Irate progressive farmers, young and old, in the Central District are fuming that the Ngwato Land Board is frustrating farmers and killing the agricultural sector by demanding bribes for ranches.
At least one businessman (name withheld) is alleged to have been asked to part with P100, 000 to be allocated a huge chunk of land at the Kaka/Western Sandveld commercial ranches. That was last year after it took many months for the land board to allocate the ranches.
The businessman is alleged to have scoffed at the bribe for a ranch demand from the land board and found himself unsuccessful in his bid for a six km by six km (4000 hectares) ranch. The Land board secretary has declined to speak to the Sunday Standard over this allegation and others, referring enquiries to the land board spokesperson saying he was on assignment in Gaborone.
The land board secretary, Makgetsi Marata, did not take questions put to him by phone saying he was away.
“As I speak to you I am on assignment in Gaborone for three months. I cannot answer any of your questions while I am away. Please speak to our public relations officer,” he said.
Marata has since been transferred to the Ministry of Lands and Housing to facilitate and implement a P55 million Land Administration Procedures Capacity and Systems across land boards.
The Kaka/Western Sandveld farms were last year at the centre of controversy when some farmers cried foul that they were displaced by the land board to make way for non farmers who habitually acquire ranches only to resell them at exorbitant prices. Many such farms lay idle, some for more than 10 years.
Now there are fresh complaints from successful farmers who were among 60 shortlisted by the Ngwato Land Board for a batch of 30 huge commercial ranches (4000 ha) advertised in June 2010 who were turned down for inexperience or not active farmers.
Their bone of contention is that despite having provided comprehensive ranch management plans, support letters from departments such as the Animal Health and Production Department and documents of financial capability to develop ranches, the land board turned them down in favour of people of different business pursuits other than farming.
The farmers are all the more worried by the Ngwato Land Board’s alleged refusal to render explanation as to how they were not successful bidders of the advertised Kaka/Western.
Added to this, they are demanding that the land board publish names of successful bidders but the land board will not have any of that. The land board has refused to answer questions by the Sunday Standard such as what criteria was used to allocate farms and why the land board is reluctant to publish the names of successful bidders in the allocation of ranches hiding behind “we cannot publish the list without the concerned parties” line of response.
Despite this reluctance, the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Ramadeluka Seretse and Member of Parliament for Tswapong North Prince Maele, who are not actively involved in farming, have told this publication on record that they have been allocated each the 4000 hectare size ranches.
“The farmers are aggrieved that they have been misplaced from the land on which they have always enjoyed grazing rights. They had pleaded for the intervention of the Minister of Lands and Housing in connection with their matter. They identified three farms which were previously used by the Ministry of Agriculture which the land board was just to formalize their applications. To their surprise, the land board lumped up the three farms with Kaka farms and advertised them,” says Attorney Annah Motlhagodi.
According to her, the farmers were entitled to first preference in the allocation of ranches. The farmers have now appealed against the decision not to award them the three farms. Motlhagodi will tomorrow be in Palapye in connection with the case.
That being the case, the Ngwato Land board has, through spokesperson Chandapiwa Baputaki, denied it has been slapped with a lawsuit relating to the controversy surrounding the allocation of farms and the displacement of farmers.
“We are not aware of any interdiction,” said Baputaki.
Further there are allegations that a member of the land board who sat in the panel that interviewed prospective bidders was allocated a ranch. Baputaki has, however, refuted that saying, “Land Board Members qualified to apply for ranches but none of them applied.”