Over the years, simmering tensions around shortage of land have exploded again and again across the country, resulting in riots, injuries and imprisonment. Squatter numbers are rising and authorities do not appear to have solutions. Staff Writer, TSAONE BASIMANEBOTLHE tracks a few of the times the fight for land became literal
The story repeats itself everytime. One Land Board or the other calls for applications. Hungry land-seekers sleep at offices and sometimes riot in the morning. No amount of warnings and pleas not to sleep or riot make a difference. It has become so bad that Land Boards frequently engage riot police when the time for applications arrives.
By the last count, about 1.1 million Batswana were on waiting lists for land across the country. Many have been waiting for decades. They have had children while waiting. Been married and divorced. Many have even died.
“The applicants in these waiting lists will continue to be vetted for eligibility for allocation to ensure compliance with the land policy provision on equity in distribution of land,” Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services minister, Prince Maele told Parliament in 2016. In the capital, Gaborone land authorities have stopped allocating land in 2004 and have over 180,000 people on its waiting list. The neighbouring peri-urban Mogoditshane Sub-Land Board has over 120,000 people waiting to be allocated land.
The fights will become literal more frequently. Already, there have been a few notable disputes and some are still simmering:
The Tlokweng Land Board found itself in a difficult situation when it wanted to allocate 285 plots in 2009. Tens of thousands of applicants thronged the Board’s premises. This forced the Land Board to halt the allocations, and later settle for a controversial raffle. The last act led to Tlokweng residents taking the Land Board to court, with the latter winning the case that had stretched for years.
On November 26, 2014 at Oodi Sub-Land Board, the fight for land spilled into violence when land-seekers who had spent the night in a queue forced their way into the premises in the wee hours of the morning. The main gate was brought down in the scramble and a few windows were broken. One
In April, Police and hungry land-seekers traded blows after a desperate five-year wait for plot allocation in the area boiled over into uncontrollable chaos. Throngs of villagers had gathered at the Letlhakane Sub-Land Board premises to apply for residential plots, with some saying the last time the land authority accepted applications was five years ago. Residents who travelled through the night to the venue to enhance their chances of success, grew irate at what they termed ‘tardy’ service by the Sub-Land Board officials. Under the scorching heat of the sun, villagers complained of being ignored by officials who they said tossed them from pillar to post, as tensions increased. Violence broke out as land-seekers attempted to crush the fence into the offices, before engaging the police by throwing missiles. Numerous arrests for common nuisance were made.
The diamond town has become synonymous with one of the country’s fastest growing squatter populations. Young men, women and children live in camps throughout the town, resisting the frequent attempts by the council to evict them. Many of these squatters came to Jwaneng looking for jobs at the diamond mine and its contractors. Their dreams crushed, many hang around the town looking for menial jobs and wind up joining the squatter camps. In 2016, the Jwaneng Town Council thought it had solved its problems. It had profiled and identified the origin of each squatter in the surroundings of Jwaneng and sent them home in January 2016. Trucks moved around ‘Naga-mphabatho’ and ‘Tikamolamu’ squatter camps to load the properties of the squatters and carry these to home villages.
Shortly after, the town was hit by the recurrence of squatting in the form of street children who sleep in the mall.