Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Batawana didn’t sign away their mineral rights ÔÇô Tawana

Alleging criminal conduct on the part of the government, Maun West MP, Tawana Moremi, is threatening legal action which, if resolved in his favour, could complicate the ownership of a Khoemacau Copper Mining mine in his tribal territory.


A day before the new republic of Botswana celebrated its first independence, the Mineral Rights in Tribal Territories Act came into force. In terms of this Act, Batawana (alongside seven other constitutionally recognised tribes at the time) are supposed to have agreed to transfer all their mineral rights to the state. The differently scheduled act suggests that the Founding President, Sir Seretse Khama, signed a memorandum of agreement (MoA) with all chiefs, including Tawana’s father, Letsholathebe Moremi III of Batawana. From the Bangwato tribe, the signatory was Leapeetswe Tshekedi Khama, the president’s own paternal first cousin.


Tawana contests the idea that his father signed that MoA and to back up his claim, tells Sunday Standard that he actually saw a copy of the MoA at the National Archives in Gaborone. The second part of the latter assertion is that when he went back to the Archives, he learnt that the document was missing. The implications of what the MP says would be profound and far-reaching. If Kgosi Letsholathebe didn’t sign the 1967 MoA, then it would mean that Batawana retain all the mineral rights in Ngamiland. A lot of prospecting activity has been going on there and the most positive outcome was a mine that is now operated by Khoemacau Copper Mining. Additionally, there are a few prospective finds that will mature into mines when commodity prices improve.


Following his fruitless search at the National Archives, Tawana asked the then Minister of Minerals energy and Water resources, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, to explain the whereabouts of the agreement. The answer was that the document had disappeared and that officers at the National Archives were still looking for it. Tawana asked another question related to the issue, prompting Kedikilwe to say that the MP was “sailing too close to the wind.” Tawana says that he interprets that statement as “a threat.” He is convinced that against what the law says, the government is purposefully concealing the agreement.


“To conceal deeds is a criminal offence according to the Penal Code. The government is the trustee of records but conceals them and threatens those who ask about them,” he said in parliament when debating the 2016/17 budget speech.


Never one to take anything lying down, the youthful MP has notified the house of his intention to go to the High Court over this matter on behalf of the Batawana whom is the supreme traditional leader (kgosi) of.


“The Batawana kgosi is going to the High Court to ask for the mineral transfer agreement,” he said.


The court process has not started yet but if it does, the government will definitely fight with all the weapons in its arsenal because a lot is at stake. A geological study that was done in the not-too-distant past says that Ngamiland is part of the mineral-rich African Copperbelt which stretches from Central Africa down south into Zambia. Ngamiland, as Tawana’s territory is called, is where one finds a cluster of hills that are collectively known as Tsodilo Hills. According to a study by Dr. Duncan Miller of the University of Cape Town, in the 9th century Nqoma Hill was an enclave of elite capitalist overachievers. For more than 400 years, this site had one of the highest geographic concentrations of wealth in Southern Africa and did robust transcontinental trade.


In 1661, a Danish surgeon called Pieter van Meerhoff gave the following account to Jan van Riebeck, the Dutch explorer and founder of Cape Town, after his first contact with the Namaqua: “Their dress consists of all kinds of beautifully prepared skins … gorgeously ornamented with copper beads…. Their locks they thread with copper beads, covering their heads all over. Around their necks they have chains, slung round them 15 or 16 times. Many have copper plates suspended from those chains. On their arms they have chains of copper and iron beads which go round their bodies 30 or 40 times… their legs are encased in plaited skins, ornamented with beads…. Their only industry is working copper and iron, for which they make very neat beads and chains.” Some of the Namaqualand jewellery has been traced back to Tsodilo Hills.


In a work published in 1969 that Roger Summers, who was then senior keeper of antiques in the National Museums of Rhodesia worked on with Chris Dunbar, early European prospectors in Southern Africa are said to have found that “nearly every viable outcrop of gold or copper-bearing rock had been explored in the past.” In the case of Botswana, that would partly have had to with the efficiency of pre-historic copper prospecting.


Over time, the mining activity in Tsodilo Hills declined alongside the stature of the centre itself. However, almost 12 centuries later, Tsodilo Hills may be restored to its previous economic vitality and be able to trade with not just Europe but rest of the world.


Hundreds of millions of years ago, there was a super-continent called Gondwana which incorporated present-day South America, Africa, Middle East, Madagascar, India, Australia and Antarctica. Over time, it began to break up in stages – which explains the matching shapes of the coastlines (and perhaps the superior footballing skills) of western Africa and eastern South America.  This sort of geological processes lead to the formation of minerals. The break-up of Gondwana resulted in the formation of what geologists call the Lufilian Arc, an 800-kilometre-long belt that extends across eastern Angola, the Katanga Province of the southern Democratic Republic of the Congo and the northwest of Zambia. The Lufilian Arc contains the 520 kilometres mineral-rich African Copperbelt, which runs in a north-westerly direction from Zambia into the Katanga Province in the DRC. As of 2010, the African Copperbelt provided about 25 percent of the world’s copper and about 80 percent of its cobalt. It is now being asserted that this belt extends into Botswana.


In more recent times, Tsodilo Resources Limited made a stunning discovery about this belt. Operating on the assumption that the Lufilian Arc could possibly connect to northwestern Botswana, the company hit pay dirt when it discovered mineral deposits identical in age and composition to those in the Zambian Copperbelt.


Tsodilo Resources Limited entered into a C$2.5 million private placement and strategic alliance with base metals miner First Quantum Minerals which has plied its trade in the Zambian Copperbelt. Explaining this alliance, Tsodilo Resources Limited chairperson and CEO, James Bruchs, said that his company hoped that First Quantum’s Zambian experience would come in handy as Tsodilo Resources Limited explored for African Copperbelt-type base metal targets in northwest Botswana. 


“These rocks are in fact the south-westerly extension of the Zambian Copperbelt and clearly hold great potential for Copperbelt-style targets,” Bruchs said when this alliance was announced.


Writing in Inside Mining, Maarten de Wit, a chartered geologist with the United Kingdom’s Geological Society, asserted that “the finding of Tsodilo Resources in northwest Botswana has a rich potential for an extensive new base metal field. When good science and new technologies are brought together in fresh way, it often leads to exciting new discoveries.” The article was headlined “Copperbelt in Botswana.”


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