Vol.22 No.150

Thursday 29 September 2005    

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Criticism mounts against demolitions

BAME PIET
Staff Writer

9/29/2005 10:03:18 AM (GMT +2)

Members of the public, local authorities, civil society organisations and politicians have expressed dismay at the Saturday demolitions of so-called squatter dwellings in Mogoditshane. Some people who watched the incident called the demolitions a "cruel exercise by a cruel government" that has become obsessed with power. Others asked why the squatters could not be jailed while some said the Zimbabwean government is far much better than that of Botswana.


Vice president of Botswana Council of Churches, Cosmos Moenga condemned the demolitions as an act of cruelty that shows no compassion for citizens because shelter is a basic human right. He said denying people such right is insensitive. Moenga was surprised that everybody wanted to make a comment on the recent demolitions in Zimbabwe but few want to talk about what is happening in Botswana. "Why is everybody keeping quiet about this?" He said Vision 2016 would remain elusive if the government does not lead by example.

A cleric who preferred anonymity described the demolitions as "evil". He said that the government of Botswana is the same as that of Zimbabwe. He added that destroying poor people's houses and leaving them in misery while the rich are left to benefit from shops and schools built on land acquired illegally is insensitive. He urged the government to act on recommendations made by the Lesetedi Land Commission.

Kgosi Michael Gaborone of Batlokwa emphasised that justice should be applied across the board and should not be biased against the poor. He condemned squatting but urged government to look at reasons why people squat. He wondered why the Mogoditshane Land Board did not act before the squatters built on the land over a decade ago. "Where do they want the innocent children who were born and raised in those houses to go? Should they go back to their mothers so that they can properly apply for land?

Though his Batlokwa people have a serious land shortage, Gaborone noted that they have not yet experienced squatting. He is concerned that government has grabbed all their land while in return it is difficult for Batlokwa to get serviced plots in Gaborone. He stressed that those who illegally acquired commercial plots and built structures on them should be made to pay heavily instead of demolitions.

The Botswana National Front (BNF) said in a statement that while they do not condone squatting and self-allocation of land, they believe the practice emanates from government failure to deal with the housing crisis in the country.

"It is the incompetence and lack of vision of the government of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) that has forced many law abiding but desperate citizens to allocate themselves residential plots in order to provide basic shelter for their families." The statement said that under the current government, land and housing have become commodities bought and sold on the market. BNF said the price of serviced land in urban and peri-urban areas is beyond the reach of the poor and unemployed.

The party complained about government's failure to act on any of the recommendations of the Lesetedi Land Commission, which shows that there is no equality between the rich and the poor.

The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) shared the same sentiments with BNF. The BCP labelled the demolitions as an act of extreme insensitivity, arrogance and unequal application of the law.

The party said they are concerned that a country that used to be referred to as a shining example of democracy is literally run through policies and laws that are cruel and "cold-blooded" to the poor and merciful to the rich few.

"As a matter of principle, the BCP believes that it is brutal and criminal for a government that values the principles of equality, fairness and opportunity for all, as publicised through Vision 2016, to demolish underprivileged people's houses without exploring alternative means."

Publicity manager of Vision 2016 Council, Mookodi Seisa said they had not yet taken a position on the demolitions. He said Vision 2016 does not support or is against the demolitions.

However, he felt the concerned parties could have come up with a better solution. He said it is painful for people to be left with no shelter though everybody should abide by the law.

He noted that before the recent demolitions, squatters were given time to move out and some failed to do so hence the demolitions.


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