What was supposed to be an act of civic virtue has only succeeded in exposing the ambiguities of a “part” of town everybody knows as Gaborone North. Officially, G-North is not part of Gaborone because it doesn’t appear in the Gaborone City Council planning area. The latter means that residents have to pay through the nose for services like water, electricity and telephone. Oddly though and while officially maintaining that G-North is not part of GC, GCC collects waste in the area and charges residents for the service. Electorally, G-North is also part of Gaborone, falling under the Sebele Ward in the Gaborone North constituency.
Not being part of Gaborone means that G-North roads are not maintained by the City Council – which is grim news in a year that is experiencing unusually heavy rains. To begin with, the roads are not tarred and the tarring is not the responsibility of the GCC. In terms of how Botswana works, the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services provides physical infrastructure for urban areas (cities, towns and townships) while the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development provides such infrastructure for rural areas, being villages and settlements. Even then, the G-North situation remains ambiguous because while it was built on what were previously Kgatleng crop fields, it is not part of the Kgatleng District, which situation would have impelled the MLGRD to build and maintain roads in the area.
For the GCC to maintain G-North roads, its residents would have to do what Phakalane, a stockbroker belt across the A1 Highway, has had to do: develop physical infrastructure to the required standard, then hand it over to the GCC to maintain. To be clear, Phakalane is not an entirely good example because it is owned by one company, which over the years, has been parceling out pieces of land and selling it. On the other hand, the G-North was owned by various people – Kgatleng farmers. Naturally, the nature of ownership makes it extremely difficult to develop the required infrastructure because not everybody involved may be in a position to fund such construction or agree with plans to.
Left to fend for themselves, the best that some G-North can do for themselves is no good at all. Not too long ago, a G-North resident used rubble containing metal scrap to repair a really bad gravel road in the area. This was an act of desperation because there is a whole science behind the maintenance of roads, especially public ones. One has to assess the suitability of a soil for specific use as a construction material and not every type of soil has the requisite road engineering properties. Needless to say, the metal scraps pose a danger to vehicles, pedestrians and animals.
The area councillor, Austin Abram, had planned to table a motion to have G-North formally incorporated into the GCC planning area during GCC’s last Council meeting which was held virtually. Such incorporation would mean that the Council is responsible for maintaining public infrastructure in G-North. Unlike the virtual parliament, where MPs actually have to attend meetings from their offices in the Parliament Annexe building (the old Ministry of Home Affairs during Sir Ketumile Masire’s presidency) GCC councillors stay at home and their contributions are relayed virtually. It was on account of this rather relaxed arrangement that Abram popped up on the screen wearing a T-shirt when the chairperson, Deputy Mayor Lotty Manyepetsa, called on him to table his motion. Manyepetsa determined that Abram’s choice of attire violated the Council’s dress code and rebuffed a request by other councillors that the councillor be allowed to change into appropriate attire (business-suit jacket, dress shirt and tie) in order that he could table the motion. As a result, the motion has not yet been tabled.
However, nothing suggests that any headway would have been made if Abram got to table his motion. G-North is on freehold land and in terms of a policy previously articulated in parliament by former Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Botlogile Tshireletso, GCC is not responsible for G-North. The policy is that all infrastructure within freehold land is designed, constructed and maintained by the holder of the freehold rights – G-North residents in this particular case. Past the construction, there is the option of handing over the infrastructure to the GCC. As long as that policy remains in place, GCC will not be coming to the rescue of G-North residents. A more productive course of action would be to advocate for the change of policy that Tshireletso articulated. However, even if Abram was to table such motion and GCC adopted it, there would still be no guarantee that the situation would change any time soon because central government rarely implements what is recommended at local government level.
G-North finds itself in about the same position that Molapo Estates found themselves in – when Tshireletso had to make the policy pronouncement that she made in parliament, it was in reference to the latter. Molapo Estates is an exclusive residential district in private hands in Francistown and became the subject of a parliamentary debate when Francistown South MP, Wynter Mmolotsi, complained about the “terrible” state of disrepair that its roads were in. Through a parliamentary question, he sought to know whether the Ministry of was aware of these roads and why they were being “neglected.” Tshireletso’s response was that while she was aware that Molapo roads needed “extensive maintenance”, such responsibility fell outside the mandate of the City of Francistown Council (CFC) as they were privately owned. Then Gaborone North MP, Haskins Nkaigwa, asked the minister through a supplementary question why the same government that maintained roads in privately-held Phakalane Estates in Gaborone couldn’t do the same with Molapo Estates. This was a false equivalence because Phakalane had long passed the stage where Molapo was at the time.
Phakalane is indeed in the same field of freehold land as Molapo but the two are managed differently. As the Managing Director of Phakalane Estates, Lesang Magang, told Sunday Standard at the time, the design and standards of the roads and storm drains in his estate are done by engineers and submitted to the GCC for approval. Owing to the fact that its standards must be met, GCC is updated during the construction period and invited to all site meetings. Phakalane undertakes all construction work at its own cost. On certified completion, the roads are handed over to GCC for maintenance. GCC collects rates and uses a portion of them to maintain infrastructure of roads and streetlights as well as to collect refuse. Magang said that the same process happened with the Botswana Power Corporation, the Water Utilities Corporation and the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Limited. The consultants appointed by the developers design the relevant infrastructure – in BPC case, both the consultants and contractors are certified by the Corporation. The utility corporations approve the designs before construction starts. After certified completion by engineers, the corporations take over the secondary and tertiary infrastructure for maintenance. In order to have enough money to maintain the infrastructure, the corporations charge the relevant tariffs by law.
On the other hand, Molapo Estate didn’t have as neat an arrangement with its own local government – which was indeed conformed by the CFC itself.