A trip to Diseta begins with a speedboat. Eliot Hange* is crawling upstream towards the mouth of Okavango River and is flattening an endless curtain of mangrove. The scenery is breathtaking.
Aside from the grassy bank where Drosky Lodge and Shakawe River Lodge have perched along, the mighty river has no shore, just ankle-deep mud flats shelving up bee-eaters and an endless, still and inky swamp. After 45 minutes, past Department of Wildlife riverbank offices, Botswana Defence Force camp and Shakawe Brigade, Hange spots the island, turns in, cuts the power and glides.
“There,” he points in the direction of a lush green island dotted with tall palm trees. This is the only electrified island in the entire Okavango river basin and - no prize for guessing - it belongs to President Lt. General Seretse Khama Ian Khama. Villages adjacent to this paradise have to make do with diesel powered generators for their electricity needs. Hange circles the island – almost the size of Commerce Park - in an anticlockwise direction and with gymnastic skill, meanders into ultra narrow waterways, that separates Diseta and Kaidom Island. “We hear Tshekedi wants this one,” he gestures and glides further into a well-paved shore. The place resembles opulence on a great scale, but looks deserted, until a man clad only in boxer shorts emerges. His immaculately trimmed mustache suggests he is a member of the security detail, perhaps from the Presidential Guard or the much feared DIS. He spends day and night safely ensconced in Khama’s Island that tourists and villagers dare to steer their boats nearby.
“What brings you here?” he inquires, clearly bemused by unexpected visitors. He leaps from his armchair and leads us through a makeshift gate that separates the luxury apartments with security quarters, past five suspended wooden houses to the left, across the well nurtured lawn, down a small paved path, past a large wooden luxury house suspended on a raised platform to the right, down to a well constructed walkway to Hange’s anchored boat. He frowns when I ask him which house belongs to the President. “Water cannot reach that one,” he drearily points in the direction of a larger house to the left towards the exit. “No one gets in here,” the urgency in his voice explains the extent at which we breached security in Khama’s paradise.
“You,” he vents his frustration at Hange. “You know that tourists are not supposed to come here. Who do you work for, what is your name?” Hange pushes his boat back out into the current and fires the engine, turns in a lurching swirl and heads back to Samuchima.
* Boat operator’s name changed to protect his identity.