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Did the Khamas grab Batlokwa land?

Staff Writer
Was it quid pro quo, as the Khama family lawyer purports? Or Batlokwa were simply robbed, as Kgosi Matlapeng would have people believe?

In the aftermath of the desperate lottery that was used to allocate plots in Tlokweng on Wednesday, Batlokwa say the Khama family took part of their land 22 years ago and incorporated it into Ruretse Farm.

This has catapulted the Khama family lawyer, Parks Tafa, into the land furore. Tafa says there was nothing unscrupulous about the way the land came into the Khamas' possesion. He purports that an agreement was made and signed by Kgosi Moshibidu Gaborone of Batlokwa and Tshekedi Khama, the son of Botswana's first president, Sir Seretse Khama.

The pith of the agreement was that because some Batlokwa had encroached onto eight hectares of land owned by Botswana's first president, the Khamas should have eight hectares of Batlokwa land.

"Tshekedi met with Kgosi Moshibidu and they made this agreement," Tafa says. "They agreed on the boundaries and resolved it the easiest and cheapest way. No one was cheated." The matter began around 1977 during the reign of Kgosi Monare Gaborone when Seretse's cattle were driven through Tlokweng. A lot of Batlokwa, among them chief's representative Kgosi Ramonnye Matlapeng, saw a Brahman for the first time then.

Kgosi Matlapeng remembers that the cattle were said to be coming from Gantsi - from where the country's first president had bought them. The president put his cattle on the farm that would come to be known as Ruretse - coined from the names of Seretse and his wife Ruth.

Those in the know say the official name of the farm is Kenmoir. Kgosi Matlapeng is among Batlokwa who insist that Ruretse encroached into their tribal land, citing the story of Tshekedi Khama's arrival and the purported agreement with Kgosi Moshibidu as the basis for his argument.

Enter Tshekedi, the son of Seretse who is named after his paternal uncle, in 1990. According to Kgosi Matlapeng's account, the younger Tshekedi came to the Kgotla in Tlokweng and made an interesting proposal before Kgosi Moshibidu Gaborone.

He wanted eight hectares of land owned by Batlokwa because the tribe had taken the same amount of land from his father's land. Mmegi has a copy of a letter dated February 15, 1990 from the younger Tshekedi to Kgosi Moshibidu:

"...the fence between our farm and the Batlokwa Tribal Area is slightly incorrectly positioned in favour of your tribe on the eastern side south boundary," it says. "On the western south boundary, it is incorrectly marked in favour of our farm (Kenmoir). The respective losses and gains appear to be approximately the same size."

Tshekedi's letter also purports that the Batlokwa tribal fence is within the Khama property and takes up eight hectares on the eastern side. "These eight hectares have been for years planted with maize by members of your tribe," the letter continues. "On the western side our fence occupies 10 hectares of your land most of which is barren and rocky land and uninhabited."

According to the younger Tshekedi, this meant the Khamas stood to take 10 hectares of Batlokwa while the tribe would get eight from the family.  Tshekedi made the proposal that his family would not displace Batlokwa who farmed the land inside the eight hectares of Khama property. "...in addition

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any fields already cultivated or ploughed would be a loss to that respective tribesman and his family.

"On our side where the land is barren this is of no concern to us. We therefore propose that we accept the existing fence line as it stands and has stood since this farm was originally fenced before I can even remember. We are making this proposal with the paramount interest of members of the Batlokwa Tribe who would be affected by moving the fence."

Four days after Tshekedi wrote the letter and had it signed by Kgosi Moshibidu, their family lawyers, Helfer, Collins & Newman, wrote a letter to Tlokweng Land Board informing it that the Town and Country Planning Board had approved the sub-division of a portion of Kenmoir Farm.

The letter added that land surveyors had found that indeed there had been an encroachment on both sides and that the matter of the positioning of boundaries was resolved between the tribe and the Khama family following the agreement signed by Kgosi Moshibidu Gaborone.

The land board was due to sit the next day, on February 20, 1990. The Khama lawyers thus asked the board "to formally approve the sitting of the boundary fence between the respective parties".To that end, 22 days after receiving the law firm's letter, the secretary of the Tlokweng board, K.T. Leswadula, wrote back to the firm 22 days later: "I have been directed to inform you that the boundary has been approved as it is, the land board has endorsed the chief's decision that the boundary be left as it," Leswedula wrote.

Tafa, who is now a senior partner at Collins Newman - the successor to Helfer, Collins, Newman & Co. - points out that from the paper trail, there was no foul play in the matter. "I don't know what those people are trying to say," Tafa says. "No one was cheated. It's like when I owe you P100 and you also owe me the same amount. The two debts cancel each other.

"Twenty-two years ago, the agreement was made between the two parties, being Tshekedi, representing the Khama family while Kgosi Moshibidu represented his tribe. We assume he did it on behalf of the tribe as the paramount chief. The land board then recognised the new boundaries. That's it."

Tafa says it is important to note that the Khama family was compassionate enough to let Batlokwa grow maize at Ruretse. "Imagine if they had chosen to remove the people from the farm," he speculates. "It could have been very cumbersome for them to move, especially after tilling the land for so long."

Not so, says Kgosi Matlapeng. "This was wrong" because Kgosi Moshibidu Gaborone had no authority to assent to Tshekedi Khama's proposal by himself, he argues. The land was bought by the morafe through contributions.

"So we wonder why the land board ended up upholding this proposal, which was assented to by one person," says Kgosi Matlapeng. "It was unprocedural and the land board erred because as the custodian of the land, it should have taken the matter to the morafe for a collective decision by the owners of the land."



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