Zambezi floods compound human- wildlife conflict mitigation efforts
The scourge of human-wildlife conflict that has befallen the Namibian nation has triggered a debate and every Namibian should be at liberty to make a contribution to this narrative. It is a conflict that is fought in so many fronts, and in so many ways depending on the part of the country from which one hails. It is a conflict that tests how much of their country Namibians know in terms of the challenges this land of contrast presents to its inhabitants. Just like its multifaceted form, the definition of Human-Wild Life Conflict resonates differently to different people in different parts of the country.
For those born and bred in the low lying flood plains of the Zambezi Region, human-wildlife conflict cannot be discussed without considering the ever looming threat posed by both the herbivores and the carnivores of these fresh waters. The conflict in these wetlands is just so different from the one experienced in the thickets of the high lands of the Zambezi Region. In like manner, the conflict presented by these estuaries cannot be compared to the one experienced in the woodlands and deep sands of the Ohangwena Region. It is unimaginable that one could even ponder comparing the kind of conflict to which these riverine people are subjected, to the one the inhabitants of the hills and valleys of the Oshana Region experience.
There is no doubt that the human-wildlife conflict in the riverine areas of the Zambezi could not be compared to the one experienced in the thick thickets of the Omusati, or to the one experienced in the high lands of the Kunene Region. This written discourse, therefore, is meant to explain how the annual floods that inundate the flood plains of the Zambezi pity the elements of the Mighty Zambezi River against the human population living on the banks of the river and those in lower lying areas of the inland.
It is common knowledge that the water levels of the Mighty Zambezi rise following torrential rains in some parts of Angola and Zambia. These water torrents are the consequences of the intensity and frequency at which the rainy clouds gather in these subtropical zones. This natural phenomenon sees the floodwaters break the banks of the Zambezi River and inundate the plains of the east and engulf the reliable livestock pastures. The inundation of the plains forces these traditional riverine people to move their livestock southwards for pastures in the higher grounds.
As the river unleashes its contents on the residential areas along the banks of the Zambezi River, many homesteads are turned into islands. The channels of water separating these homesteads and villages bring a different concern to the multitudes out there. Not only do these channels of water harbor the “Zambezi Bream”, but they are also the harbingers of the deadly fresh water carnivore. The crocodile of the Mighty Zambezi is a reptile known to have been feasting on human carcass since time immemorial. The danger posed by crocodiles in these water channels is never made better by the presence of the bad-tempered and territorial herbivore. The hippopotamus is known to be a mammal that kills many people in Africa, and these territorial monsters have inhabited these waters since creation.
However, the threat posed by these vicious animals is dwarfed by these people’s desire to continue living the way they have been living off the water from eternity. No one, whatsoever, could put an end to it at all. Not even the man-eating carnivore inhabiting these murky waters, or the bad-tempered and territorial hippopotamus, could see them vacate these ancestral lands. These people need to do their laundry at the riverside. They indeed need to draw water to drink and cook from these channels. They need to wash and clear themselves off the stench drawn from the delicious fish of the fresh waters. These people need to swim and wallow in these waters and this is a custom that is so imbedded to their livelihood as it is to that of the hippopotamuses. It is something they have been doing for as long as neither of them could remember. It is their way of life. It identifies who they are. It is their tradition and culture. The arrival of these floods is always celebrated and welcomed through rich songs, riddles, dances, poems and with all forms of literature that has been practised by their forefathers in prehistoric times.
The floodwaters that disconnect homesteads from each other reduce the freedom family members need to pursue the tradition of visiting each other. It should however be stressed that the floods do not smother the strong desires family members harbor as far as visiting each other was concerned. These visitation activities are pursued at whatever time of the day. The dugout canoes, therefore, become the reliable mode of transport that would connect one homestead to the next. It is a mode of transport that enables family members to visit sick relatives on the other side. This traditional mode of transport brings lovers together at dusk and breaks them apart at dawn. It is the dugout canoes that ferry women on their hunt for water lilies, which are a delicacy among many communities of the Zambezi Region.
It has to be stressed that these people do not do all these to provoke crocodiles and hippopotamuses inhabiting these waters. Telling these people to cease doing all these could be equated to telling Namibian people to stop driving cars to avert accidents with which Namibian roads are so notorious. Telling these people to stop drawing water or swim in these water channels amounts to a blatant ignorant of how these Namibians have been living forever. Telling these people to stop harvesting water lilies in these murky waters amounts to a blatant disrespect of their culture. Arguing that for these people to do what has been narrated above amounts to provocative activities helps explain how ignorant we are as a nation in terms of our understanding of each other.
All mitigating efforts meant to quail hostilities between animals and human beings should ensure that tradition and culture are preserved. Any school of thought that would insinuate that people in these areas choose to be attacked by crocodiles and hippopotamuses reminds one of certain religious fanatics who see death-by-suicide as a means of attaining one’s place in the biblical Jerusalem. These riverine people consider the loss of life caused by a crocodile, or hippopotamus, tragic. Such death brings sorrow and melancholy among these people just like the death caused by all other animals in all parts of the country. Any compensation efforts for loss of life due to human wildlife conflict should encompass all losses perpetrated by any animal or reptile on the face of this land.
Simataa Silume is a scholar and commentator on social issues. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of his employer, or this newspaper, but solely his personal views as a citizen.
New Era Reporter
2018-11-09 09:25:11 8 months ago