Making a road in the Kalahari

Making a road in the Kalahari

Elephants, lions, hyena, thorny bushes, and bitterly cold nights. Project Manager David Bruce tells about the hardships of building a new road in the wilderness.


Before the end of this year we hope to start building the first of five new Village Schools in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy. It was suggested by chief Bobo (Ju/’hoansi Traditional Authorities) that we should start in the village of Den/ui, because Den/ui School has the worst conditions regarding infrastructure. Since Den/ui Village moved over a year ago, due to water problems, the school only has two tents for classrooms.

Unfortunately for us so early in the project the road to Den/ui is one of the worst 4×4 tracks in the Nyae Nyae. It’s corrugated, rocky, sandy and in the rainy season frequently impassible. But now that a school will be built, a new road on higher ground needed to be built. It was up to me as project manager to sort this out with the help of the community.

How difficult could it be, I said! 


Not knowing how far the road was, was a mystery. The community knew where the road should be built, on higher ground which coincided with an old cut line, (fire break) and a well-trodden elephant path.
Our timing also coincided with the hunting season which could be problematic for us. In these times you have to be aware of elephants roaming in large areas and their last – possibly traumatic- encounters with humans. The Nyae Nyae Conservancy is not a game reserve, it is part of a larger wilderness region: the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, which is twice the size of the United Kingdom.
Every step in making this road we saw elephant and elephant activity and every night we built large campfires.

Cold nights

What made our job unbearable was not the elephants, or a lion roar, or thorns and blisters, but the bitterly cold nights. I slept in two sleeping bags with two blankets on top and my co-workers had just two blankets.

How to make a road

The Ju/’hoansi have a very systematic way of cutting bush, and there are very few friendly bushes in this environment. Most have large thorns and tiny thorns that take days to get out. Working in pairs; one person uses a stick with a fork pushing back the bush and the other cut the bush as low as possible. Other workers follow cutting out roots under the sand and at the rear larger obstacles are tackled.

It is critical that roots are cut out otherwise car tyres can be destroyed. As scrupulous as I was when moving the Land Rover we managed to destroy two new tyres and had no spare tyre on the last two days. If we were to loose another tyre the Land Rover would sit for at least a week. Worst things have happened in my time in the Nyae Nyae.

End result

After three weeks of hardship the road is finished, and the grader gave it a smooth finish.

Apart from the hard work, there is nothing like being in the bush with the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen. You will feel more alive than anything you have ever experienced.


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