for a photo shoot, and we have to approach the house on our knees, clapping hands in submission – the Chief has an impish smile and makes us feel welcome.
The hut near Kongola is a simple mud a stick construction with a reed roof. But there are two sofas and an easy chair, and a small table with a lace table cloth. After greetings and introductions Mayuni relates the history of his lineage. The Mafwe people came from Zambia, and his forefathers were chiefs.
But Mayuni is more interested in the future than the past. His vision is the cooperation of all Caprivi's peoples with the Government of Namibia to protect the natural resources in the area. That is the philosophy behind Mayuni Conservancy, one of twelve in Caprivi.
The power of the Chieftaincy is important. "If you are under another person," says Mayuni, and you plan a development, "he will ask why you are planning that instead of me. As a headman I was only reporting. Now I have responsibility, like a minister. I carry our people's needs to government, and am responsible to them."
Mayuni was proposed as a Chief in 1997, after representations from the Mafwe people, who wanted their own leader again. With power came responbility, and the chance to act in favour of conservation. Mayuni Conservancy is central to the vision. "We named it after our forefathers," says the Chief, "because a father gives you things."
Mayuni believes that a leader must have ideas, and he mentions several that have made a difference to conservation. For years the wildlife in the area had been depleted. Many animals had been removed from Caprivi by the South African regime. Illegal hunting had been rampant. Mayuni wanted the animals back, and he appealed through the Conservancy for animals to be translocated into his area.
But wildlife competes with farming for land, and predators like lions are unpopular with cattle farmers. Mayuni had answers for both problems. First, the land would be zoned. For centuries the people had grazed their cattle close to the rivers, where water was plentiful. The Chief suggested moving the cattle to higher land, and making space for wildlife nearer to the river. He called a community meeting, and in case anybody wanted to suggest that he was moving the people so that he could claim their land, he offered to move first.
The move has not been without sacrifice. Cattle have to travel large distances to drink. The Chief would dearly like boreholes, and he believes that government or NGOs should help him, as he has done his part for conservation. Wildlife has been translocated to Caprivi, most recently 17 giraffes, and populations are recovering, including predators.
Wherever the cattle are, high or low, they are prey to lions and hyenas. Mayuni introduced a compensation scheme, the first of its kind in Caprivi, by approaching the tourist lodges in the area for donations. He reasoned that they benefited from wildlife, and should help to pay for it. The money was used to compensate farmers for losses: N$500 for a cow, back in the year 2000. It's an idea that the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has recently built upon. Money from trophy hunting is now paid to conservancies, which they can use to compensate for stock losses.
Tourism will play a big part in Caprivi's future, reasons Mayuni, and he was invited to travel to Mexico in October last year as part of a delegation led by the Minister of Environment and Tourism, to bid for the World Adventure Travel Summit to take place in Namibia in 2013.
"They are capturing our rain," says the Chief with a grin. "It rains from April to December over there," he says, " and only then can it come across here!" Despite the humour, Mayuni had a serious message for the summit: Namibia is a great holiday destination, and he believes that the summit was impressed by Namibia's conservation model; one that he helped to create. He told the Summit that “We need partners in the tourism industry to achieve our vision.”
"Mexico was like a dream," he says. I was treated like a VIP. If we can receive people in the same way in Namibia in 2013, I will be happy."