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Khama charms Khumaga residents amid relocation controversy

Publishing Date : 15 August, 2017


President Lt Gen Ian Khama has been frequenting the village of Khumaga this month, in a move believed to be a campaign to soften the residents on their contrasting stand against the planned relocation.

President Khama, who is leaving office at the end of March next year, is determined to see through the plans and have it put to bed before his leaving office. The president is certain however that the agreement to relocate is mutual. This is contrary to an outcry from the residents and the Trust, which believes government, is using force to achieve its objectives. President Khama and his brother, Tshekedi Khama, who is also the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conversation and Tourism, have been in the fronting plans to erect a new fence, which will see resident losing part of their land to tourism use.

The suspicion has been that the brothers are pushing for their own tourism interests. The Khamas have interest in Chobe Holdings, a prominent tourism company which operates Delta and Safaris Lodge, located a few kilometres from the embattled village of Khumaga.
Over the presidential holidays Khama descended to the village of Khumaga and sponsored a football tournament involving local teams to the tune of P11 000. Khama also donated blankets to the elderly and the less-privileged in the village. Khama was accompanied by members of Botswana Defence Force (BDF) who also participated in the tournament. It was also reported that the tournament will be held annually.

Meanwhile, the Khumaga residents contend that Government’s decision to go ahead and make the markings and ultimately erect the fence has rendered the negotiation and consultation process “academic”. A committee was established for the purpose of overseeing negotiations with government over the erection of the new fence. “What the Minister (Tshekedi Khama) is saying is not exactly what is happening on the ground. Tshekedi gives an impression that consultation with residents has led to the agreement, but they have gone ahead with the erection of the fence while negotiations are still ongoing!” exclaimed one of the delegation members.

Tshekedi last year told this publication that he did not want to impose decisions on the communities but valued painstaking consultation with communities when dealing with matters involving them. “I do not believe in imposing decisions. I try to reach consensus with people because if you impose decisions on them, you will face some sort of resistance,” he had remarked. “When things are done right, people will appreciate and there will be no criticism,” the minister had said.

Tshekedi had also asserted  that the reason why it took a long time for him to resolve the matter between his ministry and people of Boteti over the erection of the new fence which separates people and wildlife is because he wanted to do things right. “People think we want to take their fields and we had to convince them that the decision is being taken in their best interest. We are about to conclude the negotiations…I also want the ministry to be as flexible as possible. If they want boreholes, we will drill them wherever they want,” he had said.

In his last meeting with the residents last year, President Khama faced resistance from members of the community who were discontented with Government’s intentions and feared that Government would default on its promises. President Khama had however given assurances that Government would deliver on its promise hence he visited the residents to resolve the matter. He said subsequent to the erection of the fence, the community will be given two camp sites and there would be job creation for residents as some would be hired to look after the fence.

One representative of the committee revealed to this publication that, while the erection of fence is underway, all of what has been promised is not being followed. He said what president Khama had promised has not materialised to date. The residents fear that they stand to lose than benefit from the relocation as the erection of new fences will see residents losing part of their land which will then be reserved specifically for wildlife and tourism purposes. Ploughing fields and cattle posts belonging to Khumaga residents and nearby villagers could be sacrificed in the near future.

It is understood that several villages in Boteti, among others, Moreomaoto and part of Rakops cattle posts, will be affected by the proposed acquisition of land. Residents have always feared that President Khama’s love for tourism and wildlife would be used to influence the decision. Khumaga residents however are of the view that the appointment of a task team by Tshekedi was a mere formality in view of the fact that his ministry had already designed a map which captured the envisaged demarcation of land that will be acquired from residents to be reserved for wildlife.

The Ngwande Trust, which is owned by the Khumaga community, has always believed that the decision to erect a new fence is a plan by the Tourism ministry to protect the interest of one of the leading tourism companies, Chobe Holdings which has numerous interests in tourism in Botswana, including in Boteti around Khumaga village. The Khamas have interest in Chobe Holding company with their nephew Dale Ter Haar serving as one of its directors.Chobe Holdings, which is headquartered in Maun, is the mother company of Desert and Delta Safaris and Ker and Downey Botswana, which operates combined 19 luxury lodges and safaris in Botswana and Namibia.

The lodge and safaris are sparsely located in tourism rich areas including Okavango, Maun and Boteti (where Khumaga is situated). Some of the lodges owned by Chobe Holdings’ two companies include Chobe Game Lodge, Savute Safari Lodge, Camp Moremi, Camp Okavango, Xugana Island Lodge and Leroo La Tau among others. In 2013 Chobe Holdings challenged the ownership of Gwaraga land, a wildlife rich area owned by the Ngwande Trust.  Chobe Holdings contended that Ngwande Trust’s acquisition of the land will conflict with its operations and argued that it was never consulted when the Land Board handed the land to the Trust.



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