Selibe Phikwe Cllrs block eviction of illegal churches
Councillors in Selebi Phikwe have opposed the eviction of churches both operating illegally and occupying land illegally in the former mining town.
Presenting a church squatters report at the recently ended full council meeting, Selebi Phikwe Town Council (SPTC) Chief Physical Planner, Samuel Aaron told councillors that a total of 60 churches were operating illegally in places not designated for worship and therefore should be evicted.
Councillors moved swiftly to block the recommendation to evict opting instead for consultation and liaising with the Department of Lands for expedition of allocation of plots for churches, notwithstanding the fact that out the 60 churches, only 19 of them are legally registered.
Aaron noted in his presentation that the Local Authority undertook a study to profile places of worship and the field survey revealed that there are a total of 60 places of worship operating in areas not designated for worship, 31 of which operate in residential areas while 29 operate in open spaces.
According to the Registrar of Societies, of the 60 places of worship, only 19 churches are registered whilst others have no record of registration and therefore not recognised by the Laws of Botswana. Of the 19 registered churches, only four indicated that they have a membership size of 150 or more and 13 of all the 60 interviewed churches claim to have a membership size of 150 which is the minimum required membership size for churches to register with the Registrar of Societies as per the Act.
All these churches including the 19 which are legally registered operate from areas not designated for church use and therefore contravene the Town and Country Planning Act of 2013. Aaron revealed that the same issue has also been raised by the Selebi Phikwe Planning Area (2011-2035) which advocates for adoption of sustainable measures to meet land demands for such religious establishments.
He pointed out that the identified places of worship exist in the physical form of temporary structures of IBR sheets, wood and plastic which are aesthetically unappealing and compromises the aesthetics and safety of the town. “There are either no or inadequate provision of public conveniences in these sites hence making the site prone to environmental pollution,” he said.
He added that issues relating to illegal occupation of land by churches include noise pollution, land use conflicts, change of character of the area, environmental pollution due to some religious practices, safety of the congregates as some churches worship in the bush and mountains, as well as criminal acts perpetrated by some churches on worshippers under religious deception.
The objective of the study was to undertake an in-depth assessment of the problem, determine its root cause and come up with possible solutions, to determine the general provision of places of worship in Selebi Phikwe in terms of adequacy, to establish their background; date founded, membership size, where they were worshipping before and if they have land elsewhere, to determine reasons why the churches have resorted to squatting in open spaces and operate in residential areas as well as to develop possible solutions to the problem and make recommendations.
Out of the 60 churches operating illegally and in illegal places, 24 had indicated that that they once approached Department of Lands and Council and were informed that the plots will be advertised. According to Aaron, they complained that it takes long for civic and community plots to be allocated in Selebi Phikwe. This is despite the fact that still; only 19 of these churches are legally registered with their only wrong being operating in places not designated for worship.
Aaron presented three recommendations with the first one being eviction of all churches operating in areas not designated for church use. He had pointed out that the eviction will be preceded by consultation with churches and subject to consideration of suggestions from the consultation. Councillors did not like the eviction recommendation, with all that debated the report choosing the third recommendation on the list being to liaise with the Department of Lands for speedy allocation of church plots.
Councillor Kago Motsemme of Botshabelo said that the church plays an important role in building people’s personalities, arguing that if churches are evicted, the people may go to places where they as leaders of the people do not want them to go to. Another Councillor, Lillian Sethula said the council should investigate whether the affected churches had been allocated plots and failed to develop them.
Legal framework for eviction
Aaron stated that the need and desire to control developments is borne out of a number of concerns which include health, safety, environment, social and aesthetics as well as efficiency concerns. The challenge therefore, he said lies on how to fashion out a Development control code that address all the concerns without compromising flexibility and discretion on the part of planning authorities nor limiting the ability of the code to offer choices and not being overly prescriptive.
He noted that presently, the legal form of physical and development control in the country falls under two categories being the Town and Country Planning Act of 2013 which serves as the apex Planning Legislation that provides the legal backing, as well as the Development Control Code which provide statutory basis.
He said the preparation of development plan shows how land should be utilised and how physical developments ought to be carried out as per the Act. He explained that the Development Control Code is a set of planning regulations for land use and the activities that take place on it which are mainly physical developments, emphasising that the control of how land is carried out and affected is one of the functions of Planning Authorities also guided by the urban development standards.
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Masisi was speaking this week on the occasion of a public lecture at Virginia Polytechnic, under theme, “Merging Conservation, Democracy and Sustainable Development in Botswana.”
Botswana, according to Masisi, holds the view that the environment is fragile and as such, must be managed and given the utmost protection to enable the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“It is necessary that we engage one another in the interchange of ideas, perspectives, visualizations of social futures, and considerations of possible strategies and courses of action for sustainable development,” said Masisi.
On the other hand, dialogue, in the form of rigorous democratic discourse among stakeholders presents another basis for reconfiguring how people act on their environments, with a view to conserving its resources that “we require to meet our socio-economic development needs on a sustainable basis,” Masisi told attendees at the public lecture.
He said government has a keen interest in understanding the epidemiology and ecology of diseases of both domestic and wild animals. “It is our national interest to forestall the dire consequences of animal diseases on our communities livelihoods.”
President Masisi hoped that both Botswana and Virginia could help each other in curbing contagious diseases of wildlife.
“We believe that Virginia Tech can reasonably share their experiences, research insights and advances in veterinary sciences and medicines, to help us build capacity for knowledge creation and improve efforts of managing and containing contagious diseases of wildlife. The ground is fertile for entering into such a mutually beneficial partnership.”
When explaining environmental issues further, Masisi said efforts of conservation and sustainable development might at times be hampered by the emergence and recurrence of diseases when pathogens mutate and take host of more than one species.
“Water pollution also kills aquatic life, such as fish, which is one of humanity’s much deserved sources of food. In this regard, One Health Approach imposes ecological responsibility upon all of us to care for the environment and the bio-diversity therein.”
He said the production and use of animal vaccines is an important space and tool for conservation, particularly to deal with trans-border animal diseases.
“In Botswana, our 43-year-old national premier pharmaceutical institution called Botswana Vaccine Institute has played its role well. Through its successful production of highly efficacious Foot and Mouth vaccines, the country is able to contain this disease as well as supply vaccines to other countries in the sub-region.:
He has however declared that there is need for more help, saying “We need more capacitation to deal with and contain other types of microbial that affect both animals and human health.”
Masisi saddened by deaths of elephant attacks
President Mokgweetsi Masisi has expressed a strong worry over elephants killing people in Botswana. When speaking in Virginia this week, Masisi said it is unfortunate that Batswana have paid a price with their own blood through being attacked by elephants.
“Communities also suffer unimaginable economic losses yearly when their crops are eaten by the elephants. In spite of such incidents of human-elephant conflict, our people embrace living together with the animals. They fully understand wildlife conservation and its economic benefits in tourism.”
In 2018, Nthobogang Samokwase’s father was attacked by an elephant when travelling from the fields, where he stayed during the cropping season.
It was reported that the man couldn’t run because of his age. He was found trampled by the elephant and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
In the same year, in Maun, a 57-year-old British woman was attacked by an elephant at Boro and died upon arrival at the hospital. The woman was with her Motswana partner, and were walking dogs in the evening.
Last month, a Durban woman named Carly Marshall survived an elephant attack while on holiday in the bush in Botswana. She was stabbed by one of the elephant’s tucks through the chest and was left with bruises. Marshall also suffered several fractured ribs from the ordeal.
President Masisi Botswana has the largest population of African elephants in the world, totaling more than 130 000. “This has been possible due to progressive conservation policies, partnerships with the communities, and investment in wildlife management programmes.”
In order to benefit further from wildlife, Masisi indicated that government has re-introduced controlled hunting in 2019 after a four-year pause. “The re-introduction of hunting was done in an open, transparent and democratic way, giving the communities an opportunity to air their views. The funds from the sale of hunting quota goes towards community development and elephant conservation.”
He stressed that for conservation to succeed, the local people must be involved and derive benefits from the natural resources within their localities.
“There must be open and transparent consultations which involve all sectors of the society. It is against this backdrop that as a country, we lead the continent on merging conservation, democracy and sustainable development.”
Masisi stated that Botswana is open to collaborative opportunities, “particularly with identifiable partners such as Virginia Tech, in other essential areas such as conservation, and the study of the interplay among the ecology of diseases of wild animals and plants, and their effects on human health and socio-economic development.”
Gov’t commit to injecting more funds in fighting HIV
Minister for State President Kabo Morwaeng says government will continue to make resources available in terms of financial allocations and human capital to ensure that Botswana achieves the ideal of eradicating HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
Morwaeng was speaking this morning in Gaborone at the High-Level Advocacy event to accelerate HIV Prevention in Botswana. He said the National AIDS and Health Promotion Agency (NAPHA), in partnership with UNAIDS, UN agencies, the Global Fund and PEPFAR, have started a process of developing transition readiness plan for sustainability of HIV prevention and treatment programmes.
“It is important for us, as a country that has had a fair share of donor support in the response to an epidemic such as HIV and AIDS, to look beyond the period when the level of assistance would have reduced, or ceased, thus calling for domestic financing for all areas which were on donor support.”
Morwaeng said this is important as the such a plan will guarantee that all the gains accrued from the response with donor support will be sustained until the end when “we reach the elimination of HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 20230,” he said.
“I commit to continue support efforts towards strengthened HIV prevention, accentuating HIV primary prevention and treatment as prevention towards Zero New Infections, Zero Stigma, Discrimination and Zero AIDS related death, to end AIDS in Botswana.”
He reiterated that government commits to tackle legislative, policy and programming challenges that act as barriers to the achievement of the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat.
In the financial year 2022/2023, a total of 119 Civil Society Organizations, including Faith Based Organizations, were contracted with an amount of P100 million to implement HIV and NCDs prevention activities throughout the country, and the money was drawn from the Consolidated Fund.
Through an upcoming HIV Prevention Symposium, technical stakeholders will use outcomes to develop the Botswana HIV Prevention Acceleration Road Map for 2023-2025.
Morwaeng stated that government will support and ensure that Botswana plays its part achieving the road map. He said there is need to put hands on the deck to ensure that Botswana sustains progress made so far in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
“There are tremendous achievements thus far to, reach and surpass the UNAIDS fast track targets of 95%- 95%- 95% by the year 2025. As reflected by the BAIS preliminary results of 2021, we now stand at 95- 98- 98 against the set targets.”
“These achievements challenge us to now shift our gears and strive to know who are the remaining 5% for those aware of their HIV status, 2% of enrolment on treatment by those aware of their status and 2% of viral suppression by those on treatment.”
Explaining this further, Morwaeng said shift in gears should extend to coming up with robust strategies of determining where these remaining people are as well as how they will be reached with the necessary services.
“These are just some of the many variables that are required to ensure that as a country, we are well positioned to reaching the last mile of our country’s response to the HIV and AIDS pandemic.”