Batawana Paramount Chief Kgosi Tawana Moremi II will reclaim his ancestral land known as the Chief’s Island in the heart of Moremi Game Reserve as government is in the process of handing back the contentious concessions belonging to the Batawana tribe, WeekendPost can authoritatively reveal.
In 2019 prior to the much anticipated 2019 general elections, President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi promised Batawana that some of their issues would be resolved amicably citing the Maun Educational Park and the Moremi Game Reserve which the tribe had long called on the government to return to the community. In a letter dated 2nd March 2020, Tawana Land Board wrote to the Tribal Administration citing that during the board meeting which was on the 20th January 2020, considered the Savingram from the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, and Tourism referenced ENTC 6/33/9/1 IX (42);
“In this regard the Board resolves the following; to inform Batawana Tribal Authority that Tawana Land Board is in receipt of the Savingram that the government of Botswana has handed over Maun Education Park to Batawana Community,” reads the letter signed by Land Board Secretary, G Basalumi. “Therefore, the board approves the transfer of Maun Educational Park from the government of Botswana to Batawana community. The community is therefore advised to form the Community Trust or submit the name of the established Trust in order to facilitate the transfer.”
Speaking to WeekendPost this week, the Mobilization and Publicity Executive at Matsaakgang Regiment which comprises of Kgosi Tawana II, Douglas Mokenane said a provision will be made at a Kgotla meeting which will be held soon to determine the rightful custodian of the said land. Mokenane said morafe will be given the opportunity to come up with ideas on how the land will benefit the community going forward.
President Masisi acknowledged that Kgosi Tawana II used to debate the issue in Parliament but assured Batawana that they would get their property back following the laid government procedures. He explained that the issue was being handled by the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Tourism to process and return the property to the land board. President Masisi also pointed out that the issue of the Chief’s Island concession would also be allocated through the same process.
Mokenane told this publication that the issue of Batawana land was delayed because some people had vested interest in the land. “As far as I know, there has never been any appeal by the Tawana Land Board that necessitated the Ministry to intervene. This is stipulated in the Tribal land Act, instead government should request the Land Board and not give directives as was the case,” he said.
The morafe spokesperson said both the Maun Educational Park and Moremi Game Reserve were established by morafe under the Land policy of 1939, before independence. “The Dikgosi were custodians of land allocation under the customary law”, said Mokenane. He said as the people had no money to maintain the land they allowed government to run it on behalf of the community. According to local press, Kgosi Tawana Moremi has in the past maintained that the Chief’s Island is his personal property.
He contended that it was traditionally his forefathers’ hunting ground. The Minister of Tourism at the time, Tshekedi Khama, said there was documentation to prove that Batawana gave Moremi Game Reserve—which they formed as a tribal territory in 1960—to the government. The same sentiments were shared by Matsaakgang spokesperson who pointed that the Chief’s Island belonged to Lelwapa la bogosi.
However, Keith Diako of Batawana Advisory Committee, Kgosi Tawana’s contention has been that, when all prime tourism areas in the country were taken from Tawana Land board, a number of concessions were transferred to foreign business people without consultation with locals. “The Land board are administrators of the tribal land, on behalf of the people, the land does not belong to them. But certain pieces of land were transferred from Land board custody without consultation and chaos emanated from there. There was no longer accountability.
A Minister appointed those he wanted to run the show and allocated the land to those he/ she wanted,” Tawana said. However Mokenane is of the view that government’s decision to come up with conditions is only because they want transparency and accountability in the manner in which the land will be run. He said in the past the Batawana/ Ngamiland Founa Conservation Society was the one which managed the land in question until 1979. He however said the Trust has not been active because it was only established to run the land but after the land was transferred to government the trust became inactive.
Mokenane said some members of the trust have passed on however he did not rule out the possibility of resuscitating the Trust but said the decision lies with morafe. He said another Trust was called Kgamelo which was established to fight for the land ownership of Batawana. In another twist, Mokenane said ever since government took control of the Batawana land which they know has been making a lot of money, no royalties were ever paid to the community. He said as morafe, they do not want to believe that no monies were ever paid to that effect citing that they did not want to rush any decisions.
Mokenane did not rule out the possibility of taking a legal route if the royalties are not paid but chose to say the decision will be made by morafe. Kgosi Tawana, has been at battle with government which has been simmering over for years now. At the centre of the controversy, is a 2014 directive by government to take Okavango Delta from Tawana Land board management and place it in the custody of Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO), through a controversial initiative termed ‘The Land bank’.
The current situation is that state land is controlled by Central Government, under the Ministry of Land and Housing and BTO; an arrangement which does not sit well with the Ngami-land people in general. The land belonged to the Batawana people and in 1962 Chief Moremi's wife saw that the local wildlife was being decimated by the hunters and created Moremi Game Reserve.
The Reserve covers large tracts of the central and eastern areas of the Okavango. It is dominated by Chief's Island which was the Batawana Chief's main hunting ground in historic times. The region is vast, with areas of permanent floodplains as well as drier seasonal areas. Moremi Game Reserve has a vast range of habitats which supports a great diversity of animal life; from large herds of elephants all year round to the waterways; home to numerous hippos.
Following their loss to the Duma Boko-led lobby in the Botswana National Front (BNF)’s national congress last month, some members of the party are reportedly considering forming a new political party.
According to members, the new party will be formed after they receive a tip-off that the BNF will do all it can to ensure that the aggrieved members do not participate in the 2024 national elections. This will reportedly done through a carefully orchestrated primary elections elimination campaign.
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.