They arrived in Botswana from Tetjeni in Zimbabwe in an emotional reunification ceremony on December 11 last year. The homecoming was characterized by dance and song. Ululations abounded as, amid spontaneous tears of joy, the Bakalanga-ba-ka-Nswazwi were reunited with their long lost brethren from Zimbabwe.
On arrival, they were promised destitute food rations to assist them as they began the tedious process of settling in Botswana. They were given identity cards and told that they were eligible for all government schemes as they were now fully-fledged Batswana.
They were promised land to enable them to plough and rear cattle as many of them were farmers. To many of the settlers, the relocation was not only a unification exercise but also a way of redemption from the deprivations of the deplorable economic situation in Zimbabwe.
It was a truly momentous occasion graced by none other than Vice President Ian Khama. Ironically, it was Khama’s great uncle, Tshekedi Khama, who was at the center of the banishment of the Ba-ka-Nswazwi to the then Rhodesia. The Ba-ka-Nswazwi, then led by She John Madawu Nswazwi, were banished to Rhodesia in 1946 by the colonial government after numerous vitriolic encounters with then Bangwato regent Tshekedi Khama.
But in 1959 after negotiations between Botswana and Rhodesian authorities, they were allowed to come back home. Kgosi Nswazwi, by then a sickly old man, instructed his people to come back and remained with only a few so he could make his return journey after recovery. But that was not to be as he passed away on May 14, 1960. Many of the subjects who had stayed with him decided to settle in Zimbabwe.
In 2002, Nswazwi’s remains were exhumed and reburied in Botswana, and the group that had remained with him then expressed wishes to come back to Botswana.
Four years after their chief was exhumed and reburied in Botswana, and more than 60 years after they sought refuge in Zimbabwe, the Ba-ka-Nswazwi finally returned back home in December.
But six months after they returned to Botswana pangs of nostalgia and signs of regret are starting to come to the fore. The Sunday Standard visited the settlers in Nswazwi village and found that the pomp and song that characterized their arrival in Botswana six months ago had faded and only resentment and feelings of betrayal remain.
They told The Sunday Standard that the promises that were made to them have not been fulfilled. They are still waiting to be allocated land to plough but from the look of things this will also be a tedious and very long process.
Three months after they had hardly settled into Bakalanga society, the government stopped providing them with food rations and told them to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, the government did not live up to the promise of giving them land to plough and generate food for themselves.
Though there are a few youngsters amongst the settlers, the majority of them are elders. They cannot seek employment and they depend on agriculture for their livelihood. But while they cannot plough because government has still not allocated them land, they now have to find means of feeding themselves and their grandchildren, and also pay for services like school fees.
Because they do not have land ownership certificates, they are not eligible for government’s agricultural projects like ALDEP, and therefore they cannot own cattle or get seed rations. They were forced to leave their livestock in the care of friends and relatives in Zimbabwe because of the foot and mouth situation. But the relatives are not taking proper care of the livestock.
Old man Tamajuta Bulayani is one of those who left his substantial livestock in Zimbabwe in the care of friends and relatives. He occasionally makes the trip to Tetjeni to check on his livestock and he always comes back a perturbed man because his beasts are depleting without any logical explanation.
Pangs of hunger have on more than one occasion forced him to sell a beast to make a little money to feed his family.
But this is a painful exercise for the old man because he is giving away his beasts for a song. According to Bulayani one beast earns him about 6 million Zimbabwean dollars, which converts to just over P200 in local currency.
He shudders when he thinks of selling his livestock for such a paltry sum. But the realities of poverty which has been imposed on them by the empty promises of the Botswana government compel him to give his beasts away.
Though there is a spattering of well built houses belonging to the more affluent of the settlers, the majority of them still live in tents that they were allocated by government. They complain that the extremely cold weather is ravaging them and wonder what will happen when the rainy seasons comes.
Bulayani lives in one tent with his ailing wife and numerous grandchildren. He thought that the government would at least assist them with schemes like SHAA to help them to build houses. But the majority of them have now built mud huts to supplement the inadequate accommodation provided by the tents.
Even those who have built houses do not know the sizes of their plots because they have not been demarcated. There are no pegs to indicate the beginning and the end of the plots.
The company that was contracted to provide mobile ablution facilities to the settlers has terminated its services because their contract with the government has elapsed. The toilets now lie on their sides in the village compound, locked up and unused, and the settlers are forced to use the bush.
They use a communal tap that lies in the middle of their settlement and parents live in perpetual fear of outbreaks of diseases like diarrhea and malaria.
Numerous meetings have been held to try to address the land situation which they consider to be the most pressing but up to now there doesn’t seem to be any sign of progress. Some villagers have complained that government officials do not attend meetings and if they do they come very late and give vague explanations that they can hardly understand.
”These government people always never attend meetings or they come very late. And we never understand their explanations” they told The Sunday Standard.
Elders who qualify for the old age pension scheme have not yet been assimilated, and the issue is continuously shelved and ignored at kgotla meetings.
Most of them are not aware of government initiatives to assist them to set up small enterprises to at least sustain themselves. They have never been told of services line CEDA and LEA.
Many of the settlers now feel that though it was a good exercise the repatriation was hastily done without looking at the logistics and problems of infrastructure provision.
“We were promised a lot of things but now they are failing to deliver,” they say.
Another elder, popularly known as Ta Solomon, told The Sunday Standard that they are now living in abject poverty as even the little maize and grain that they had brought from Zimbabwe is depleting.
Village Chief Batshani Monyane feels that the land issue should be attended to as a matter of urgency because the ploughing season is drawing nearer. He says that his new subjects missed ploughing last year and they are now being deprived of government initiatives like ALDEP which can assist them to own cattle and get seeds to plough.
“They are told that they cannot enjoy these services because they do not have land certificates, as if they chose not to have those,” he said.
Commenting on the issue, area councilor, Norman Pitlagano, told The Sunday Standard that they are working around the clock to address the situation. He said that when government stopped giving the settlers food rations they consulted with the social and community development department to make a survey and seek out and continue assisting those who were very destitute and could not provide for themselves.
”Even in our full council meetings, councilors have repeatedly pleaded with government to at least supply all the settlers with food rations until they are allocated land to plough and fend for themselves,” he said.
Pitlagano also said that the settlers were urged to submit land applications in April so that they can be allocated fields. He told The Sunday Standard that the people of Nswazwi had identified a community farm that was left to them by BLDC as the place where the lands would be allocated.
But things came to a head when, after consultations with the land board, it was discovered that there were no records to indicate that the BLDC had actually handed the farm to the villagers for communal use.
Pitlagano said that he has repeatedly met with the Principal Lands Officer in the Ngwato Land Board, Molebedi Khuduego, to chart the way forward and had pleaded with the Ngwato land board to make a special allocation and allow the allocation of the lands at the disputed farm.
“We are still awaiting the decision of the Ngwato Land Board,” he said.
Khuduego could not be reached for comment.