FRANCISTOWN: Influential, charismatic, popular and contagious are some of the adjectives used to describe Julius Malema, the leader of South Africa’s far left political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
Malema whose influence even transcends borders is a proponent of land expropriation without compensation. On Wednesday during a consultative meeting between Tati Company Limited (TCL) popularly known as TC and the City of Francistown (COF) councillors at Thapama, it became evident that councillors have caught the Malema bug.
The property manager of TC Gaise Khama - a close relative of former president Ian Khama - convened the meeting to brief the civic leaders about what he said was misrepresentations that the public have about TC. From time immemorial, the people of Botswana especially those who live in the North East District (NED) and Francistown have been complaining that TC, a company that used to own vast tracts of land in the NED and Francistown but is now left with about five percent of the land, has taken all their land.
The TC land is a burning issue that has also reverberated in Parliament and political rallies. The irony of the TC land issue is that it even unites politicians from across the political divide. Most politicians are of the view that government should expropriate TC’s remaining land and then compensate TC in order to address the dire shortage of land in Francistown and surrounding areas.
It was clear during the consultative meeting that the councillors were on the same boat over what they termed “an urgent need to expropriate TC’s land” but differed only on the modality of what government should do after expropriating TC’s land.
Most councillors from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) favoured land expropriation with compensation while their opposition colleagues from the Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Congress Party (BCP) were of the view that government should expropriate TC’s land without compensation.
The famous quote, “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said 'Let us pray'. We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land,” by Archbishop Emeritus and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu aptly captures what the councillors said.
BDP councillor Lesego Kwambala stressed that it was high time that government repossessed TC’s land and give it to Batswana. “We need the land back. If you give us the land people will not revolt and forcefully take the land from you. If you refuse with the land, people would be tempted to illegally occupy your land in the style of land expropriations propagated by the leader of the EFF Julius Malema in South Africa,” Kwambala said after Khama gave a brief history of how Europeans Sam and Bernard Glazer came to own TC.
Another BDP councillor
“The time is up for TC to give back the land it owns to its original owners because not doing so has the potential to ignite chaos. We should start negotiating with TC to buy its remaining land at a cheaper price and then allocate it to the people who are in a serious shortage of land,” Kgalajwe said. So was councillor Joeplay Gunda who said: “Give us back our land for free. Also give us access to our farm that you have blocked”.
BCP councillor Sennye Matsoo said the times have changed warning TC that today’s youth can ignite a revolution because they have no land. Councillor Reuben Ketlhoilwe echoed Matsoo’s sentiments. He said that TC should as a matter of urgency revert the land it owns to the state.
“If we assume power next year after the elections, we will do a land audit and then expropriate TC’s land without compensation. I encourage you to start negotiating with the current regime to buy your land because after next year’s general elections we will expropriate your land for free,” a steadfast Ketlhoilwe who was supported by councillor Uyapo Nyeku of the AP said.
Some of the councillors, Gunda and Kgalajwe, even threatened to incite their constituents to illegal occupy TC’s land if TC does not give it back to the state. In response to what the councillors said, Khama cautioned the councillors against inciting people to illegally occupy TC’s land because the full wrath of the law will apply to them.
Although he was diplomatic in his address, Khama was clearly not pleased with what the councillors said, saying that TC legally owns its land and has documents to show how it came to own the land. “As Batswana we believe in consultation. Let us not copy what Malema is encouraging people in South Africa to do. If you disagree that TC does not have the rights to its land, you should substantiate that with evidence. Anyway that’s my opinion and not the opinion of TC. I urge you to formalise your concerns to enable me to forward them to the owners of TC,” Khama said.