Tending her pumpkins and maize, despite her age and the fierce sun, Rosa is a tough lady. In a man's world, Nangila Kazala, baptised Rosa, is the Headwoman of the Khwe San people in the area around Divundu.
As you drive from Rundu to Katima Mulilo, after 200 kilometres you reach the police checkpoint at Divundu. It's a village aspiring to be a town with a filling station and a supermarket selling tinned food, bread and not much else. But more importantly it's the gateway to Bwabwata National Park and onwards to Zambezi Region, formerly Caprivi.
The Khwe are a troubled people. During the independence war they were used by the South African army as trackers and soldiers, and after the peace they were seen by elements of the new government as enemies. Some went to South Africa and were re-settled at Plantfontein. Others remained, including Rosa. Her father was a headman, appointed by Chief Ndumba of the Khwe. But the Khwe were not recognised as a traditional authority by the new government, and were placed under the Hambukushu.
Traditionally, San groups did not have headmen or chiefs, but to have a voice these days you need a spokesperson. When Rosa's father died there was a choice in the area between a man and Rosa. The community decided and Rosa was elected Headwoman; a first for the San. Times are changing in Bwabwata.
The new National Park was first declared a game reserve in 1963 under the South African Administration. The old signs still stand, faded, just next to the brand new ones proclaiming Bwabwata National Park. Despite the name 'game reserve', poaching was rife during the liberation war. Locals shot for the pot, and the South African army was involved in commercial poaching of rhino tusks and ivory, partly to finance the war.
The contrast between the old days and the present could hardly be starker. Bwabwata National park is a model of a new kind of park: a partnership between locals and government, between livelihoods and the environment. When the former game reserve was gazetted a national park in 2007, the MET (Ministry of Environment and Tourism) took a gamble on a new concept: people who had always lived in the park area would be allowed to remain, and to profit from the park. They would have rights over wildlife in some areas of the park through a community organisation - the Kyaramacan Association - and would profit from limited trophy hunting according to quotas set by the MET, and from camp sites and lodges the Association may set up or authorise.
That's where Rosa came in. Just across the road from Rosa's village is one of the most stunning camp sites in Namibia: N/Goabaca. Just say Popa Falls and most people know what you mean. If you turn right at Divundu and follow the Botswana road towards Mahangu National Park, the first stop on the left is Namibia Wildlife Resort's Popa Falls site. But on the other side of the Kavango, on the road to Caprivi (sorry – Zambezi) you will find N/Goabaca camp site, managed by the Kyaramacan Association.
Four wooden decks overlook the river. A walkway through the woods leads to White Sands, once the hunting camp of the legendary Namibian hunter Volker Grellmann. From the ruins of a small building the prospect of the Kavango River opens up: a magnificent view. White Sands is a small beach, much loved by locals, with the best view of the Popa Falls rapids – and possibly the best stop-over point from Windhoek to Victoria Falls.
For years investors have made offers to build a lodge at the site, changed their minds, been refused – until finally a new offer was made and accepted. The Kyaramacan Association has agreed a 20 year operator’s contract with a development partner to construct a lodge and 10 camp sites. Rosa, as the local Headwoman, had to give her approval and signature. Her people, Khwe villagers, are seen to be very poor. Most scratch a living from the infertile earth, growing maize and keeping what livestock they can afford, but tourism offers new income opportunities to the Khwe and all the residents of the park through the Kyaramacan Association, which also includes about 500 Hambukushu people.
The new lodge will need waiters, cleaners and other staff; jobs that have, until now, only been taken in the lodges dotted along the riverside on the other side of the Kavango by members of the Hambukushu people. History has been kinder to the Hambukushu, many of whom went to school and can read and write. N/Goabaca camp site is already an opportunity for the resident community and the Khwe people to earn an income, and the lodge, which is a joint venture between the investors and the Kyaramacan Association, will offer more income opportunities.
The lodge will pay a set amount to the park’s resident community through the Kyaramacan Association, income which will eventually amount to a million Namibia Dollars a year; something for Rosa and others to look forward to and to be proud of. There will be other spin offs too: the Khwe make crafts, especially baskets, which are weaving-masterpieces.
The community and a local support organisation through the Kyaramacan Association is also planning to start starting a new venture, a tracker training centre, which will capitalise on the legendary tracking skills of the Khwe San and others. Known traditionally as Bushmen, the San always tracked and hunted animals and gathered food from the bush. Older Khwe know every plant and the spoor of all the animals in the park area. The tracking centre is building on this knowledge and passing it on to younger Khwe, who will be enabled to work as guides for tourists at lodges, for hunters, and as trackers and ecological monitors with the MET in anti-poaching and game monitoring patrols.
The new lodge should be open late in 2014, but if you are passing that way, stop by and camp at one of the four sites and enjoy the serenity of the falls. Then on the way to Zambezi, just 50 kilometres short of Kongola, look out for the new Mashambo craft centre on the left. There are no signposts yet, but there will be soon. The small orange building, whitewashed inside, is a calm spot set back behind the trees from the fast moving traffic. Inside you can look at beautiful photos of the Khwe people, admire their handicrafts, and buy a basket, bracelet or necklace at a fair price.
Divundu is the gateway to the old world of the Khwe, and to a new world of cooperation between the people in the park, the MET, and tourists. Drive through the park slowly. You may well see elephants, and you will certainly see goats and people – living in harmony with nature.