It used to be a standard statement of anthropologists from Schapera onwards, that all tribes people (who else was there?) were entitled to a cattle post, a tshimo and a residential plot.
The relatively small number of locals who lived and worked in the so called towns such as Gaborone and Lobatse would not have expected or perhaps even wanted to possess a plot of their own – other than those few in places such as Peleng.
The majority, with roots in the tribal areas, would have expected to return to their family land holdings there. In Francistown, which was owned by the Tati Company, there was no question of any local ever obtaining a plot. But now, with his recent comment the Minister of Trade and Industry, Vincent Seretse has announced that those halcyon days are gone forever and that land ownership is not for everyone.
It may be that his was merely a routine reiteration of what everybody should know – that the good old days have passed and that those without land must accept that they may never get any. In the context of the recent scenes where applicants have virtually over-run land board offices in Ramotswa (20,000 applicants) and Tlokweng and now Odi (50/60, 000 applicants?) the Minister’s abrupt, dismissive, insensitive comment describing the trauma there as a non issue is unlikely to be supported by either the police or his own colleagues in government.
I do not share the conviction of many that the days of the BDP are automatically numbered or that the Umbrella will routinely win the next election. But I am convinced that this kind of contemptuous dismissal of those seeking land makes a mockery of the concerns for the less fortunate that the President has expressed again and again and of the programmes he has put in place to help alleviate their situation.
I am also convinced that unless Minister Seretse’s comments are rapidly repudiated, the BDP may not even serve out its anticipated years in office. There has been no precedent in the country’s history for the extraordinary, convulsive scenes of social and economic distress in Ramotswa, Tlokweng, and Oodi– so that the Minister’s appalling remarks brings him historically close to Marie Antoinette with her supposed question as to why the poor don’t eat bread when they could eat cake.
Minister Seretse’s comments may have been intended to make everyone aware that a line of sorts now needs to be drawn and accepted – that the better off have now obtained all the land that they need – and that little
His comments, deliberately implied, or merely casually accidental, comes as close as can be to declaring that the massive change of land ownership that has occurred in the last, say forty years, is now complete; and that vast areas of the country have been removed from the hands of those who were unable to use it and awarded to those with the means of doing so.
His comments, however, were specifically made in reaction to the invasion of Oodi and to the value of land in the Gaborone wealth belt – let us say the area within a 75 kilometre radius of Gaborone -where there is such an acute shortage of available land.
It has to be understood, however, that the Oodi phenomenon occurred as a direct result of the government’s long-standing, unbalanced, policy of investing heavily there, and of creating jobs.
Some Ministers, perhaps all, might insist that these migratory hordes can be halted, slowed, down or even diverted – but realistically, is this remotely possible? The various Land Boards situated in the rich, prosperous Gaborone belt, together with the police, have been left by the government to receive the onslaught alone. For now, all employees of the three Land Boards have escaped without death or injury. But it cannot go on like this.
The government has created the problem and must now somehow, belatedly, start finding solutions. We have just gone through another election which failed to come to grips with a problem about which every electoral candidate must have been aware – but ducked. So with nothing decided or even addressed, the voting public, within days of the new government being sworn in, marched on the Acropolis and demanded its rights.
In a sense, the count down of a more meaningful election has now begun.
To suggest that this matches people against government may be a dramatic over simplification but Minister Seretse might do well now to reduce the impact of his ill considered comments by unveiling plans for relieving the pressure on Gaborone by investing rapidly and heavily in developing the rail and road corridor between Francistown and Kazangula and in creating entirely new growth points there. The opportunity exists and must be quickly seized.