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By Kwapeng Modikwe
It is either the Kgatleng District Council was deceiving the people of Mochudi when it announced at the beginning of the year that it had ordered the removal of livestock from the village during the course of this year or livestock owners are being intransigent. When the announcement was made, people hailed the move as something extraordinarily good. But those who have been keeping cattle, goats and donkeys felt the decision was unjust. They tried to give reasons as to why they should be allowed to continue rearing cattle in the village despite wide-spread concerns by residents. There is no doubt that livestock, especially cattle, goats and donkeys roaming the village day and night are a nuisance. But those who keep them in the village see nothing wrong with that. They say the move by the council is unreasonable and oppressive. Some of them claim that they have nowhere to go because they don’t have cattle posts and lands areas.
Interestingly, even those known to have matlotla at cattle posts areas claim that they have nowhere to go. Some are members of syndicates in their respective cattle posts areas. They prefer keeping livestock in the villages because they do not want to employ herd boys. Some have arrears at their respective borehole syndicates and are not willing to clear them so that they have access to water. Keeping livestock in the villages especially in Mochudi makes them minimise what they give and maximise what they get because there is free water in the local dams.
At the beginning, the district council appeared uncompromising in this issue. Their chairman, Mpho Morolong even toured the district driving that message home. Some people even congratulated the council saying it was led by principled men and women. The good thing is that the move had the support of Deputy Kgosi Sekai Linchwe who is the current head of the tribal administration. In that respect, it had to succeed because nobody powerful could sway the community the wrong way.
The council was however, generous to those keeping livestock in the villages. It did not give them short notice. They were given six months to comply or risk paying heavy fines or even having their confiscated livestock transferred to the matimela kraals where they could be sold in the event of them remaining unclaimed. A period of six months was certainly enough time for those affected to secure water sources for their livestock and for erecting kraals. Surely securing water sourses did not involve applying for land to drill new boreholes. It only involves returning to their “matlotla” to continue with life there.
When the council resolved to order the removal of livestock from the villages, they were aware that there would be resistance. However, they decided to stick to the law. For that, they should be given a pat on the back because they are required to perform their duties without fear or favour. What endeared the district council to the community was the fact that the move was being enforced in an election year. Elsewhere politicians would have shied away from taking such a tough stance against potential voters.
Only former President Festus Mogae is known to have taken drastic measures against farmers in an election year. That was when he approved and encouraged the National Development Bank to confiscate tractors and all farming implements from anybody who had not repaid his or her loan from the bank. Brave and principled Mogae is on record as saying “even in an election year like this one, people must service their loans”. That move by the ex-president saved the bank which could collapse because of unpaid loans.
Comparatively, the decision taken by the bank against defaulting farmers was drastic. It left farmers without farming implements. It was degrading and humiliating and embarrassing. Concerning the district council’s decision against the keeping of livestock in the village, there is nothing embarrassing, humiliating about it. Nobody is being dispossessed of their livestock. All they have to do is to look for alternative areas.
The deadline for all livestock to have been removed from villages expired on the last day of July. By that time, a few law abiding residents had complied with the order. There was compliance here and there. In some areas like Mosanteng, it was as if everybody who had been keeping cattle, goats and donkeys had complied because the movement of cattle and goats drastically declined. It emerged that some had exited the village while others decided to herd their cattle and kraal them in the evenings so that they were no longer an in nuisance to the rest of the community.
Now it has since become clear that what the district council was doing is what is called “tsietsa Motswana” (deceiving people) because cattle are back in the village and are becoming even more troublesome to the people’s yards than ever before. It is as if they are on a revenge mission. Throughout the nights, the mooing of cattle looking for their calves or groups, the bellowing of bulls preparing to lock horns with others and the sound of cattle bells are the disturbances people have to contend with. Every morning people have to clear cow dung in front of the gates. In the worst of things, gates and fencing get broken by cattle trying to force their way in or during a fight. In some cases, water stand pipes get broken causing huge water bills to the people. Flies are all over as a result of the presence of cattle in the villages.
Now the community have received a highly disturbing word suggesting that the council chairman who had been outspoken demanding the removal of livestock from the villages has been facing a barrage of criticisms from councillors who are seeking re-election in the October 23 general elections. It is understood that his colleagues feel that the reason he is tough and uncompromising is that he is no contesting elections and therefore has nothing to lose. It is said councillors want the move deferred until after the elections. They appear concerned that those affected will not vote for them.
It is not clear as to whether Morolong has bowed to pressure from his colleagues in the council. But apparent lack of action by the council on cattle owners who have not complied with the order suggests that he may have bowed to pressure. That would also mean that council staff responsible for implementing council decisions may have been instructed to wait for a while. Otherwise, there is no reason why the council should appear to be turning a blind eye on cattle which are seen roaming the streets unaccompanied by owners.
As councillors wait for the election to come and go, cattle continue to be a menace to people’s property and motorists as they are almost all over the streets of Mochudi. They are no longer being kraaled in the evenings. In the last week of August, twice in the morning cattle were being spotted waiting in front of the Motimalenyora Bar complex as if they were waiting to be served. Later as people began to arrive at the complex for work, they gave way by moving 100 metres away. It cannot be suggested that they escaped detection by the council staff as they passed-by on their way to work.
If indeed it is true that the council chairman was put under pressure by his colleagues to shelf the order for the removal of livestock from villages because of fear of being denied the vote by cattle owners, then that would mean that some of the politicians have no backbone. It would imply that selfishness overrides principle. Do these councillors fear the loss of votes of a few intransigent livestock owners than the votes of the majority who want to see the council’s earlier decision complied with? That will be answered by the voter on October 23. People who are negatively affected by the presence of livestock in Mochudi want their immediate withdrawal from the village. They are sick and tired of the menace these animals cause.
What the district council should do is to have a toll-free telephone service to enable people report the presence of livestock in their vicinity. At present people do not know how to communicate with the council on that issue. Reporting to a ward councillor will not be helpful, especially before the elections.
The district council derives its powers to order the removal of cattle from Mochudi from a carefully crafted document titled, “Kgatleng District Council (Control of Livestock and other animals) Bye-Laws”. The bye-laws give the council powers to prohibit the use of any kraal constructed for livestock. In fact any person who keeps any livestock or bees in the manner that they can disturb the comfort of the inhabitants of a village area shall be guilty of an offence. They also have powers to round-up cattle roaming the village unaccompanied by the owner or herd boy. Punishment ranges from hefty fines and imprisonment. These are not bye-laws for Mochudi alone. They cover all villages in the district. However, some people argue that these bye-laws are problematic because it is difficult for people to know the village’s radius.
The other thing the district council should examine very clearly is the usefulness of the dam in front of the Deborah Retief Memorial Hospital in Mochudi. That dam is partly responsible for making people keep livestock in the village because it never dries up. The purpose for which it was constructed no longer exists. It was constructed to provide water livestock during the period when ox-wagon and sledges were the only means of transport from and to the lands and cattle posts. That dam should be demolished and the land be levelled for use for other developments. Besides being an attraction for livestock keepers, it is a breeding ground for mosquito. Patients at the hospital always complain of mosquito bites because the facility has no mosquito nets. Mosquito is a known malaria carrier.
The other source of livestock attraction is the ever flowing Notwane River. This one needs a more powerful district council to engage authorities in Gaborone with a view to ending the flow be3cause it has been confirmed that Gaborone is the source of the water in that river.