A makeshift gate of thorny branches blocks the track onto the farm, the only entrance to the homestead since the elephants destroyed the steel gate. On the other side of the fence, Vistorina Nangolo walks purposely from the farm dam to the trough, inspecting the exposed pipes between the two dry water points. For forty years, Vistorina has farmed here at Chamuchamu near Oshivelo in the Oshikoto region. Etosha National Park is about ten kilometres to the south, as the crow flies or the elephant tramples.
"In the rainy season, elephants come and destroy the fields. In the dry season, elephants come looking for water. If they don’t find water in the dam or trough, they pull out the water pipes." She speaks not with malice or anger towards the elephants, but with pragmatic realisation that this is what one must accept when living with elephants. There are three kilometres of water pipes between the pump that Vistorina maintains and the trough where her cattle and the elephants, her "other family" as she describes them, drink.
We will accept a lot from family. When the elephants break the gate and fences, Vistorina repairs them. When they destroy the water pipes, she replaces them. She does this all at her own cost to protect her assets. She needs a fence to keep her cattle inside her property, and they need water to survive, so she fixes the pump when it breaks and continually repairs the pipes and fences.
"Some of my neighbours are grateful that this isn’t happening on their farm, and others are happy because when the elephants destroy my fence, their animals can come in and drink. Others feel pity because I bear the costs of repeated repairs, and they don’t help with the repairs or the costs." Vistorina’s reflections on her neighbours, their feelings and their lack of action, are also spoken with acceptance. For a woman who has buried her husband and four children, there are worse things than ungrateful neighbours or rogue elephants.
The King Nehale Conservancy has helped Vistorina by providing diesel for the water pump, and she is viewed with a mixture of awe and disbelief by the game guards. "We have issues with hyena and lion killing livestock, but elephants are a constant problem." And, at least for now, they are constantly accepted. At 82 years old, Vistorina has plans to plant another field of mahangu next year.