Sunday, July 14, 2024

Masisi’s tourism indigenization promise hits bump in the road

President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s election promise to take the tourism industry back to Batswana has suffered a crippling set back.

North West District councilors last week rejected Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services Kefentse Mzwinila’s desire to acquire a chunk of land measuring twenty-two (22) thousand hectares in the Okavango Delta.

The councilors were riled by a letter read to them in part saying: His Excellency the President in exercising of his powers under Section 32 of the Tribal Land Act has determined that it is in the public interest for the state to acquire a portion of a tribal land in the Okavango Delta” during a full council sitting.

The President’s latest decision is believed to be part of his election promise to take the tourism industry back to Batswana, but his plans have been lost in translation. The councilors’ gripe is that the letter was brief and didn’t give details of the purpose of the request. They expressed fears that the president may use the land for personal gain.

The letter addressed to NWD Council Secretary dated 9TH April was read to the house at the commencement of the ongoing full council meeting in Maun.

Detailing the contents of the letter, TLB Chairman Emmanuel Dube explained that the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi has directed the Minister to make it known that he has intentions of acquiring the land for the state in the interest of the public. He said the government has made it clear that that they are fully aware of the fact that the sites have been zoned for tourism activities and therefore has no intentions of changing its land use. The acquisition will also ensure that the current land use of the area is not conflicted with or adversely affected.

Councilors pointed out that the piece of land in question, covers concession NG 28 and encroaches into NG 21 within Moremi Game Reserve which is a prime area.

It is the only area in the delta with the bulk of the wetlands. For years delta inhabitants were cautioned that it was a no-go zone because of its sensitivity.

It’s a breeding zone of abundant bird species and other aquatic species found in Botswana.

They argued that because the Okavango Delta is a known UNESCO World heritage site and a Ramsar Convention Wetland of International Importance, there was no way decisions could be made overnight in favor of an individual as it defies laid down protocols which protect such sites. They suggested that authorities from Tawana Land Board (TLB) should as a matter of urgency consult Batawana over the matter through kgotla meetings so that their contribution may be taken into consideration.

TLB Chairman, however, explained that government planned to build a secure government facility for tourism purposes at the area. “It is worth noting that this particular piece is eyed by the state and not any individual as you allege. It will be a property of the government of the day. The bulk of it is at NG 28, going into NG 21.

These sites do not even interfere with those identified in the Moremi Game Reserve Management Plan”. He admitted knowledge of the sensitivity of the area and many others within the delta, but assured councilors that there will be no clash with the Ramsar or any set protocols which govern the delta.

Chairperson of Botswana Guides Association (BOGA) Kenson Kgaga demanded to know what purpose the facility will serve in a tribal land, especially that even Batawana were not consulted about the move. He stated that as it stands now there are people who are to date still squatters in the delta, the only places they have known and stayed their entire life. These are the people whom he said have remained truthful and have complied to the many restrictions governing the delta, which therefore means their stay there is indefinite as they are not even allowed to build permanent structures.

“I am struggling to understand why this sudden move was made. There are a lot of people staying in the delta area who have long applied to the land board requesting for a change of land use. Their requests were either turned down or not responded to. Some have been made aware of the sensitivity of the land and they gave in, but now we are told of an outsider who claims this is the best interest of the public. Honestly how can it be in the interest of the public while there hasn’t been any consultations?”

Meanwhile NWDC chairman Kebareeditse Ntsogotho said experts who were involved in documenting the Okavango Delta Management Plan (ODMP) had made it clear that the requested sites are not good for any development as they are wildlife management areas.

He noted that because management plans are legal documents, there is no way that they should be overlooked since they contain valuable information which assists and acts as a guiding tool in the running of listed sites.

The same, he said, applies to the Environment Impact Assessment which declared that most sites in the delta are fragile and should be treated as such.

“The government has spent lots of money on consultants and researchers who worked days and nights documenting this management plan which we believe are the only guiding tools. Now the same government is contradicting itself at the expense of ordinary citizens, many of who will be directly affected by this move. Someone should be in a position to shed light on what is so urgent about this particular application and if we are doing any justice to the current plan. Does this mean ordinary citizens can now start making requests to be allocated land at or near the same sites?” he quizzed.

Responding to the concerns, Dube stated that section 32 of the Tribal Land Act clearly states that on occasions that the state shows interests in acquiring land anywhere in the country, it only consults land boards and councils as the two entities are considered to be representing the interests of the people.

This means decisions can be made on behalf of the people. He stated that a lease (Certificate of registered state title) will be issued to government, after which the government will determine which department assumes responsibility of running the identified site. On the issue of the pending requests of citizens who have shown interest in acquiring land in the delta he said: “I cannot dispute that we have received such. But when the right time comes, decisions on those applications will be made. Be reminded also that each case has its own merits and will be treated based on their own merits. As managers we will see what to do. We have long been allocating land at some parts of the delta and so whatever comes in due process will be dealt with according to their own merits”, he said.

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