Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Govt. admits overlooking the down trodden

By Calistus Bosaletswe

A move to relocate Khumaga residents in Boteti who own farms along the Boteti River ÔÇô a prime tourism area – has taken a new twist.

The idea was to pave way for the construction of an electronic game fence which encompasses Boteti River inside Makgadikgadi National Park after government conceded there was no consultation prior to the construction of the fence.

Scores of residents who were opposed to the electric fence, which encompass part of the village and their farms, reiterated the construction went ahead despite their objection on the electric proof game fence. 

The residents, who feared that the government intention was to create a tourism enclave where their land will be allocated to the rich elite, were relieved this week after Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism Minister Kitso Mokaila admitted the past blunders of former President Ian Khama. The regime was hell bent on going ahead with the fence despite objections from communities.

The communities feared the prime tourism area, that has already attracted top class tourism hotels and lodges frequented by international tourists, was meant to create a space for large tourism companies operating lavish hotels in the area.

The residents were also worried they were not allowed to decision to use their fields to start tourism establishments in prime tourism areas at a time when there was a concern that Batswana were unable to run tourism establishments in hot spot tourism areas predominantly owned by foreign nationals and companies.

Pundits have argued that Batswana were deliberately denied access to land in some of the tourism areas such as Chobe and Okavango in favour of foreign nationals.

Scores of residents were compensated as little as P1500 when government started constructing the electric fence which took a chunk of their land despite their objections.

The rich elite tourism establishments such as Leroo-la Tau currently operated by one of the listed Botswana Stock Exchange, Chobe Holdings and Meno a Kwena a camp along Boteti river which Prince Harry frequently visit were apparenltly left unscathed.

At the height of government’s decision to encompass their farms in the river front, the residents moved against the government intentions to grab their land. They engaged lawyers to stop the government from encompassing their farms into the park.

The communities who were against the government decision to grab their land engaged lawyers as a last resort since the government was not listening to their plea not to take their land from them, but later gave up since they were unable to pay their lawyers.

Mokaila was met with the same frustrations this week when he met the residents who have been opposing the electric game proof in Khumaga village. The minister admitted that the decision to go ahead without consultation was a decision. He indicated that there was need to engage and form a common ground on the issue. He also promised residents that further consultation will be made regarding the controversial electronic game fence.

A resident Oeditsemang Motsamai had earlier indicated that they had engaged a lawyer but as the issue dragged on for a long time they could no longer manage to continue with the case. He indicated that since they were unable to pay their lawyer the government ended up going ahead with their plans where the compensated people with a meagre amounting to P1500.

He was concerned that the government moved ahead with their intention to encompass their land into the park despite that they were against the move. He viewed the compensation as low despite that the area is in a prime tourism area. Motsamai welcomed Mokaila’s decision saying it was was taken to construct the fence despite their objections.

Motsamai indicated that the residents were not even given the opportunity to turn their fields into a meaningful tourism venture in prime tourism areas. He said that people were force to get a meagre compensation. He was concerned that most of the people who rely on the river for their livelihood were going to be affected by the erection of the fence.

However the former  Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Minister  Tshekedi Khama had absolved himself from  scores of farmers who compensated as little as  P1500  to surrender their farms in  Khumaga river front  a tourism prime area  to pave way for the Makgadikgadi National Park electric fence.

In an interview with the Sunday Standard, Khama had indicated that he was not privy to issues of compensation extended to residents who their farms were to be encompassed in the electric fence which was under construction..

 Quizzed on whether he offered those who had intentions to use their farms to start tourism ventures amidst complaints that Batswana were unable to access land in most of the prime tourism area to run business, Khama noted that he has not suggested that opportunity to resident.

He said that when the ministry contemplated the idea to encompass the Boteti River and the residents’ fields in the national park they engaged the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Service.

Khama stated that his ministry was not engaged with the issues of compensation since it was done by the Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services. Khama indicated that he was not aware about the modalities of compensations.

Asked whether he ever suggested to residents to turn their fields located in the river front in tourism business, Khama noted that he never did since he was not part of the team that was dealing with compensation.Khama’s failure to encourage residents have defied his reasoning that he was concerned about Batswana who have no access to run business in hot spot tourism areas.

Khama was of the view that the residents still have an opportunity to apply for land that used to be theirs if they intend to run tourism business. He said that all is not lost as result of land that has since been taken from them.

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