Scores of Polometsi, Matsiloje and Motopi residents are worried that their 125 ancestors who will be exhumed to pave way for Dikgatong Dam are turning in their graves.
Though the general consensus is that residents of Polometsi, Matsiloje and Matopi in the outskirts of Mmadinare have agreed to the relocation of the graves Sunday Standard has turned up pockets of discontent among residents who feel that the exercise would be a gross disrespect and violation of their ancestors.
Government has approved P1.4 million for the exhumation and reburial of the 125 bodies from among others to pave the way for the dam which will be built early next year.
The process is expected to start from next month and run four months. The P1.4 million will be used to buy coffins and cover accommodation and transport costs of the government officials who will be involved.
Plans are underway for the construction of Dikgatlhong dam at the confluence of Shashe and Tati rivers at Robelela in the Mmadinare area.
The project was deferred for several years but preliminary work has now been initiated, prior to construction.
A review of the dam design by Water Affairs is to be completed in November this year.
According to the project summary, the 41m high and 4.7km wide dam will involve placing approximately 4.9Mm3 of earthfill, making it the biggest dam in Botswana.
Though government will cover all the reburial costs the bereaved will not be compensated. The announcement that family members of the deceased will not be given any money has sparked pockets of dissent among residents of the three settlements.
A 60 year old widow, Masego Malala, from Polometsi whose husband will be among those exhumed says government has given her a raw deal.
Malala asked how government will compensate her and her family for the emotional trauma that will be visited on the family as they relive the death of her husband.
She says that what pains her most is that her kids were recovering from the pain of losing their father, and now old wounds will be reopened when they go through the traumatic experience of burying him all over again.
Malala also says that compensation should not be uniform, that consideration must be made as to the cost of the casket and the burial proceedings.
“We cannot get a standard coffin from government while some of us buried our deceased in P 10 000 caskets” she fumed, vowing to fight until the end to get justice.
Though he was cagey on the issue Bangwato regent Kgosi Sediegeng Kgamane said that the exercise is justified and will be well orchestrated to pave way for much needed developments.
He conceded that it is culturally improper to violate graves, but added that Batswana had to learn to cope with the challenges of the 21st century.
Clarence Molefe of Mmadinare said that the exhumation and disturbance of the dead will bring hunger amongst the people of Mmadinare, Polometsi and Matsiloje.
He challenged Batswana to respect their dead and not disturb them at their place of rest. Molefe also said that it is unfair for government to expect people of the concerned villages to revisit their sorrows and not compensate them for that.
Olly Maphorisa of Francistown saw no wrong with the relocation exercise. “Dead or alive, we must pave way for developments for the benefit of the country” he said. Maphorisa said that it is imperative for Batswana to learn that culture is dynamic and for them to accept new developments as they come since “things are not done as in the past”.
He called for the introduction of cremation as a cheaper and more convenient way of dealing with the departed.
A vehement Maphorisa told Sunday Standard that graveyards occupy a lot of land in Botswana and the burial process is expensive as one is forced to but a coffin instead of just casting away the ashes or keeping them in an urn after cremation.
A survey by Sunday Standard in Francistown has revealed a quagmire of conflicting ideologies with the elderly vying for burials while the younger generation opted for cremation mainly because they felt that the burial process was not only time consuming but also very expensive.
Maphorisa said that a lot of grave yards in Francistown have been full for over 15 years and they are currently “just occupying space”.
He said that in the face of scarcity of land in Botswana especially Francistown, government should consider cremation as an option. He also said that Batswana cannot claim any love for their dead as they never even visit their graves.
“A lot of the grave sites in Francistown are neglected dilapidated and in dire need of service and maintenance.” he said. Maphorisa rubbished Batswana’s touted affinity and respect for their dead saying that most of them do not even visit graveyards to put flowers at their departed graves.
An average grave is the size of two football pitches and can accommodate more than ten SHHA plots. FCC currently has a backlog of more that 15000 plot applications and on top of the fact that they buy land from Tati company most of it is unserviced.
In the face of all these challenges the younger generation feels that the oldies must stop being conservative and get over their love affair with culture for the benefit of the whole nation.