Sunday, September 20, 2020

Rumble in the Okavango Jungle

Batawana have vowed to fight tooth and nail to stop the “greedy government” of Botswana’s plan of expropriating the Maun Educational Park (MEP) and the renowned Moremi Game Reserve, both of which are part of their “private properties” in District Wildlife Management Areas. They also threatened that should the need arise; they would take the law into their hands.

Batawana also vowed to frustrate whoever lays their hands on any other property owned by the tribe as they feel their authority has always been undermined. They insist the time has now come for government to be taught to treat them like other tribes. This emerged during a consultation kgotla meeting called by Maun West MP Tawana Moremi, who had come to brief them on the slow progress and the deliberate failure by government to act on the matter regarding the anticipated takeover. He also wanted to discuss a way forward that would persuade government to respond.

Moremi explained that the two properties have never belonged to government, as they were set up after the formation of the Fauna Conservation Society which is the legal administrator. He noted that it then came as a surprise to them to learn that the properties were to be seized by government, with an intention to make developments on them, without consultations with the morafe. Tawana said at the meeting that the spontaneous visit at the kgotla the previous year by Minister of Environment Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama and his delegation; comprising officials from Botswana Tourism Organization did not send shockwaves to him alone, as the entire tribe was equally disturbed.

The chief’s uncles had thought then that Tshekedi had just paid them a courtesy call as is common practice, only to learn later in between talks that he was in fact a man on a mission, and with his mind made up to seize the park. Tawana said on several occasions, tribal leadership had written to the Office of The President, voicing their concerns , government however never responded except once , last November when the acknowledged receipt of their letters. He said the brief response lacked content. “Even as I stand before you, I am in possession of the correct documents, which show that indeed these properties are ours.

All of these documents date back to the early 60’s, long before the establishment of both the BTO and Tawana Land board, which we have since learnt is busy leasing out plots in our game reserve. What they are doing is daylight robbery, and so we are yet to meet them so that they can explain their intentions and probably handover whatever proceeds they have been making from the leasing”, he said. BTO’s involvement in this matter was such that they take over control of MEP particularly, as Tshekedi through his ministry had already finalized the takeover, and made his intentions clear Village elder Joseph Barati told the meeting that the mixed races of people found in Ngamiland should not be overlooked in any way as they are the right ammunition that should be used to fight for their natural resources.

He however differed with those who suggested that the tribe should engage a lawyer so that the matter could be heard by a court of law. “This is a straight forward issue, which has a lot of evidence attached to it. So I personally feel there is no need for us to engage courts at this point. What we need to do is to put pressure on the OP to give us a response, and we will take it from there”. MEP is in a prime area overlooking the Thamalakane River, while Moremi Game Reserve lies in the heart of the pristine Okavango Delta.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.