Massacre at Jibui Swamps – Boletilemang Gabokgatlhe
His chest threatened to blow apart as he galloped frantically under the azure savannah sky. The heat from the naked sun was uncompromising. The sun that seemed to hover at tree top level gave him no respite. His body ached in million places but he could not stay under the soothing shade of the Marula trees that grew in the area.
He was on the run. Physical pain mated with mental exhaustion to produce a state of indescribable anguish. On and on, he ran, his body now a furnace craving for a blanket of a cool shade.
Far and safe enough, he decided as he came upon a sanctuary of dense trees and shrubs. He came to a stop and dragged himself to the largest tree. It was after what seemed a hundred years and thousand pains that he reached the shade.
At the centre of the shade there was an out of place dead branch that seemed to have been deliberately put there. There was a thin copper wire that snaked from it and went up to the tree’s branches. In his right mind, he could have been wary of stepping on that branch, but that day he could not co-ordinate his mind with his body. It was the right hind leg that stepped on the branch first.
At the wink of an eye he was upside-down like a carcass hanged at an abattoir. An ugly indecipherable groan of shock and disbelief escaped simultaneously with the painful ‘twang’ of a hip joint dislocating. The will to survive vanished from his mind and before he passed out he saw the ghastly events of the day passing before his eyes like a movie in fast motion.
It was a bright morning with the promise of a beautiful day for the animals of Jibui swamps. All the animals of the swamps were at home. Some were browsing, some playing and bathing in the swamps while others were standing contentedly in relaxation.
A herd of buffaloes grazed on the eastern side of the swamps. To the west, families of zebras and wildebeests were busy playing with one another. To the south ostriches mixed freely with springboks in neighbourly understanding.
Deeper north, a family of three, with heads bowed, was royally approaching the Jibui swamps. It was two adult white rhinos, seemingly proud of their young calf that mischievously darted around in pursuit of its shadow.
Birds of all kinds and pursuits were in patrol, covering every stretch of the swamps. A cacophony of competing shrill melodies punctuated the damp air. The hooting of owls snugly synthesised with the cooing of doves to produce a sound soothing to the ear. The sharp call of diving fish eagles reverberated from the banks of the swamps from time to time.
In the middle of the swamps ducks expertly pedalled as though practising for an imminent Olympic challenge. From the papyrus reeds, nests of quelea birds hanged precariously as the birds dashed in and out to lay their eggs.
From the surface the swamps looked deceptively unoccupied by large marine animals. Besides the water lilies and papyrus reeds that lavishly sprouted from the heart of the swamps there was nothing to indicate that marine life under the gentle waters was varied and active.
The swamps were home to the great barbel, bream and tiger fish. There were also different species of lesser fish, which inhabited the swamps. Besides fish the swamps belonged to the crocodile and the hippopotamus. These were the big two of Jibui swamps.
The Jibui swamps were a unique and beautiful gift of nature. The abundant water that covered the vast area of flat land originated in Namibia and Angola. It travelled months through the Okavango delta before bursting and becoming the Thamalakane River. On passing Maun town the river metamorphosed becoming the mighty Boteti River that faithfully fed the Jibui swamps.
The Jibui swamps had become a haven for a variety of animals because there were few if none resident predators in the area. Large predators such as lions and leopards were concentrated several miles away at the Makgadikgadi pans. It was small predators such as jackals and hyenas, which at times patrolled the area in the dead of the night. The Jibui harmony however was not to last for long, for on that fateful bright morning a new kind of predators were on the loose.
The predators were two in number and identical in all aspects. They were four-wheeled creatures, dusty and ugly. As they negotiated the treacherous wetlands they roared and groaned in unison. These were pick-up vans. Inside, there was a bunch of red eyed and khaki clad monsters. They were merchants of death, two legged and the most destructive. There was a fetid air that stubbornly enveloped them like an unwashed blanket. They were poachers.
The Jibui serenity came tumbling down as the staccato of machine gun fire rattled, piercing through the air and shattering the peaceful day. An instant later the female rhino went down in a grotesque heap, her body riddled all over with bullets. Uncomprehendingly the bull tried to come to the rescue of the cow but before he could reach her, his body started gyrating as bullets tore his body in scores, disembowelling him in the process. Before dying he looked at his young calf with an eye that said, “Run son, run!” Like a good boy the young rhino took to his heels with a pounding heart.
Unnerved by gunfire, the animals spread in all directions in a dead run. The male buffaloes gathered all their young and females, and in a marathon escorted them on a north -west direction, directly to where the poachers were. The poachers realised their danger too late and the best if not the worst they could do was to unleash a volley of automatic fire upon the advancing herd. Buffaloes fell in dozens, but the herd did not retreat. It galloped straight at the poachers, raising a mushroom of a dust in their wake.
“Serge look!” The sergeant abruptly and professionally brought the dirty green Landrover to a stop. Herds of animals were fleeing and from the way they ran they looked downright exhausted. A variety of animals were spread throughout the veld, running in all sorts of confused formations.
“Constable, no doubt these are animals of the swamps and they must’ve been really spooked for them to flee this far.” Sergeant Kelotlhoko Tlholego observed.
“They are still on the run serge.” Constable Tshomarelo Naga corrected.
“Yes constable, let’s check the situation at the swamps.” The sergeant started the car and began accelerating in earnest. The going was tough and rough since the place was littered with holes of antbears and springhares. They pushed on, their speedometer hovering at around sixty. After some few minutes, they came upon a small forest and at once spotted a young white rhino swinging from a tree.
Quickly the sergeant brought the Landrover next to the trapped animal and the two officers expertly vaulted from their open van. The constable supported the head of the young rhino while the sergeant swiftly cut the copper wire with his jungle survival knife. The rhino fell with a loud thud but after examination they were satisfied that it would survive.
Quickly they got back into their Landrover, checked their AK 47 assault rifles and drove away, this time going at seventy kilometres per an hour. In silence they drove, their eyes darting everywhere. All along the way they passed young and old animals in different stages of exhaustion.
They reached the swamps in the evening when the sun was slowly and surely bidding farewell to the world. The sight that met them on the northern side of the swamps was ghastly, so much that the sergeant stepped on the brakes involuntarily. The Landrover bumped into some antbear holes and unceremoniously came to a screeching stop. Swiftly the two officers alighted, their weapons at the ready.
Death stinks and intoxicates. It does not matter what is dead. Whether it is a person, animal or plant it stinks. If carried to excess it makes one retch with pain. What met the two officers was more than death. It was carnage, a heartless massacre. Carcasses of buffaloes were in all shapes of death. Some had their entrails completely removed while others had their skulls shattered and their brains scattered all over.
Ants were busy feasting on the rivulets of blood which were making various meandering tributaries going to nowhere in particular. Six people were under the carcasses of buffaloes and were cold in death. Next to them lay an assortment of weapons which included a Fabrique Nationale rifle, General Purpose Machine Gun and an AK 47 rifle.
A hundred metres away two rhinos were entangled in death. Their bodies were decorated with ugly tattoos of bullet holes. Even in death the two rhinos looked majestic. The vultures had picked at their tongues and eyes. Having been frightened by the Landrover, some vultures were circling above, while others stood a few metres away in hungry anticipation. A distance away two pick up vans of the poachers stood, oblivious of their environment.
Slowly and in a state of stupor, disbelief, pain and anger, the two officers moved from one animal to the other. All animals were contorted with the magnitude of pain they must have suffered before dying. The sergeant came upon an old buffalo and knelt next to it. One bullet had entered through the right eye and completely shattered the skull when escaping. The animal’s stomach had been ripped open by bullets, and ghastly of all, the animal had been pregnant. The foetus had been turned into minced meat by the poachers’ bullets.
Tears started streaming down the sergeant’s cheeks. The foetus had died before it was born, the sergeant mournfully thought. Some lines came painfully into the sergeant’s mind. He knew that those lines were recited by a primary pupil in Xhumo during their conservation campaign in Boteti area. The lines went something like:
The evil that men do is that they do nothing but destroy
For every dozen trees they uproot men plant naught
For every species wiped out men introduce nothing
For every hole they create men don’t patch
That’s the evil men do
The constable had wandered off inspecting the massacre, and when he came to the corpses of the poachers he angrily pointed at them and shouted, “good riddance you good for nothing creatures!” He remembered Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. “Serge, there is a Shakespearean saying that the evil that men do…”
“Shut up constable!” The constable noticed that his senior was sobbing painfully and he stealthily walked away towards the pick-up vans.
When he looked inside the back of the first van constable Naga nearly fainted. Without any decorum he retched, his vomit soaking his camouflaged fatigues. He choked on his vomit. Never before had he vomited like that. The sergeant came to his side and he simply pointed at the back of the van. The sergeant could not believe his eyes.
Nicely packed were freshly cut elephant tusks numbering thirty or thereabouts. Like a person in a trance he proceeded to the second van and at the back were freshly cut rhinoceros horns amounting to about a dozen. Dejectedly the sergeant returned to his Landrover and took out the field radio. He started fiddling with the controls until he was satisfied.
“Leopard calling Zebra… Zebra can you read? Headquarters do you read me?”
“Radio procedure Leopard, repeat radio procedure Leopard.”
“Now listen you sofa warming lazy son of…”
“Yes evil, evil I say Zebra, you can’t believe the evil men…”
The rat-arat-arat sound of an AK 47 interrupted the sergeant. He switched off the radio and turned around to see the constable firing his rifle from the hip at the corpses of the poachers. After a while the sound of the rifle came to an eerie silence indicating a spent magazine. The two officers looked at each other for some time and then slightly nodded their heads in mutual understanding.
At that moment the sun sank, embarrassed by the evil that men and perhaps women do.
Boletilemang Gabokgatlhe comes from Xhumo, a small village in central Botswana. He works as a Human Capital Practitioner in Gaborone. He has a BA in Politics and Administrative Studies from University of Botswana, MSc in HRM from Sheffield Hallam University of Botswana, MSc in Leadership and Change Management from Leeds Metropolitan University. He predominantly writes short stories and poetry, some of which have been published in various platforms in Africa, Asia, Europe and America. He is married to Julia and they have a lovely daughter, Rita Goitseone Lebiditswe.