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Those Left on the Outside

SANDY GRANT
So much to reflect upon in the last week or so, was there not? Take the shock news that two reports have recommended that Morupule B be shut down.

(The Telegraph April 29) or that electricity and water shortages must be expected to continue for the next few years. Not enough? Then consider the news report that applicants for plots at Letlhakane had been tear gassed by the police.

(Mmegi 22nd April) Previously applicants for plots have turned up in thousands at Ramotswa, Tlokweng, Odi and Francistown and the police have had to be involved to get control of chaotic situations.

The assumption then had been that the demand for land in the Gaborone area was due to obvious factors and was aggravated by the inability of land boards to match demand with supply.

That understanding still held true when the disturbing scenes in the south were replicated in Francistown – people, in sum, were frantic to get plots in or near the major urban growth points.

But then came Letlhakane and those earlier, easy assumptions started to look hopelessly adrift.  Who could have imagined that the police would feel obliged to tear gas people not for rioting, for burning tyres in the roads, or for looting shops, but because they tried to apply for plots in, of all places, Letlhakane!  Yes, of course, there were far too many applicants, as there had been at the other similar scenes and yes, the Mmegi report did suggest that matters were getting out of hand, as had also occurred elsewhere.  But tear gas!

The last time that I remember the stuff being used was when rioting students stormed the National Assembly during the Segametsi upheaval in 1995 and the MPs were more affected than the rioters. But if land seekers in Letlhakane have now shown that they are as frustrated as those in the Gaborone and Francistown areas, it becomes obvious that this is not a localized problem, as previously believed, it is nationwide.

Thus, the government must be aware that next land fever occurrence could occur almost anywhere. But then it must also be aware that tear gassing people because of their over eagerness to obtain a plot is a dead certain way of losing their votes. 

Somehow, it has to find a way, very rapidly, of obviating peoples’ demonstrated desperation. I have no idea how this can be done but it needs no clairvoyant to suggest that tear gasing people in another major centre, for similar reasons, would bring about a truly major crisis.

But sticking with people as

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a topic, and people with all their (our) varied needs, I came suddenly awake when listening to the radio which was reporting that some small settlement somewhere out in the never never had recently been recognised as a settlement and that it’s leader had expressed appreciation saying that the poor people there could now benefit from the government’s poverty programmes. A sudden shock of understanding! - for the first time I realised that the government’s undoubtedly impressive poverty reduction figures, which have bothered me for some time, relate only to those who live in registered settlements.  The very large number of desperately poor people who do not live in such settlements are unrecorded and in a sense, therefore, do not even exist.

I would certainly suggest, even hope, that means should be found of helping as many of them as possible but I am emphatic that in future, poverty reduction figures should make it absolutely clear that they exclude many thousands (an estimated figure could be provided).

Were it possible to include them, the very significant increase in the number of the officially stated poor would of course, change. 

This would not be at all what the government might want but several MPs would undoubtedly be embarrassed were it better known that so many of their constituents who are most in need are excluded from current poverty reduction programmes. 

But I must now revert to another people scene – Odi – where the government, in all its various manifestations, has somehow contrived to get its knickers in a monumental twist. 

First, it generated an enormous increase of traffic using the two decrepit bridges by placing a huge new College in Odi.

It then demolished the two bridges and diverted some traffic to Matebele whilst allowing other traffic to use the drift across the river and the very minor village roads.

The situation at the drift with great numbers of vehicles seeking to cross, has become bizarre. In the village, heavy duty tipper trucks and speeding super size 4x4s spew clouds of dust and threaten young children playing in or near the road, pedestrians and domestic livestock.

Indications now are that the local residents have had enough being aware that it will be at least 18 months before the new bridges are open for traffic. So the scene is now set up for an inevitable confrontation between the two.



Etcetera II

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