As the Chobe District Officer (Lands), seconded to Botswana from 1982 to 1984 as a Canadian Cuso International volunteer, I was primarily responsible for agricultural land use planning near the tiny village of Pandamatenga. Botswana was dominated by the great Kalahari Desert, covering 80% of its land area, and had precious little land devoted to growing crops. A long-standing drought made things worse, and Botswana received food aid from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Unfortunately, due to a variety of factors, cultivation of the land near “Panda” remains problematic.
Communications-conscious Botswana made meetings and correspondence de riguer around the country. After one lengthy, dusty trek through Chobe National Park - teeming with antelope, baboon, elephant, giraffe, hippo, hyena, leopard, lion, monkey, deadly snake, and even zebra - we secured accommodation at Riley’s Hotel in the town of Maun, and took part in discussions at a Northwest District gathering in May of 1984. I had a chance to read the final draft of the Kasane-Kazungula Planning Area Development Plan at lunchtime, gratified to find that most of my work remained intact. I had done a lot of interesting research about picturesque Kasane, where I was based, and Kazungula. Kasane was located 70 kilometres west of Victoria Falls and 1000 kilometres north of Botswana’s capital, Gaborone. The northern border of the two Districts was the Caprivi Strip of Namibia, marked by the Okavango Delta and the Chobe River, a tributary of the mighty Zambezi.
At the long meeting’s end, we reconvened at Riley’s where we found good food, drink, friends, colleagues, and lighter-hearted conversation. All were intent on a good-natured evening of innocent trouble making. However, things deteriorated badly at one point, and the play we’d engaged in got out of hand. Excessive alcohol consumption was a problem in Botswana, as it is in Canada, and it sometimes led to physical altercations. The first time I witnessed a fistfight, outside the Kasane Community Hall disco, I stood shaking my head in disbelief before intervening, thoroughly disheartened that such behaviour was evident among what I had thought of as always-gentle Africans. During my time in Botswana, I interceded in half a dozen fights to separate combatants, all intoxicated to one degree or another.
The worst “fight” that I can recall was at the hotel that very evening. As we stood around drinking and conversing outside near the bar doors - swinging doors, like the ones you see in Western movies - a woman came flying out to land on the dusty ground, not three metres away from us. Close behind her rushed a big man who might well have thrown her through the door. I could see in the faint light that he had his right boot raised to deliver a soccer-style kick to the woman, lying prostrate and helpless in front of him. This was, in Winston Churchill’s words, “something up with which I could not put.” So reacting immediately, I interposed myself between the two, and the man aimed a fierce look at me, with glaring, bloodshot eyes. Of course, it was my intention, hazardous though it might have been, to save the vulnerable woman by drawing the attention of the drunken man away from her to me. About my height but with the build of a football player, he would probably have beaten me to a pulp if it had come down to it.
However, surprised, he hesitated long enough for our driver, Dick, as big as he was, to rush up and stand beside me. Others came to the rescue as well, and we saved the woman from further harm, at least for the time being. What happened in the bar to cause such madness I have no idea, but excessive alcohol consumption had no doubt played a part. I was happy that there was no further damage to life and limb, including my own.