The sudden explosion of interest in land ownership around the prime land of Khwai in Concession NG19 in the Okavango Delta has caused tensions between the community, its leadership (bogosi) and the landboard.
Accusing fingers are pointing at the village leadership and the Tawana Sub land board officials, with high suspicions of the possibility of monetary exchanging hands to smoothen some allocations, while denying residents their right to own land.
Unlike other areas in the Okavango delta, Khwai is viewed as the prime area, which continues to attract people from across the country with intensions to set up businesses there. The latest incident in which some senior officials were allegedly caught trying to play dirty on land allocation matters are concerned has sparked too much attention and has potential to divide residents, who want to benefit from the land of their ancestors. They have vowed to fight and use own resources to go the legal route if need be so that they discourage those with intentions of robbing them of their land.
The Patriot on Sunday recently engaged in a meeting with an aggrieved concerned group from the village led by the Village Development Committee (VDC) chairman Patrick Brown which was formed mainly to fight for the rights of the community of Khwai, for the protection of their properties and making sure that they duly benefit from their community trust in a transparent manner. These people are questioning procedure and criteria used by the Sub Land Board which recently sent its technical officers on a site visit to pick coordinates for people who have previously applied for land in Khwai.
They stated that they feel a couple errors have been committed, because first and foremost a list of applicants eligible for land allocation was only placed a day before the exercise which on its own was very wrong as per the Land Act which states that such should be done at least twenty one (21) days before the exercise could be carried out. Their understanding is that the same should be done sequentially, in a first come first serve basis. It therefore came as a surprise to the community when the list only carried names of people who applied in 2021 and 2022 while there are people who had been waiting to be allocated land as far back as 2011.
They noted that what was even more confusing was that the list was dominated by members of two families only; that of their chief, Kgosi Merafe Mothala and that of the village land overseer. They say they were shocked also to learn that Mothala recently confronted the land authority on allegations that some applicants might have forged their signatures just so that they be given preference over others while in actual fact his intention was to scrap off some names in the list and replace with those which he preferred. He is said to have connived with the Sub land board secretary.
“We want to know why these people were given preference as compared to those who applied before them. We are still trying to figure out also why and how the chief gained access to the files which should be treated as confidential documents. This clearly shows that there are corrupt people within the land board who are not doing things right for personal gains,”said a member of the group.
The Sub Landboard secretary has since denied knowledge of the accusations leveled against him and therefore was not in a position to respond to any questions. “I don’t know what this is all about. I am not the rightful person to discuss such. I only respond to my principals and not the media,” he said.
Contacted for comment, Kgosi Mothala confirmed that indeed he was at some point in a closed meeting with officials from the Sub land board where they had gone to discuss a “couple of issues”. Nevertheless he denied ever having access to the files or the list which he is said to have tampered with. As a people’s representative he said he is duty bound to advocate for and act on his people’s behalf whenever the need arises whether it is for a good purpose or otherwise.
Moreover, Mothala said he has never felt he owed anybody information or feedback from the official meetings he attends with the leadership from various departments in Maun as most of them are usually confidential. Also he said he is not going to bow to any pressure from outside wanting him to share or disclose whatever information he might have up until he gets the heads up to do so and in a forum which includes all such as a kgotla meeting. He however admitted knowledge that his relatives dominate the list in question and dismissed it as just a coincidence. Like any Motswana elsewhere, Mothala said members of his family have every right to apply for land anywhere in the country, and that whether they apply in high numbers or not shouldn’t worry anyone.
“This is not the first time my family have shown interest and been lucky enough to be allocated land, and so I wonder why people want to make noise now as compared to back then when the same happened. I saw the list and it never bothered me because it was likely to happen”, said the village chief. Although he had previously flatly denied ever confronting the land board regarding the alleged forged signatures by some of the people of Khwai, the chief said whether that happened or not shouldn’t be an issue right now.
“Whether that happened or not is an issue for another day. It still surprises me however how one would believe such petty talk because I am just an ex-officio and not a member of the land board”. In addition he said he was shocked that just when he thought him and the group had reached a common understanding and even agreed that the group will help spread the message about what he sees as miscommunication they now turned their back and instead spread made-up stories about him.
For his part area councilor Kebareeditse Ntsogotho, who is also the North West District Council Chairman, said he has also observed quite a number of irregularities on the part of the Sub land board as it does not follow allocation procedures. The unfortunate part is that the landboard leadership claims not to be aware of the list allocated recently in Khwai, he said, adding that they had a meeting on the 21stFebruary 2022.
“This came as a surprise to me because I am of the belief that the list has to be sanctioned by no one else besides board members. I think it is high time the board calls the Sub land board secretary to order since he seems to be dictating to the board how he feels things should be done. We are district leaders and therefore should be seen to be working together for the best interests of the people we represent, not the other way round,” he said.
The issue is scheduled to be further discussed at the next full council sitting which commences on Monday.
Elsewhere, indigenous Basarwa and Wayei communities living in the Okavango Delta are protesting the awarding of NG28 Concession to the Office of the President (OP), arguing that it encroaches into their ancestoral land.
Compounding their grievances is the sudden u-turn by government on issuance of land ownership certificates, which confers a right on the holder, to Mababe and Xaxaba residents. Residents of Xaxaba are protesting the allocation of NG28 Concession to OP while Mababe residents are at war with government for denying them ownership of their ancestral land. Attorney Martin Dingake has been appointed to puruse the matter in court on behalf of the minority communities.
“We have engaged a lawfirm to challenge the allocation of the concession to OP. We want court to also order government to allocate us part of the land in NG28 Concession that can benefit us economically as opposed to giving OP the whole stretch of land,” said Lekopanye Mokobela, a resident of Mababe expressing fear that the decision to allocate NG28 to OP was a calculated to deny local communities access to their ancestral land.
“For many years we have requested government to give us land ownership rights, but our request fell on deaf ears. Foreign companies make billions from our neighborhood while we wallow in poverty,” he cried.
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