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BIG fight over Land, but who is fooling who?

Kefentse Mzwinila

Ngwato Land Board is seized with a matter in which a private company, 123 Dimension (Pty) Ltd is challenging the decision to cancel their land rights in the Kgagodi area where it had proposed to build an International Cargo Airport.

The cancellation was arrived at after farmers around Maunatlala/Kgagodi appealed against the allocation of the large piece of land to 123 Dimension (Pty) Ltd for purposes of developing the said international cargo airport.  The sponsors of the proposed airport are now threatening to sue Ngwato Land Board for delaying the project. 123 Dimension (Pty) Ltd wrote through Dithobolo Attorneys to Ngwato Land Board, “We hold urgent instructions to note an appeal against the said resolution by our client.”

“We hold the view that this project that our client intends to embark upon is of national importance and fall squarely under Section 10 of the Tribal Land Act.” 123 Dimension (Pty) Ltd is arguing that the allocation was done in accordance with the law and land rights had accrued to them. They note through their attorneys that “such rights having been lawfully granted as stated supra cannot be cancelled without the compensatory requirements being followed to the letter.”

They further note, “Such compensatory elements will be inclusive but not restricted to loss of rights, the preparatory expenses client incurred upon signing the lease agreement, loss of prospective business and many other costs necessary in the circumstances.” In their view, “This project is budgeted at P20 billion and no reasonable Land Board would refuse such massive investments within Tribal territory”.

In their letter to the Ngwato Land Board, the company claimed that it had already initiated negotiations with farmers whose land rights are conflicting with those of the proposed international airport. This publication gathers that there are about 12 farmers with a legitimate claim and they were initially promised P7million each.

Maunatlala Sub Land Board allocated 123 Dimension (Pty) Ltd the land against the will of the farmers who already had land rights in the area. The decision to award was taken at a meeting held on 4th September 2017. Indications are that this followed a comprehensive campaign by initiators of 123 Dimension (Pty) Ltd. The company directors had gone all out knocking on every office to solicit letters of support towards the project.

In their spirited drive they convinced Chief Executive Officers, District Commissioners, Councillors and other high ranking officers to pencil support letters towards the construction of an international airport in the area. The National Strategy Office (NSO) wrote through one Goitseone Morekisi, “…the project is supported as it is in line with the objectives of the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) of Economic Diversification and Accelerated Employment. It is also in line with Citizen Empowerment (CEE) Policy of contributing to the growth of the private sector…”

Bruce Bruno, who was Business Development Manager at Botswana Oil Limited (BOL) at the time wrote on 1st March 2016…”This letter serves to corroborate our confirmation that BOL is in a contractual agreement with your company for the provision of fuel. BOL will supply the required petroleum products as per your enquiry from the Government Reserve Storages.” This was a letter to guarantee the supply of petroleum products (diesel and petrol) to 123 Dimension (Pty) Ltd.

Akolang Tombale, who was Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) Chief executive Officer (CEO) then penned a patronizing letter in support of 123 Dimension (Pty) Ltd. “…To embark on a project of this nature with huge positive economy bearing cannot be over emphasized. Creation of employment for locals and Batswana in general to help eradicate the biggest challenge of unemployment in our country. Botswana Meat Commission is very keen in working with a locally empowered company to help establish a great project. In light of the above that we as Botswana meat Commission are in full support of this project and would assist in any way we can.”

Ernest Phiri, the then Deputy District Commissioner in the Palapye District Administration area was also sold as he wrote “…We wholly support and encourage the initiative. This we do in cognizance of the fact that the project will potentially have massive spin-offs. Issues of creation of employment, economic diversification and potentially poverty eradication are some of the critical Government priorities the project will talk to. While a project such as an Airport might not directly employ a sizeable number of people, it will undoubtedly have huge catalytic impact on the Palapye Administrative Authority’s local economy. It is a must have,” he wrote illuminating his high hopes at as he signed off.

Business Botswana (BB) also wrote a one page letter to “support the project in principle”. They had pledged to offer material support and skills to ensure that the project moves forward.
The Ministry of Land Management also wrote a letter of support noting possible job creation for locals.

On the other hand, Meshack Tshekedi of the BITC was also measured in his support noting the need for satisfying regulatory requirements by the sponsors of the project. He appreciated that the project contribute to the economic development and growth of Botswana by facilitating efficient movement of goods and people in Botswana. “Also, this proposed project could create jobs for the people of Botswana,” he stated.

The Chief Executive Officer of Selibe Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU) at the time, 31st January 2017, Mr Uezesa wrote a measured letter of support. “…In principle, SPEDU supports all initiatives geared towards diversification of the SPEDU region’s economy and its Revitalization Plan…Our expectation is that you submit a fully-fledged business plan which will assist us to establish the viability of your business case. The business plan should clearly delineate the viability of the project across each and every one of its [proposed components or strategic business units. This will enable us to accurately scope the project as well as inform the nature and extent of our project facilitation going forward,” he wrote.

The Maunatlala Sub Land Board had initially acceded to the application for land to accommodate the international airport at its Board sitting of 27th march 2017. The approval was on condition that the company obtains a licence from the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB); it further stated that the land shall be strictly for an international cargo airport and change of use will not be allowed.

The Sub Land Board had also made it clear that “Failure to implement or observe these conditions, the allocated land will revert back to the allocating authority and your rights over this piece of land will be cancelled.”

However on the 6th September 2017 Maunatlala Farmers filed an appeal objecting to the allocation of land to 123 dimension (Pty) Ltd and they were successful. The land rights allocated to 123 Dimension (Pty) Ltd were cancelled on the basis that there were already existing rights on allocated land; and that the 123 Dimension (Pty) Ltd allocation did not follow the right consultation process.

This is the decision that 123 Dimension (Pty) Ltd is challenging and intends to take the matter to the Land Tribunal should their appeal at the Ngwato Land Board be quashed.
Meanwhile farmers in the Kgagodi area and the Lesenepole junction area have written missives to object to the proposed development because it will encumber on their grazing area. They also claim that the company has not proved its business case beyond reasonable doubt.

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