The company that controversially acquired a vast tract of land in Gaborone North has withdrawn a case through which it sought to acquire yet more public land.
The company is Zimmal Reliance which in 2002 went into a public-private partnership (PPP) with the Ministry of Lands and Housing (as it then was) to build 433 affordable houses for low-income earners. Such development was to happen within two years, failing which the PPP would be scrapped. There is no shortage of shopping malls in Gaborone but as the Gaborone North MP, Haskins Nkaigwa, has told parliament, the land in question will now be used to build a mall with a petrol filling station.
On account of owning a neighbouring piece of land, the Gaborone City Council has become ensnared in this saga. The land in question is in Ledumang, bordered by Motswedi Junior Secondary School on the northern end and a row of houses on the southern end. Both GCC and Zimmal own neighbouring parcels of land which have been lying fallow for years. When Zimmal started building a wall fence that should have been confined to its own land, it overshot the border and ended up enclosing Council-owned land that members of the public use as a thoroughfare.
Subsequent to that, GCC’s Physical Planning Committee ordered Zimmal to demolish sections of the wall that were built on neighbouring Council land. At first, the company resisted, lodging a case with the Land Tribunal which handles physical planning disputes. It has now withdrawn the case and such withdrawal means that it will have to knock down parts of the wall that block the thoroughfare. It further means that for as long as those thoroughfares were blocked, pedestrians – who were dispossessed of that land in the first place – had to take much longer routes to reach their destinations. This is second time unlucky for Zimmal whose application to annex four plots owned by GCC was also rejected by the Physical Planning Committee.
While this saga plays itself out, shortage of low-cost housing in Gaborone in particular is getting even more acute. To illustrate the extent of this problem, Nkaigwa says that the last allocation for Self-Help Housing Agency (SHHA) plots in Gaborone was for people who had applied in 1989. Around the time that the PPP deal in question was sealed, a young man in Gaborone West was literally living in a crude tree house made of plastic sheeting during the rainy season because he couldn’t afford decent housing. Some other city residents find themselves at the mercy of predator slum landlords who typically impose unlawful rules that curtail civil liberties: curfews that inhibit freedom of movement and inhibition of freedom of association by disallowing visits even by close family members. These landlords also imperil the welfare of children by banning them from their properties and severely ration tenants’ consumption of electricity and water. In part, the shortage of affordable housing has been exacerbated by unemployment as well as slave wages and wage stagnation.