The Cactus Patch
Volume 6       September 2003      Number 9

Boy Scouts & Other History
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

A group of Boy Scouts from Shashe (just South of Francistown) used the President's Day Holiday to work in the Botanic Garden. They camped from the 24th to 27th of July and managed to renovate the old display house (built in the 90s with help from Rotary, USAID etc.) Just before they arrived a trench was dug for a sewage line. The construction company built a temporary bridge but most of the time, the scouts just jumped the trench.

Boy Scouts working in the Display House, 25 July 2003.
The plant in the foreground is Euphorbia monteiri

It may surprise some that there are Scouts in Botswana, but the Boy Scout movement actually began in Mafeking (now Mafikeng) which is in South Africa just south of Botswana. This was during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War. Incidentally, the British governed the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana) from Mafeking. The present city of Gaborone was created at independence in 1966. There was a British presence in Gaborone before independence, but it was small. Police lines and a fort were established in what is now the Village section of Gaborone in 1890. Tlokweng Village is just across the Ngotwane River and a Gaborone is still the kgosi (chief). The oldest standing building in the Village is the old Coach House built as a rest stop in the 1890s. It is now a part of the Botanic Garden and is being renovated to serve as a visitors' center.

We had a class from Northside School here on the 7th of Aug. to see the building where historic figures such as Cecil Rhodes and Dr. Leander Starr Jameson stayed. It is alleged that the Jameson raid which preceded the 2nd Anglo-Boer war was planned here. (Since Rhodes officially did not plan the raid, this is where he didn't do it!) Half the raiders left from Pitsane in Botswana and the others left from Mafeking. Before they got to their goal of Johannesburg they were all arrested - they had been betrayed!

More recent history was brought to mind when John Case came by the office to find out about the rare gecko found only at Tsodilo Hills in NW Botswana. Fortunately, it was an easy request as a new book, Amphibians and Reptiles of Botswana (B. & R. Clauss, 2002, Gamsberg Macmillan, Windhoek) had just appeared and I had bought it to look up Setswana names of frogs (requested by a former Peace Corps volunteer). [The previous book on the subject by Auerbach did not include such names, although it has good distribution maps.] At first I thought the new book did not include the Tsodilo gecko, but then I found it on a separate page for "some exceptional lizards". It has the only photo I've seen of this rare animal. (For the curious, the scientific name is Pachydactylus tsodiloensis*.)

Having settled that question we began to compare origins as we recognized a common accent. It turns out John Case is from Santa Anna and came out to Malawi as a Peace Corps Volunteer (1963-65). Although he was at Karonga (70 miles from our post in Chitipa) and we arrived in 1965 just before he left, we had never met. He is now working on computer networking in Botswana - says he can't afford to go back to Calif. We'll have to have a social evening and learn more.

I'm especially interested if he knows anything about Paul Theroux, another Malawi PCV of his same time period. We were told in training about how Paul had sided with the so-called rebels against President Banda by driving David Rubadiri's household goods across to Zambia. Paul was expelled from Malawi and the Peace Corps and almost got the Peace Corps expelled. He and David ended up teaching at Makerere University in Uganda.

I never met Paul even though we visited Makerere in 1967 when he was there. I had planned to return and teach there myself; but, by the time I had my Ph.D., Idi Amin (who just died in exile this month) had ruined the place, so I ended up teaching at the University of Malawi. I did eventually meet David Rubadiri as he was teaching at the University of Botswana when I first joined the museum here (1989). Paul Theroux has made his fame as an author of numerous novels and travelogues. The only one which I found worthwhile was the novel Mosquito Coast which is a hilarious account of developmental misadventure in Belize. It has also been made into an excellent film.

Recently I was lent The Darkstar Express (2002, Penguin, London) with the promise that it was not negative like all his other travelogues. Well, I beg to differ! The only book more negative is The Patagonia Express describing his trip through Latin America - and at least that book has the somewhat redeeming value of describing the occasional cactus or agave. [Unlike a book (whose author I forget), The Long Thin Country which describes Chile and its Atacama Desert without one mention of a succulent.]

Despite its negativity, Darkstar was meaningful in covering places and times with which I am familiar. Especially moving is the meeting with David Rubadiri in Zomba, Malawi now that there has been a change in government. There are few plant references. He does mention cactus in Guguletu, a shantytown suburb of Capetown, but is sometimes confusing. On the same page, Paul refers to the Karoo as a desert (which it is) and a prairie (which it is not). In Malawi, he says that Livingstone recommended cotton as a crop. What Livingstone did was describe varieties of local and imported (by the Portuguese) cotton. It was and is grown in Malawi. There are other places where he plays fast and loose with facts, but perhaps this is poetic license.

Another jolt from the past was a visit from Isaac Lusunzi. He brought his new wife Maureen and 7-month-old son John for a weekend visit. He was one of the brightest students I taught at the University in Lesotho and went on to get a Ph.D. in Australia. He is now working for the South African Department of Science & Technology. His job is to alleviate poverty - good luck on that one!

A final blast from the past was the movie Amandla (Power), subtitled "A Revolution in Four Part Harmony". We missed this at the Maitisong Festival earlier in the year (there's always too much to do) and were glad to see it return. It is a review of music and musicians associated with the freedom struggle in South Africa. Polly took solo singing from one of the featured singers (Sophie Mgcina) at music camp in 2001.

Not everything is from the past. Our choir continued its mall singing on 2nd Aug. - this time at Riverwalk, a more open mall next to the Ngotwane River (just upstream from the Botanic Garden).

More on the plant side: Nick Walker, an archaeologist, brought in some flowers from the Tuli Block along the Limpopo River. Fortunately, some of the stems had roots, so I potted it up for the garden. The farmer there said it came from Pilanesberg in South Africa. I recognized it as Euphorbia xanthii, a Mexican species and produced a picture of it I had taken at the Domingues Adobe near Long Beach in 2000. How did it get to Pilanesberg? My guess is that it was brought in as landscaping for Sun City, a Las Vegas style complex there. [Incidentally, this is just north of Rustenburg, but we resisted zipping up there during IPUF.]

The weather has been going up and down. We thought the winter was over at the beginning of August, but then it dropped down to freezing in the second week. We've had a couple of nasty sand storms as well.

*A picture of the Tsodilo Gecko can be found at:

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