Mmegi Blogs :: It Cannot Be That Simple
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Wednesday 21 March 2018, 16:14 pm.
It Cannot Be That Simple

There were two interesting reports about land in the last week. First came Bashi Letsididi�s �Botswana Was Essentially Created for Whites� in the Sunday Standard, which was a summary of the main conclusions in a paper titled �Conditional on a Bill of Rights�:
By Sandy Grant Tue 06 Mar 2018, 15:01 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: It Cannot Be That Simple

Race and Human Rights in the Constitution of Botswana, 1960-66” by an Australian academic, Dr. James Kirby. Could it buttress this title to note that two of the first three people to obtain citizenship were white, namely Ruth Khama and George Sim!

The other came in a report in the Guardian titled ‘MP Lelatisitswe proposes that unused land be taxed’, a suggestion which Minister Matambo apparently described as ‘brilliant’. Note that the conjunction of these two sets of observation demonstrates that the land issue, described by Kirby as it was 50 years ago, still remains unresolved.

As Kirby noted, land was a crunch issue between the BDP and the BPP/BIP in the immediate pre-independence years with the former seeking to provide security for white land owners (and traders?) whilst the two opposition parties sought, variously, to reclaim land lost to the Batswana/country.  

Matante’s faction agitated for the return of all Crown land to indigenous people. Mpho’s faction wanted every piece of land sold by the colonial authority restored to indigenous people without compensation. In contrast, the BDP ‘catered to white-minority interests by protecting their private property.’ It is certainly helpful that after so long these issues are being raised – but they do now need to be properly considered.

My first reaction to the Kirby paper is that the BDP’s ‘sell out to the whites’ would be better understood if it was recognised that the BDP knew very well that a BPP/BIP victory in the first election would undoubtedly have meant the secession of all the freehold blocks to South Africa and South West Africa.

In order to avoid this possibility, the Fawcus administration, with the nascent BDP, felt obliged to provide safeguard for white owners of freehold property (and their undoubted privileges).

Could it be said that by doing so they saved the territorial integrity of this country which would undoubtedly have been severely reduced by an opposition victory? But, consider for a moment, the difficulties involved with all these claims. Mpho wanted all land which had been sold to be returned.

Much of the freehold area had been given by the Dikgosi, not sold, for the construction of the railway line.

This was subsequently surveyed, split into farms and sold to individual buyers. Could land be returned which Dikgosi had, rightly or wrongly, voluntarily ceded?

Matante, wanted all the Crown Land, not least the area of today’s Gaborone, to be returned to ‘indigenous people,’ whoever they were, which may have


been a variation on Mpho’s proposal but would certainly have kept lawyers busy for the next 50 or so years.

After the BDP’s massive election victory, white colonial settlers had no need to worry. I suspect that there were variations in the reaction to this victory. Many of the South African white traders in Lobatse, I am told, had already panicked and left, leaving their properties to be purchased at unavoidably low cost by their Indian successors.

 On the other hand, as I noted in an article I contributed in 1970, the Tati Company which had been left securely in possession of its vast land holdings in 1966, felt even more secure four years later when the government showed that it had no intention of making any move against it. But what unused land is now being viewed as taxable?

Land Boards have long been expected to repossess undeveloped plots. So that leaves unused freehold farms.

It is, I believe, 48 years since there has been any survey of these farms. Then Brian Egner, Tati Settlement Officer, found that there were two major problems. The first was absentee ownership with those farms, both worked and unworked, which today could perhaps be regarded as ripe for taxation. But it is the second problem, the squatter factor, which Brian described as massive.

 I don’t have his report, but I believe that he estimated that there were between five and 10,000 squatters on those Tati freehold farms. 

Most of them, he told me, could successfully claim legal possession having been left undisturbed and unchallenged for the statutory period of 10, 15 or 20 years.

That was the situation nearly 50 years ago. Is it possible that those 15-20,000 squatters now number maybe 50,000 people many of them living on farms owned by BDP adherents?

Would a BDP government take action against its own land-owning supporters? Would it take action against so many voters whose political allegiances cannot be assumed?

But then again, in more human terms, why might the government choose to dispossess, ruin and further impoverish people who have been born and spent their lives in one homestead and one community, as it has done on a smaller scale, elsewhere?

The moral, I believe, is first to find out what really is the situation on the ground then decide what to do – to repossess with or without compensation, to tax, or even to approve one system of land tenure for the entire country.

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