Government of Botswana, through its Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism is ensnared in another land relocation controversy in which residents of Khumaga, a wildlife rich area in Boteti are being forced to make way for wildlife.
The development will see residents losing part of their land, which they have occupied since pre-independence era. The imminent relocation of Khumaga residents has the hallmark of the controversial relocation of the indigenous tribe of Basarwa from Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) a decade ago, a move which was later ruled unlawful by the High Court.
In January 2002, the Government of Botswana terminated water, food and health services to the Bushmen residing in the CKGR. The service cuts were followed by relocations to adjacent areas. Access to the reserve was restricted for those who relocated, resulting in some of the Basarwa no longer being able to enter the land they had occupied or to pursue their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. This decision was taken to force Basarwa out of the CKGR.
In a court case that followed, government lost on the basis that the Basarwa were in possession of the land which they lawfully occupied in their settlements in the CKGR, and depriving them of such possession by the Government forcibly or without their consent was unlawful and unconstitutional. The court also upheld that refusal to allow the Basarwa entry into the CKGR without permit was both unlawful and unconstitutional.
In another tourism interest battle, government had sought to convince the Khumaga resident to give away part of their land for tourism interest but the consultation process reached a deadlock. The matter has been dragging on for the past five years, with the government failing to offer residents assurances that they still have a future after erection of the new fence.
The key players in the saga have been President Lt Gen Ian Khama, his brother and Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Tshekedi Khama, Member of Parliament for Boteti West Slumber Tsogwane, Former Minister of Tourism Kitso Mokaila, and other cabinet members who have visited Khumaga with the view of bringing the matter to finality.
Last year, Tshekedi appointed a task team to engage with a Khumaga delegation over the matter. The two parties reached a deadlock resulting in Government going ahead with the markings that identified where the fence would be erected. WeekendPost has established through sources close to the developments that this is despite earlier assurances by Tshekedi that the government would only go ahead after agreeing terms of erection of the new fence with the residents.
Area Member of Parliament, Slumber Tsogwane has decided to stick on the side of the government to support the relocation. Tsogwane has since 2013 tried to convince residents to cede their land to government to no avail. His decision to stand with government has seen him being unpopular in the area. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) again lost the Khumaga ward to opposition, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).
Last year Tsogwane confirmed to WeekendPost that government had started with the markings and insisted that residents were consulted though he conceded the two parties had not agreed terms yet. “Consultation does not mean agreement, but Khumaga residents know what the Government wants to do as they were consulted, and Government continues to engage them,” he had said. “Of course not all people agree with the Government’s decision, and I am not aware of their intention to go to court. If it is something that they want to do, there is nothing wrong with it,” Tsogwane had suggested.
According to sources, the residents also feel hard done by the area councillor, Thomas Kgethenyane who has decided to take sides with government on the matter. Kgethenyane reportedly told residents that he has no position in the matter and has chosen to take the middle ground. This statement is being viewed by the residents as lending support to government.
GOVERNMENT RENEGE ON PROMISE
Meanwhile, the Khumaga residents contend that Government’s decision to go ahead and make the markings 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 discontent 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 for Khumaga residents. Residents have always feared that President Khama’s love for tourism and wildlife would be used to influence the decision.
ARE THE KHAMAS PURSUING PERSONAL TOURISM INTEREST?
Khumaga residents however are of the view that 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.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.