Monday, March 31, 2008

Day 51. The Makgadikgadi Pans

If I were a bird watcher, which I am not, I would have realized my dream by coming into the vast expanses of the Makgadikgadi flats. Like the Okavango, they are formed by the spreading of the waters of the Nata River into the Kalahari. The Nata River is much smaller than the Okavango, however, so instead of forming a vast network of swamps it has formed endless playa lakes, which are well beloved by all sorts of birds. The playa lakes evaporate quite quickly after the end of the rainy season, so for most of the year the flats are dominated by alkaline pans where nothing grows. The birds simply move on.

I spent the night at a beautiful camping ground in Francistown, and met there a South African Boer family on holiday, Berney and Lizette Hattingh and their two daughter (10 and 12 years old). The Hattinghs farm 600 acres of corn and raise cattle in 1,400 acres of central South Africa, and were delightfully friendly toward a lonely Mexican. Oh yes, the whole family was fascinated to meet someone from Mexico, and the kids had me speaking Spanish so they could burst into happy giggles (the girls themselves spoke only Afrikaans, so Dad and Mom had to translate good portions of our conversation).

Berney gave me a brief introduction to Boer history in southern Africa (a story of religious and political prosecution), taught me to recognize the tracks of puff aders and other viciously poisonous African snakes, and expounded at large on the social and economic problems of South Africa. To put it in a nutshell, the Boer population lives in fear of the black population, and is concerned that the black politicos are but a shadow of Nelson Mandela and are slowly destroying the prosperity of South Africa (the Boers are now completely out of the political scene, but are still the owners of most of the farms and industries). Being the rich nation in Africa, they have similar illegal immigration problems than the US, but in their case the immigrants are competing directly with the resident black population for agricultural, manufacturing, and menial jobs. Berney’s outlook is not very positive for the immediate future, but going back to the Boer history he is not ready to give up. He was, however, considering buying a farm in Botswana to create an alternative for him and his family.

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