A man who knows a lot about heritage sites across the country says that a situation that some might find gravely worrying is actually nothing to worry about at all.
Phillip Segadika, who is the Chief Curator (Archaeology) at the National Museum and Monuments, says that while some heritage sites are enclosed within private property, “so far researchers have not had problems with forbidden or over-restricted access.” To emphasise this point in a written response, he writes “not” in all-caps. According to him, the Museum has not had any formal or informal complaint by any researcher who was refused access.
Segadika further reveals that “very private farms” in the country don’t have heritage sites and monuments.
“For eastern Botswana, I would say as many as times three of monuments for the number of farms. If you have 60 farms, we could count up to 180 monuments,” he says.
After a research permit is granted, the Museum appends a support letter alongside the research permit to researchers to access private properties.
“Both local and international as well as government and research institutions – like the University of Botswana, undertake research on key archaeological sites in privately-owned properties,” says Segadika citing Lobatse, Tuli Block and Chobe as examples of areas with privately-owned properties within which exist heritage sites.
“It may interest you to know that the Bangwaketse 18th century Seoke and Pitsa Sites of Kgosi Moleta and Mongala in Lobatse, as well as the two-million-year Dolomite Caves, are all on private properties. Access by researchers remains unrestricted and in some cases, such as Seoke, preliminary research recommendations point to possible valorization and future public access. If that happens, it will be negotiated and governed by existing due protocols within the confines and spirit of the Monuments and Relics Act.”
The latter statute would be instrumental in instances when the land owner and the Museum can’t get on the same page about access. Segadika says that the Act “respects the rights of private property owners, addresses acquisitions by the state where necessary and deals with agreements with property owners as well arbitrations by the High Court when it comes to deadlocks and definitely before acquisitions where such are applicable.”
While the Act says that land owners should be given “fair and reasonable compensation” when their land is accessed, Segadika says that at this point, that is not happening.
The arrangement for heritage sites is a quite interesting one because while these sites are “protected” by the state, they actually don’t belong to it. In explaining this unusual arrangement, Segadika says that the practice is that there will be an agreement and common understanding between the landowner and the National Museum.
“For instance, many Botswana Railways houses along the rail line are historic buildings and a prevailing understanding with BR as the property owner is that of conversation. The same applies to some houses owned by the Botswana Housing Corporation and other government departments as well as community trusts and regional museums across the country. In similar vein, say in the Chobe, Nyungwe Iron Age site and Nyungwe springs are on private property. Whereas Nyungwe hot spring access has been availed to the public by the property owner, we monitor such use. The written understanding for Nyungwe Iron age site is that developments by the property owner will be preceded by a predevelopment study, rescue and permission accordingly.”
The other examples Segadika gives are of the Fish Keitseng Monument in Lobatse and the London Missionary Society church in Molepolole. In the case of the former, the property belongs to the Keitseng family but is also a national monument.
“The family will not undertake developments without prior communication and determination of how that could compromise or enhance the integrity of the site,” he explains.
While also in private hands, the LMS church is a national monument “due to its antiquity and authenticity.” Segadika says that the church’s refurbishing last year followed set guidelines and was supervised by the National Museum, which also helped to raise funds for the roofing. Developments on a heritage site typically follow the following process: pre-development study, granting or denial of permission, agreement on way forward and supervision or mitigation.