Sunday, September 20, 2020

Government in secret land deals with South African Company

The Ministry of Lands and Housing is engaged in secret negotiations with Tati Company Limited over possible acquisition of chunks of the company’s farmland for expansion of Francistown to service surrounding populations in exchange for some specified wildlife sites around the country.

According to a copy of a letter which was hand-delivered to the Minister responsible for Lands and Housing, Nonofo Molefhi, Tati Company limited offers 32.210 hectares (82 000 acres) of land in exchange for wildlife sites in Northern Delta, Khwai, Gomoti, Savuti and CKGR.

Part of the letter, dated December 13, 2008 reads “should our offer be accepted, we intend to create a new niche in the tourism market by developing research facilities at the wildlife sites, for use by the scientific community and accessible to the visiting tourists”.

Molefhi acknowledged the letter.
“I am aware of the discussion, but as things currently stand, there is nothing really concrete to say on the matter, as it is still early,” stated Molefhi

He further pointed out that there is need to ensure that all the relevant stakeholders are taken on board. He added that, at this point, they are still to consult internally.

Government, in Molefhi’s opinion, would best be placed to take position only after a thorough study and analysis of all the issues involved; the positives as well as disadvantages of the proposals.

Apparently, the issue of acquiring land, especially by Government, has been a cause of loud debate in recent years. Some of the issues that come to mind include Forest Hill site in Balete area, as well as a part of it belonging to the Roman Catholic Church.

Concern has been expressed that Government has a tendency to deal unequally with communities from whom land is acquired. For instance, since the past five years, the Government has been engaged in protracted negotiations regarding Government’s intention to acquire Forest Hill. The negotiations were on the basis that government would buy the land.

Government was early this year reported to have reneged on its proposal to buy freehold from Forest Hill 9KO farm in Kgale at the market price. Apparently, the government had initially intended to buy 1,000 hectares for P90 million but now wants to take it for charge. Contrary to the initial expectation, it is proposed to take the entire farm and in lieu of a chunk of specified amount, provided bulk services, and then share such land on the basis that the tribe would be asked to accept by the Ministry of Lands and Housing.

Against this background, it was established that, although the Minister indicated that negotiations were only just at their inception, the structure and content of the letter sent to Molefhi suggests otherwise. The first paragraph of the letter states that, “Pursuant to the discussions that you have had with our Mr. Glazer, we hereby formally offer to Government the land set out in Annexure `A` in exchange for the wildlife sites set out in Annexure `B`.”

As indicated, annexure `A` contains a list of sites in the size of 82, 000 acres or 32.210 hectares, which is shown to entail 15 pieces of varying sizes in the North and South of Francistown, respectively.

On whether there has ever been any joint interaction or preliminary visits or touring of the sites proposed by Tati, Molefhi answered in the negative. As to how come the company provided in annexure B, specific GPS coordinates points for each of the sites involved, he said “there are ready maps which show coordinates and are open for public use. The company may possibly have used some of those”.

Notwithstanding this statement by the Minister, Annexure B, which is attached to the letter, at issue categorically stipulates specific dates and times when the coordinates where picked, as well as the altitudes.

It is further stated at the end of the same annexure that “an additional site may be necessary”.

The dates range from the 6th December 2008 to 9th December 2008, hardly a week towards 13th December 2008 when the letter was hand delivered to the Minister was written. The letter bore the words, “By Hand.”

Is it possible that the directors of South African based Tati Company could have, of their own volitions, decided to traverse the various wildlife sites in Botswana without the company, support or even authority of the relevant government officials?

However, Molefhi highlighted that it should be noted that, given that Government has been buying land from willing land owners, including from Tati Company Limited, citing the recently bought Gerald Estates, due to serious shortage of land in and around Francistown, it should not come as a surprise, as the company may have decided to offer Government what it thought as the best option.

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