Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes . . .

Jheri St. James

 Botswana has been an African economic success story. After achieving independence from Britain in 1966, three of the world’s richest diamond mines were discovered there, and tourism is a growing sector due to the country’s conservation practices and extensive nature preserves. The Republic of Botswana is in the southern part of the continent of Africa, a land slightly smaller than Texas. Landlocked, Botswana shares borders with Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. The terrain is predominantly flat to gently rolling tableland. The famous Kalahari Desert occupies the southwest. In addition to diamonds, other natural resources include copper, nickel, salt, soda ash, potash, coal, iron ore and silver. Two major investment services rank Botswana as the best credit risk in Africa, but officially unemployment is 21 percent (unofficially 40 percent). So, there are contrasts in Botswana.

     The original inhabitants of this land were the San Bushmen of the place then called Bechuanaland. The San were replaced in the 19th century by the Iswana tribe, who maintained their independence against invasions by Zulu and Ndebele warriors. By the mid-19th century, Boers of the Transvaal sought to annex portions of Bechuanaland for its gold deposits. Bechuana sought British protection and by 1885 had become a British protectorate. On Sept. 30, 1966, the country was given complete independence as the country now called Botswana.

     Neil Stipanich, a computer software consultant from Laguna Beach, California took soil samples from the Chef’s Island in the Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world. A delta is an alluvial plain at the mouth of a river, crossed by many water channels. Deltas are generally formed of fertile mud dumped by a slow-flowing river. Often the river divides into two or more streams that thread their way through the delta, producing a tree-shaped pattern when seen from the air.

The Okavango Delta

     “The Okavango is pretty much 50% covered with water. You drive in four-wheel vehicles that can go through the water (for the most part 3 to 4 feet deep). Animal life abounds with lions, leopards and cheetah to hippos and incredible water fowl,” said Neil.

* * *
“ Twinkle, twinkle little star.
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high.
Like a diamond in the sky . . .”

     But, what is a diamond? The American Heritage College Dictionary definition: “Di-a-mond n. 1. An extremely hard crystalline form of carbon that is usually colorless and is used as a gemstone and in abrasives, cutting tools, and other applications. 2. A figure with four equal sides forming two inner obtuse angles and two inner acute angles; a rhombus or lozenge. 3. Games. a.) A red lozenge-shaped figure on certain playing cards. b.) A playing card with this figure. c.) Diamonds (used with a sing. or pl. v.) - the suit of cards represented by this figure. 4. Baseball: a.) An infield. b.) The whole playing field. So, diamonds are gems, machine parts, figures on cards, and represent the shape of a baseball playing field.”

     Once Botswana was an abrasive crystal in the machinery of the British Empire.

     Many people in Botswana gamble in the card game of “Life with HIV/AIDS.” It is estimated that 37 percent of adults suffer from this 20th century plague.

     Botswana plays “The Game of Life” on a diamond.

     Diamonds, man’s most valuable gem, grow under the soil of Botswana, but always remember that in addition there is light shining from above. Botswana literally does have “diamonds on the soles of her shoes,” as Paul Simon once sang, and Common Ground 191 applauds as Botswana walks proudly forth into her future.

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