At the time that the rich and powerful don’t seem to have too much trouble getting a scarce resource that the poor can struggle for for a lifetime, the Physical Planning Committee of the Gaborone City Council (GCC) has done something which, nowadays, is as heroic as it is rare.
From what Sunday Standard learns, at its last meeting the Committee rejected an application by a company called Zimmal Reliance which wanted to be given four open spaces owned by the Council in order that it could extend its own plot and develop a combined residential and shopping complex. 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 and recently became a subject of controversy. Both GCC and Zimmal own neighbouring parcels of land which have been lying fallow for years.
Our information is that Zimmal was allocated this land in 2000 with the understanding that it would construct affordable housing. The plan has changed and when its representative appeared before the Committee, he requested permission for addition of a shopping complex. The Committee granted such permission. However, such development will be problematic in terms of conditions that the Ministry of Lands and Housing (as it then was) allocated the land. Gaborone has a shortage of houses and not shops and the planned shopping complex will obviously take up land that should have been used for houses.
Another point of friction will be within GCC itself. Zimmal Reliance is in the process of constructing a perimeter wall fence around this vast tract of land. Part of this fence would encroach on the land owned by the Council, which members of the public use as a thoroughfare. Our understanding is that the Physical Planning Committee has instructed the company to stop construction of this wall. As it turns out however, this construction was approved by the Council itself. GCC’s spokesperson, Ethel Koma, says that the Council’s Building Department issued Zimmal Reliance a building permit in October last year. It remains unclear how the Council would issue a permit for the construction of a wall that encroaches on its own land.
The Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, Prince Maele, will find himself in a snake pit when the issue of Zimmal Reliance’s ownership of the Ledumang plot comes up again in parliament. During the last session of parliament, his junior, Itumeleng Moipisi, told the house that the land belongs to the government. That has turned out to be false and in terms of the standing orders, that answer will have to be withdrawn and replaced with an accurate one. The accurate answer will itself open a can of worms because the land should long have been repossessed. The company failed to develop the land within the statutorily determined period of two years.
The eight-member Physical Planning Committee is made up of two councillors and six outsiders and is advised by council staff.