Almost half of required land petition signatures raised
by Arnold Letsholo
Of the 50 000 signatures that are needed for a land petition compiled by a concerned group to be submitted to the Minister of Lands and Housing, more than 20 000 had by last Friday already been raised.
This was the third week of the campaign.
Signatories apparently come from various fields of work –among them the Police, the Attorney General’s Chambers officers and other public servants.
The Land Petition Group’s Publicity Secretary, Joseph Serema, said in an interview that they are amazed by the positive response as it shows how many people shared the group’s concern, albeit silently.
Speaking of the status of his pressure group, Serema said it may be called a movement but is just an adhoc pressure group created by the concerns on land allocation. It has not been registered as anything with the Registrar of Societies.Asked what triggered its formation, Serema compared the eminence of land allocation problems to that of HIV/AIDS, saying people cannot afford to ignore it as it affects all.
On what they aimed to achieve as a group from petitioning the minister, Serema said, “I am at times ashamed of myself. I am middle-aged, well paid and live in a city. But I do not have a piece of land in which I can build a comfortable house. The houses we live in here in Gaborone are so expensive. So are residential plots. Take an example of a plot in Gaborone Block Eight for instance, they cost around P400 000-undeveloped. Of course, I might afford or a C3 pay scale Civil Servant can afford to purchase that piece but thereafter there will be no money to develop it.
Failure to develop such land leads to it being seized by land authorities. BHC houses cost P600, 000. Land allocation is a serious problem and we aim at having our country’s land policy and Acts revisited.”
He said they are in the final draft of their petition and among the issues they raised is the call for land audit. The six thousand member group is amazed by the saying that there is shortage of land in Botswana while the Central District Council alone is bigger than England, which has much higher population than that of the whole Botswana. Big chunks of land, he said, are reserved for animals while human beings suffer to get land to live on.
“Maybe it is time also to look at the mandate of BHC. Originally, it was to provide affordable accommodation to Batswana, but it has since changed. There also is need to relook at both the tribal land and what is called the state land. We need a proactive land policy that will cater for Batswana’s needs first,” said Serema. He added that the government should consider coming up with hefty tax for unproductive Freehold land. This he said, would lead to owners of free hold land like the Tati Concession (TC) in the north and the Catholic Church’s land near Gaborone handed over to the government for development.
Serema further explained that there was need for an effective real estate governing body that will ensure this business is properly regulated. The current situation is that the governing body is so toothless that you will find a lot of discrepancies when properties are valued. For the same property one valuer can come up with price of P250 000 and for the same property, in the same location, another valuer says it is P500 000 or even P600 000. Leaving things this way, Serema warned, Botswana banks might end up experiencing what American banks experienced in 2008. Property that would be attached as security would be far less in value than the loans they paid.
So pressure piling, perhaps, is this informal group that its leadership receives death threats. The Botswana Guardian last week carried a letter to the Editor, written by Serema himself, warning intimidators that death threats would not stop them. The threatening message ‘advised’ the founder of the group to stop the petition initiative as it was accepted by some people. Serema says they took the threat seriously as they reported the matter to the Police.
He said they have not yet considered registering as a pressure group in the form of Non Governmental Organization that will deal specifically with issues of land. He, however, is aware of the silence in the civic society of the country. Only BONELA and Dishwanela can be named as vocal groups.
Inasmuch as the issues raised by the group cannot be divorced from politics, Serema emphasized that they were not informed by any political ideology to come up with the initiative. Neither do they seek any political support.
“Each politician has at least a five year-term in political office. But how many terms have politicians served without effectively advocating for better land policy for Batswana? So why should we call for their support now?” concluded Serema.