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Move or be moved: Block 5 squatters face Feb 28 deadline

Daily grind: A mother and her children prepare to cross to Mogoditshane for water yesterday evening PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO
A dispute dating back nearly two decades, is reaching an end with the Botswana Development Corporation giving a group of about 100 squatters living on the edge of Block 5, until February 28 to clear out of its land. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI, reports

Things had been quiet for five years.  At some point during those years, the community of squatters living at the edge of Block 5 must have believed the October 2011 Lobatse High Court ruling ordering them off the land, must have simply been forgotten by authorities.

Since 1999, or even 20 years earlier by some reports, the squatter community had grown steadily, fuelled in part by the fact that the 77-hectare plot lying west of the Grand Palm complex appeared to have no owner. From shacks, the squatters grew bolder, building permanent structures and establishing informal businesses as their numbers began to rise.

Today, the area is a sprawling settlement of permanent and semi-permanent structures. Various informal businesses such as tyre-patching, brickwork and welding are evident. A woman crosses the dirt-path from neighbouring Mogoditshane pushing a wheelbarrow with her afternoon water supply, children run through the fenceless area, dogs and chickens frolic and community members go on about their daily lives. All this is in the shadow of the medium-density suburb and its five-star hotel and casino.

There is something different about today however. Community leaders and others are all carrying chairs and heading to a clearing in the northern part of the settlement. There, under a tree providing shade from the first heatwave of 2018, the five-year vacation from reality comes to an end.

The meeting is attended by lawyers and executives from the Botswana Development Corporation (BDC), the rightful owners of the plot and the winners of the 2011 lawsuit. The BDC, according to papers filed in its 2011 suit, was allocated the land in 2003. This March, after the five-year delay caused by various in-house protocols, the BDC expects to have a contractor on the ground on the plot beginning work on a multi-million pula multi-use complex.

Previously, Parliament was told the plot would be a top-of-the range mixed-use estate featuring single and multi-family plots, commercial and civic developments and perhaps an 18-hole golf course. “They said they are giving people up to February 28, 2018 to leave,” Tlogatloga councillor, Rhoda Sekgororoane tells Mmegi.

“This area used to be someone’s field and they rightfully settled there, before government commercialised it and allocated it.”

 Sekgororoane was part of the meeting under the tree and says the squatters are not receiving a fair share. According to the councillor, various ministers in the past have promised to help the squatters, including a 2013 promise of plot allocation in Mogoditshane. “At Council, there’s nothing we

can do, but the people there are planning something because they believe there are many questions that remain unanswered.

“If we could go back to the original map of Block 5, it would show that these were fields, just like the area near it used to be a farm before it was commercialised.”

There is very little remedy available for the squatters ahead of February 28. In 2012, the BDC granted 28 squatters who voluntarily moved P10,000 each in ex-gratia payments designed to help their relocation. Those who have been following the matter say once the squatters saw that no developments were taking place in the area, even those who had received the funds moved back. “At this point, another ex-gratia payment is not on the table,” BDC head of corporate affairs and strategy, Boitshwarelo Lebang tells Mmegi. “The community there understands that they are not legally occupying the property.

“The court has ruled against them, but from a stakeholder management point of view, they are citizens and dignity is everything.

“Although we have the right to the land and the court judgement is in our favour, one does not just go in and push people out without exercising due consideration.

“That is why we had a meeting with them and discussed the situation. They have agreed to move by the end of February.”

The BDC has engaged with the squatters on several occasions since 2010, when it first discovered the community on its plot. Last September, the Corporation reached out to the squatters to remind them of the court order and to prepare them for the inevitability of leaving.

“This matter began in 2010 when we discovered that there were squatters on the property,” Lebang explains.

“An application before the courts was instituted, but prior to that there were many engagements with the community.

“BDC’s planned project for the area was deferred and some of those who had left returned, including some who had received the ex-gratia payment.” The project planned for the area, Lebang says, is at an advanced stage.

“We are looking at commencing our project in that area, which involves multi-use including residential. Batswana are demanding such developments from the Corporation and the contractor should be on site starting developments and putting infrastructure in place in the very near future. The project is at an advanced stage.”

The meeting under the tree disperses after more than an hour. Community members carry their chairs back to their homes, where an uncertain future awaits.




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