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At the soonest practical date, the Tati East MP, Guma Moyo will bring to the floor of parliament, a motion that calls on the government to come up with a programme that expedites land acquisition and redistribution particularly in Francistown and the North East district.
Sadly, this is an issue that can only be described in racialised language. Courtesy of a one-sided deal that was championed by the British High Commissioner in 1911, the indigenous black people in the mentioned areas found themselves virtually landless after their land was given away to a white-owned commercial entity called Tati Company. In terms of the Tati Concessions Land Act of 1911, the area in question is “from the place where the Shashe River rises to its junction with the Tati and Ramokgwebana Rivers, thence along the Ramokgwebana River to where it rises and thence along the watershed of those rivers.”
Today, as much as ever, the situation has not changed much. Over the years, Tati Company parcelled some of that land into farms and sold it off to both the government and deep-pocketed individuals. However, the company, which Moyo says is “still enjoying the fruits of colonialism”, retains huge chunks of the land. By Moyo’s estimate, these privately-held farms make up about 80 percent of habitable land in that part of the country. Initially, while this land was wholly owned by whites, there is now a tiny minority of indigenous blacks who have moved into the neighbourhood. The majority of the latter’s kith and kin has to make do with next to nothing and it is that problem that Moyo hopes his motion will help solve.
“There is need for a serious debate on this issue,” he says.
His contribution to that debate begins with him assembling a chain of logic about why the situation in the northern part of the country (“the second biggest economic area which makes a substantial contribution to the GDP”) cannot be allowed to continue any longer.
He believes that, in part, the acquisition that he advocates would have strategic fiscal value. He recalls that sometime in 2005, the government balked at an offer to buy a 14 000-acre farm for P23 million. The current value of that value, he adds, would have multiplied many times over. Moyo cites this example to illustrate the point that delay in acquiring this land has a cost and the longer the owners keep this land, the higher its monetary value goes. The irony of it all is that it is the government itself that triggers such increase in value. The MP says that as physical infrastructure developments push out of Francistown and abut the farms, the value of the farms increases as a result of such proximity. As the population increases, this problem will worsen.
Oddly for a pressing problem that has impeded indigenous economic empowerment for some 52 years now, Moyo’s own party, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), has not discussed it even within its own structures. BDP, he says, has had to contest with other more pressing problems like water and power reticulation and infrastructural development. A related point that he makes reveals an obscure dynamic of how geography shapes the politics of parliamentary representation. Moyo says that MPs come from different electoral constituencies that have different kinds of problems whose solutions are proposed through different parliamentary intervention. With regard to the issue at hand, he draws a parallel with constituencies in Central, Gantsi and Kgalagadi districts where land is abundant.
“That is not the case in the North East where we are squeezed in between the Zimbabwean border and local farms,” the MP says.
Zimbabwe was where President Robert Mugabe repossessed land of white farmers without compensation and the TV images of mobs of blacks battering down the gates of white-owned farms is the first that comes to the mind-eye of most people, especially whites. On the basis of constitutional values that were consecrated at independence, Moyo inclines strongly to the view that the acquisition process he proposes must be subjected to the full spectrum of legal requirements.
“Let’s not be seen to be angry and vindictive. We must pay adequate compensation for the land that we acquire,” he says.
In the current scheme of things, the available legal avenue for compulsory purchase is charted in the Acquisition of Property Act which empowers the state president to acquire “any real property” in the interest of the public. In instances where a party whose land has been acquired in this way is unhappy about the compensation, the law recommends taking up the matter with the courts. A former finance minister, Moyo has no doubt that mobilising funds to sponsor this acquisition and redistribution programme will not be a problem.
“The money is available,” he says.
In the event money not enough, he advocates enlightened prioritisation that could take the form of buying and redistributing land to people who would otherwise be economically empowered by working in Ipelegeng, the labour-intensive public works programme that engages casual labour on a rotational basis.
“The money that is spent on Ipelegeng could be more productively spent on acquiring land which would then be redistributed among people who would otherwise have to work in that programme,” says Moyo touting the value of land ownership over a temporary menial job. “Land ownership is more empowering because when there are no jobs in towns, people go back home to work the land.”
The MP says that Tati Company is not the only entity that holds vast tracts of land that the government should acquire. On that list will be Roman Catholic Church whose harbinger-missionaries to Botswana and in apparent accordance with policy and practice, hoarded huge chunks of land throughout the country. As one of the largest landowners in the world, the church owns roughly 177 million acres globally.
Moyo’s motion comes as across the border in South Africa, the African National Congress is seeking to give the controversial but understandable policy of repossession-without-compensation a constitutional flavour. Typically and for the sole purpose of hiding an ugly past, western media generally prefers “expropriation” to “repossession.” With the support of the Economic Freedom Fighters, the South African parliament has backed a motion seeking to change the constitution to allow land repossession without compensation. However, there will be very heavy headwinds down the road because the current owners of the land in question (the white farmers) are strongly disinclined to compromise. It is as unlikely that the financial elites who run the world and made President Cyril Ramaphosa a dollar multi-millionaire will accommodate themselves to the actualization of a plan that takes away valuable property from their kith and kin.
Moyo says that he will table his motion when parliament finishes its current debate on the budget speech.