‘We only wantedto bury our mother’

In the cold: One of the graves within the disputed plot. PIC: KAGISO ONKATSWITSE
In the cold: One of the graves within the disputed plot. PIC: KAGISO ONKATSWITSE

The Mokopotsa family recently lost its matriarch, 67-year-old Mmanabi Penana Rachel, who died in the middle of a four-year old bitter land dispute pitting the Ratlhomelang community against a businessman. Mmanabi was buried after nine long days as her family and the community unsuccessfully negotiated to have her laid to rest on the piece of land at the heart of the dispute. Her family wanted her buried next to her husband, the former headman, who now lies alone in the plot, fenced up and separate, Mmegi Correspondent, NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE finds out

Mmanabi’s daughter is not a medical doctor, but she has her convictions. “I know that my mother died of heart break,” she says, asking that the Mmegi newscrew keep her identity private.

“I believe that if it was not for this dispute my mother would be alive. Since the land dispute began, she barely slept as she was concerned that our father was one of the two people buried in the graveyard on that plot. She told us that she was very worried about that issue.”

The Mokopotsa’s home in Ratlhomelang is as dry as a desert. Even though structures are still in good shape, the absence of the owner resonates. It feels as though the homestead died when the matriarch passed away in January.

Mmanabi’s daughter sits outside the main house, accompanied by a five or six-year-old girl who is the late matriarch’s grand-daughter. In between tears, the daughter attempts to describe the events leading up to her mother’s death.

“Motho wa modimo, jaaka fela o bona lelwapa la rona le phaphaletse jaana re latlhegetswe ke mmaarona yo ke dumelang a bolailwe ke pelo ka ntlha ya kgang ya mabitla a rre a fitlhetsweng mo teng ebile re idiwa go mo lekola teng,” she says in a hushed tone.

Mmanabi was in the frontline when community members battled for the de-fencing and return of the disputed plot. Her husband, Gaourutwe, was the area headman and died in 2013 fighting the same battle.

The daughter who preferred to remain anonymous said that even though it was not medically proven, her mother died of heart attack. She said that Mmanabi was amongst community members who were fighting over land with the local businessman.

Her brother, Mookodi, is willing to be named and takes up the tale.

“Unfortunately we could not bury our mother next to our father because Kgosiemang has still  not removed the fence,” said Mookodi, who is also Ratlhomelang’s ward kgosana.

Clement Kgosiemang is the other party in the land dispute and has been engaged in several legal tussles with the Mokopotsas.

Mookodi says the family approached the High Court hoping to secure an order allowing the matriarch to be buried next to her husband.

“However, the judge advised us that since the matter was still before the Land Tribunal, we would need to wait for the outcome of the matter from that court.”

The Mokopotsa family had no choice but to bury their mother in Gamodubu, some 20km away from Molepolole.

“As things stand, we shall await the Land Tribunal’s ruling and whatever the outcome shall meet as a family to chart the way forward,” the son says.

At the heart of the battle in the ward is ownership of the plot in which the graveyard lies.

Adding fuel to the fire is that the villagers have run out of burial ground at their former cemetery in Masu-a-Ditshwene, which is a distance from the ward, and are incensed by reports that Kgosiemang intends to rear animals on the disputed plot.

Villagers allege that the previous Land Board allocated Kgosiemang the plot without their knowledge.

The plot was the subject of a Magistrate Court ruling in December 2013. The court ordered the Land Board to hold discussions with Kgosiemang to resolve the matter. The court also barred any burials from taking place on the land in the interim.

The matter even reached President Ian Khama’s ears during a Kgotla meeting he addressed in 2014.

“Re a rapela mong wame, bogolo a Kgosiemang a re bulele setsha sa gagwe re ntshe direpa tsa rona,” said Keithe Kgositladi, a local villager at the time

“We feel that Land Board employees are hiding something from us,” Kgositladi added.

Another villager, Segametsi Matlhaope also pleaded with the President. “Mr President, the cemetery we were using in Masu-a-Ditshwene is full and we were supposed to have begun using this land in Magokotswane,” she says.

“Now we wonder that as this issue drags on, where are we going to bury our deceased? “Tsholofelo ya rona e mo go wena.”

In his defence, Kgosiemang explains that he bought the piece of land from one Kgopolo Thipa, who died 20 years ago. The businessman says he has all the relevant paper work for the plot.

“Thipa transferred the plot to me in 1995 before he died. However in 2008, the Village Development Committee erected a fence around my plot and built a toilet.

Although I advised them that they were encroaching on my land, they refused to remove the structures and I had to approach the Magistrates’ Court, which issued an eviction order against them.

They would not comply with the order and I applied for contempt of court against the Committee chairperson who ended up spending 16 weeks in jail.”

Kgosiemang says it was only then that the fence was removed, but the toilet remained behind. He argues that neither the Mokopotsa family or the VDC ever owned the plot. Instead, he says, they were allocated a field “some six or seven kilometres away” in Mokgopeetsana.

Kgosiemang has previously said he believes the Land Board played dirty tricks as “it issued a lease to the Mokopotsa family in 2008 but backdated it to 1982”.

He believes the family is itching for a fight, when “all I want is my plot”. 

“When they buried monnamogolo on that piece of land, they did it against the court order, and I may still apply for contempt,” he says.

“The magistrates’ court had also sent the matter back to the Land Board for arbitration. The Land Board ruled in favour of the family and the community, hence my taking the matter to the Land Tribunal.”

Kgosiemang says should he win the case at the Land Tribunal, he will require/allow the Mokopotsas and other communities members to exhume the bodies of their loved ones for reburial elsewhere.

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