On the Makgadigadi Pans

Driving on the roads leading to and trying your luck on the massive salt pans in Central Botswana can be a sticky affair, especially in the rainy season when its wet. Be warned! You can get stuck at any stage with any vehicle, even a Toyota!

Botswana’s Makgadigadi Basin is made up of the Sua (Sowa) Pan, which is a large flat natural topographic depression or drainage sump that is the deepest in a three-pan complex separated by dune-covered ridges.

The other two pans are Nxai and Nwetwe that together cover around 24,000 km2, making it one of the largest playa complexes in the world. The term Sowa means salt in the local language.

The BotAsh Company (half-owned by the Botswana government) operates a brine plant in the northern part of the pan and produces ~ 300 kty of soda-ash and 600 kty of halite for South African market.

In addition to producing sodium carbonate salts using a variation of the Solvay Process, the plant also produces halite and sodium sulphate. The salt-cake (sodium sulphate) is a viable byproduct of the trona operation whenever market prices make it economic.

“The Makgadikgadi Pans are one of the main breeding grounds for greater flamingos who feed on the algae and brine shrimp found there. The eggs of the shrimp have lain dormant through the dry season, surviving in the salty clay and emerge to swim again, after months of dusty hibernation.”

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