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Communication - using it and mis-using it

In some instances, it can be best to avoid making snap judgments but looking at the extraordinary scenario in Oodi in the last week, does suggest that an early, rapid enquiry of some sort is a major necessity – with its conclusions made public. Even now, it is impossible to get near an understanding as to why what happened, happened– and that after several newspapers did their best to report.

Why did the Land Board invite people to apply for plots when there were either no surveyed plots available or only a relatively small number? How did it happen that people in Maun and Francistown were informed about the invitation whereas a number of Odi residents, perhaps all, were left in total ignorance? After similar scenes in Tlokweng and Ramotswa it is hard to believe that the Land Board people could have been unaware of the sort of response that they would get to their initiative. 

But when they did begin to become aware they must have realised that they were potentially in some danger. In such situations, people get angry and anger can turn quickly to violence. Fortunately the police were on hand and, as I gathered, moved in quickly to avert that possibility. But if they did their best to control the situation, the police must now be conducting their own enquiry especially if no attempt had been made to warn them of what was about to happen, and to request their involvement and support.  The point has been made again and again by many people that unless some significant changes are made, the land issue, will one day, explode. No significant changes have been made and Oodi last week provided yet another warning of the danger of doing nothing.

But let me shift to a different but very much related topic. The WeekendPost recently included a full-page advert posted by the Botswana Innovation Hub announcing that it provides ‘innovative instant housing solution. (singular) I am still keeping an open mind about these Hubs, not least because I still have very little idea of what they do and don’t do and if they are filling a real gap or doing what other established arms of government are supposed to do but don’t. Anyway, this particular Hub was making a bit of a splash because it had designed, constructed and contributed a house for a lady in Khudumelapye in the Kweneng. It prefaced its statement by reminding us that the right to housing is a universally recognised right – as indeed must be the right to land in this (but not every) country – and that the Hub is working on the development of

a standard prototype housing unit which, ‘takes on broad issues of material use and durability, environmental impact, social acceptance, functionality, and economic feasibility. ‘ And so on and so on. You will get the idea. My first reaction was applaud this new initiative, one which is long overdue and of particular importance today if it can be plugged into the President’s spectacular drive to provide houses for the poor and for those in most need.

The problem that I had with the advert, however, was the inability of whoever had drafted it to get away from bureaucrat-speak.  I would love to have known more about both the house given to the Khudumelapye lady and about the plans that the Hub now has in hand – but it was difficult to discern enough from the photos and the text was turgid. Advertising is an important form of communication but unless care is taken to avoid self-indulgence they can end up by reflecting the importance of the institution doing the advertising, and nothing much else. I doubt, therefore, that any self-respecting commercial business would ever have approved the text of the Hub’s advert, and its choice of vocabulary. Take that single word, ‘functionality’, as just one example. It is a shocker, a turn-off word, if ever there is one.

I imagine that no estate agent in their right minds would ever use such a word about a house and have any hopes of selling it.  My reaction to the Innovation Hub’s advert is, therefore a mix of interest and reserve – the interest because I am desperate for this country to come up with practical models for low cost housing, which use locally available materials, which are sensibly designed, and which keep maintenance needs to a minimum. For me, this is not simply a matter of meeting an obvious need – it is an exciting opportunity, and a challenge which ought to be irresistible to the many who are engaged in housing related activities. But then that advert brings me back to my reservation about the Hubs, or about this one in particular. The supposition, it seems, is that the Hubs will somehow be different even if they are government departments. But is this possible?

Etcetera II



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