The Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services has come out to absolve itself of a land-use mess following a petition by about 100 landowners at Mmamashia calling on the President to intervene.
The landowners are praying to President Mokgweetsi Masisi to preserve their change of land use they claim was granted by the Oodi Sub Land Board. They accuse the Sub Land Board of having acted unlawfully by granting landowners a change of land use as they do not have the rights. By effect, the landowners dread the Yellow Monster that could soon be at work at Mmamashia to destroy property valued at multi-millions of pula.
The Ministry posits that the Land Boards and Sub Land Boards in Botswana are in law independent institutions capable of suing and being sued in their own right.
“Land Boards are created independently through an act of Parliament. The Ministry only gives strategic and policy direction while daily operations and decision making are the preserve of the Land Boards. The Sub Land Board are creatures of statute, and they have mandated powers, which do not cover change of use, acquisition and compensation of land, as they are under the law the preserve of the Land Board, in undertaking the mentioned activities, the Oodi Sub Land Board acted out of its jurisdiction,” deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Lands, Tshepo Mophuting said.
He said while the principal approval by the Sub Land Board was flawed, subsequent decisions too by the council to approve the subdivisions associated with these approvals were also inappropriate as they ignored the fact that the subdivision of agricultural land had a minimum standard of one hectare. “The main [Land] Board observed that the Sub Land Board has made decisions that are contrary to Section 13, 32 and 33 of the Tribal Land Act as read with Establishment of Subordinate Land Boards Order of 1973 and the Statutory Instrument No. 36 of 2013,” he said. On what will happen to developments running into millions of pula, Mophuting said as far as the [Land] Board is concerned, the change of land uses and related acquisitions together with the said compensations was illegal, and the land has been restored to its original use. He said the law is clear on the right to develop land, one must have rights, obtained legally for such; this as per Section 16, part 1 of the Tribal Land Act- Chapter 32:02. On legal implications that could come with the reversals of the permission to change use, Mophuting said the Board considers all matters in their own merit,
Mophuting said no officers have been charged for the changes yet.
“Currently the matters are still being considered by the Kgatleng Land Board, issues of culpability and action thereof are still to be determined. There is a laid down process for dealing with these matters, be it professional misconduct, criminality or a combination of both, the matters are yet to be determined,” he said.
Mophuting further said legally, the ministry does not have any power to review the decisions of Land Boards. He said while there has been engagement with the affected individuals, the Ministry could not tamper with the decisions of the board.
On whether the actions were not defeating Masisi’s call to have Batswana ‘eat’ from their land, the deputy PS said, “The President has called for better and more efficient and beneficial use of agricultural land. It should be noted that the President has never called for the abdication of planning and regulation when dealing with matters of change of [land] use. Similarly, the rights of the Land Board as land management and allocation authority have not been taken away.
The President called for the inclusion of agriculture compatible/complementary activities into agricultural land, it was also detailed that up to half (50%) of the surface area could be dedicated to these economic empowering activities, and Development Control Code was amended to detail and guide on the possible utilisation.
The Ministry fully supports and is committed to fulfilling the call by the President to be able to use their land to better their lives,” he said.
Following the delivery of their petition, Gilbert Sesinyi who spoke on behalf of the petitioners said Masisi had issued a directive in 2019 to allow Batswana to change the use of their agricultural land into non-agricultural use and they heeded his call.
He said last year in October the director of the Department of Town and Country Planning, Eunice Mmono issued an advisory note suspending agricultural land use zone guidelines.
The affected individuals are bemoaning that they invested millions of pulas developing their lands as they had no reason to believe they were in the wrong.
They decried authorities were not giving them an ear hence their petition to the President.