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Proposed Gaborone-Tlokweng road link: the inside story

Workers at one of the Universal Builders'projects in Tlokweng pose for a group photo
The current Tlokweng Development Plan as well as Gaborone City Development Plan were approved by their respective councils in 2005 and 2009 respectively. It goes without saying that such documents, before they are finally approved, they would have been preceded by extensive engagement and consultation with the relevant local authorities and other stakeholders as well.

In both the two plans, there is a provision of a road and bridge connecting Tlokweng to Gaborone crossing the Notwane River from Maruapula. The road is gazetted. Referring to the proposed road the Gaborone City Development Plan, under Article 5.6.23 (iii) states: “A road link between Broadhurst and Tlokweng should be constructed. The proposed alignment should be from the ‘T’ intersection on Limpopo Road opposite Motshaba Close. Its direction should be towards the Gaborone Game Reserve”.  Referring to the same proposed road, the Tlokweng Development Plan, under article 3.4.138 (i) states that there will be “Construction of a new bridge at Mmaseroka Road-Limpopo Drive link/Notwane River Crossing”.

Last week, the Tlokweng Land Board held a meeting whose agenda included an appraisal of the “on-going developments of Gaborone-Tlokweng link bridge and its associated works”. As the inception of such development projects can take long, this meeting was taking place 13 years since the proposed road was approved.

Work on the proposed road only started recently towards making it a reality. It was not an easy take-off. A few years ago the contractor, Universal Builders, approached the South East District Council (SEDC) to join hands in a Private Public Partnership venture to build the road and the bridge, but the Council turned down the proposal due to lack of funding. Universal Builders then approached the Department of Lands to construct the road with a toll-gate so that the road could pay for its own maintenance. The department declined on the grounds that it was not government policy to put up a toll-gate on local roads.

According to Seyed Jamali of Universal Builders, “After these attempts fell through, I then resolved that if given the opportunity I would build the road, even without Council contribution, and hand it over to government on the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence, as my humble contribution to Batlokwa who have adopted me as their fellow tribesman”.

It was only after the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence in 2016 that the contractor finally received approval from the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services to go ahead with the project. The approval letter gave the contractor permission “for the design and construction of the proposed Gaborone-Tlokweng Bridge and associated works”.

As it is usually the case with such large development infrastructural projects, the approval was subject to several conditions including submission of detailed design drawings; carrying out of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project; and consultations with stakeholders and affected people. The approval letter was copied to all relevant authorities, including the Gaborone City Clerk, Tlokweng Land Board Secretary and the Senior Assistant Secretary of Tlokweng Sub District Council. According to Jamali, “We did everything that we could in order to comply with the conditions set out in the Ministry’s letter of approval”. It took another 10

or so months before a kgotla meeting was called where the morafe would be consulted as per requirement.

Commenting on the consultation process, a public policy expert at the University of Botswana, says “For a project like this one, consultation takes place at two levels, both at conceptualisation stage and implementation phase. In other words, when the development documents were being drafted, extensive consultation with various stakeholders was undertaken before being presented to full council meeting for approval”.

According to records of the consultancy company that is doing the EIA, Loci Environmental, a kgotla meeting was held for purposes of consultation as a requirement at implementation phase.  The kgotla meeting, which was advertised in one of the national newspapers, as well as notifications on notice boards at the Council offices and the Land Board offices, and also announced throughout the village through a public address system, was held on July 20, 2017 at the Tlokweng main Kgotla. Village elders were present including the Kgosi and his representatives. Members of the tribe made their input and the project was generally well received. Loci Environmental records also show that another meeting was held on the same day at Notwane Primary School for consultation with members of the community on the Gaborone side of the proposed bridge. Those attending were appreciative of the proposed project and the Village Development Committee member who made closing remarks expressed their “good working relation” with the developer.

One of the conditions set out in the letter of approval was for the developer to submit design drawings for approval by government. In that regard, the Gaborone City Council approved the drawings on March 15, 2018. According to the contractor, after City Council approval, the drawings were submitted to SEDC, and they said so long as the City Council had approved they were fine.

The contractor says earlier that month, they had attended a meeting which brought together the SEDC, Gaborone City Council, Ministry of Environment, and the Ministry of Transport to discuss the project. The meeting, which was chaired by the Department of Roads, approved the project without anyone raising an objection.

The other condition set out in the approval letter was with respect to the conducting of an EIA. This is work in progress. The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, granted the contractor a provisional approval to start doing some work on the project.  A letter from the Ministry, dated June 13, 2018 states, in part, “Please be informed that your request to be allowed to start site establishment, temporary access road and other pre-construction activities whilst you await the EIA authorisation has been favourably considered”.

On the basis of that, the contractor is currently undertaking pre-construction activities relating to the activities set out in the provisional approval which include vegetation clearance, preparation of temporary access, surveying and installation of pegs.

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