Effort to reclaim the Moremi Game Reserve may have come to nought because President Ian Khama is said to have instructed that along with 13 other tourist sites, it should be transferred from the Tawana Land Board (TLB) to the central government. Against this background Maun West MP, Tawana Moremi, who is at the forefront of this effort is asking why similar fate didn’t befall other privately-owned tourist sites. Moremi’s transfer places it far away from the reach of people in Ngamiland who have launched a campaign to reclaim it from the TLB.
Last year (November 26), Tawana told Sunday Standard that Khama had given assurances through his senior private secretary that consultation had begun to resolve the dispute over the ownership of Moremi. Two months later, however, the ministry of lands and housing notified all land board secretaries in the country about a directive from upstairs. “Acting in accordance with the provisions of the Tribal Land Act section 11, subsection 2, His Excellency the President has directed that some tourism sites be transferred to the central government with immediate effect,” reads a January 20 letter from the ministry.
Moremi is on the list of sites that are “readily available for transfer.” A multi-billion pula tourist asset, this game reserve was established in 1963 by residents of Ngamiland, among them Tawana’s father and grandmother. It is the first game reserve in Africa to be created by local residents and in 2008, was voted the “Best Game Reserve in Africa.” The British colonial government was virulently opposed to the establishment of the game reserve. Its representative in Maun was a man called Eustace Clark who held the position of District Commissioner. In token of his bad faith, Clark deployed a repertoire of incrementally devious tricks to sabotage the Moremi project. In the early days, Moremi was a hugely successful venture that gained international attention and popularised the entire Okavango Delta. At the height of a highly sophisticated marketing campaign in the mid-1960s that reached all the major capitals of the world, Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover vehicles vied for the international market by plowing the terrain of the delta. However, the reserve began to falter in independent Botswana and in 1979, Kgosi Letsholathebe (Tawana’s father) called a kgotla meeting to decide its fate.
The resolution was that the management of Moremi would be transferred to the government. Two months later, President Sir Seretse Khama issued a directive to the effect that the Moremi Game Reserve Regulations be published in the Government Gazette to enable the government to administer the reserve. Tawana, who is a lawyer by profession, argues that the 1979 meeting merely agreed to the government managing the game reserve and not to transfer of ownership. He maintains that Moremi is still private property whose fate cannot be decided by the government.
However, supposing that was possible, the MPs queries why some other privately-owned tourist sites in the country have been left out of the list that was drawn up by the ministry of lands and housing. “Why not Khama Rhino Sanctuary? Why not other game reserves like Mashatu and Mokolodi?” Tawana poses.