Saturday, September 26, 2020

Gaborone North housing tragedy must not be repeated

Hundreds of Gaborone home hunters who have been trapped on the BHC and Surveys and Lands waiting list would finally have a place to call home. That was the plan. And home was supposed to be a house with running water and a working toilet. It was supposed to be a place where children would only have to cross a few houses on their way to school.

Parliamentarians, investors and the media were complaining that government was too big and was crowding out the private sector. To round up the nobility of the plan, it only seemed proper that the private sector be tasked to deliver homes for desperate Gaborone home hunters.
As it turns out, hundreds of residents who bought subdivided plots in the area will now have to live without sewage connections, running water, tarred roads and some have built houses on land that was designated for open spaces or civic and community uses. The Promised Land is now a slum in the making.

Gaborone North has turned out to be a tragedy of good intentions.
This is because private sector developers chose the most profitable way out. They bought farms cheaply, subdivided and sold them at very high prices, sometimes without even a whisper of consent from the Department of Town and Regional Planning (DTRP).
To maximize profit, they put long stretches of land between Gaborone North children and their schools, between them and their play grounds.

Worse still, they wanted to make a quick buck and did not want to be around when the residents wake up to the nightmare. So they decided that they would not stick it out and invest money in developing the area’s infrastructure like the Magangs did in Phakalane. They simply took the money and left.

This is morally wrong. However, there is nothing legally wrong about it. The land owners took advantage of loopholes in the law, which required them to seek planning permission from DTRP. The law, however, also gave the Director of Surveys and Mapping the power to approve building plans without making reference to the DTRP. Most land owners simply got the Surveys and Mapping stamp of approval and went ahead with the land allocations.

The land owners wanted to make money and move on. They would not commit any money into servicing the land, are refusing to cede part of their plots for infrastructure provision as required by the Gaborone North plan. They are also refusing to comply with the requirements for the provision of civic and community plots and open spaces “rather they want to provide only residential plot which they sell”, states a Report of Survey on the implementation of Gaborone North Structure Plan.

Most of these big shorts simply took the money and dumped the land on buyers with all its problems. These fly-by-night developers, however, are not your everyday business hustlers.

They are senior civil servants and political leaders. The fact that these influential public servants and political leaders chose to exploit the loopholes in the law is evidence that they put the welfare of Batswana at the bottom of the agenda, below their selfish interests. These people went around regulation to line their pockets even if it came at the expense of hundreds of Batswana who were on the waiting list for houses.

The most worrying thing about this is that the very people to whom we have entrusted our welfare have a tendency to become ennobled. We spend years trying to make them realize how much we need shelters over our heads only to find out that they were simultaneously thinking of ways to make money off our misery.


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