Against the dictates of protocol, Lobatse MP Nehemiah Modubule snubbed Lands and Housing minister, Nonofo Molefi, when he visited the township last Wednesday.
Modubule refused to accompany the minister to a location in town because the latter had no plans to meet a group of aggrieved residents in the township who are being evicted from a place where they have done business for years.
The MP was informed by the District Commissioner’s office that the minister was visiting the township. In terms of protocol, Modubule had to accompany the minister but as a tit for tat for the minister’s refusal to address the residents, the MP decided that he would vote with his feet.
At the heart of the controversy is an even bigger one ÔÇô government plans to evict a fire-brick-making business community at a place called Ditena (bricks). For decades, this community has been firing bricks at a location behind Nosey Road Nightclub but now live under the threat of eviction following a court order issued last year.
“They have no other means of livelihood and are worried about how they would make a living if they are evicted,” Modubule says.
Motivated by such fear, the brickmakers took their grievances to Ditshwanelo, the human rights group, which in turn contacted Modubule as area MP. During their meeting with the MP, the brickmakers suggested an extension of three to six months to enable them to wrap their business up. The MP contacted the minister to plead the brickmakers’ case but the only promise that Modubule says he was able to snag out of the minister last Tuesday was an extension of two weeks ÔÇô no more.
A day after that conversation, Modubule got the call from the District Commissioner notifying him that the minister was in town ÔÇô at the Civic Centre ÔÇô and he was required to come over. At the Civic Center, Modubule learnt that the minister did not plan to address the brick makers.
It was then that Modubule decided against accompanying him to Ditena.
For his part, Molefi says that there was no reason for him to address the aggrieved people, as the purpose of his trip to Lobatse was to only make an assessment of the situation. The situation, as the minister describes it, is that the government has engaged a contractor to service the disputed land. The contractor should have started work by now but has not been able to do so because of the current situation of occupancy.
“The result is that the contractor is penalising the government for not being able to start work,” says Molefi adding that he won’t extend the two-week grace.
Modubule’s information is that the brickmakers are unaware of the court order. On the other hand, Molefi says that there is documentary evidence that proves that some 40 brickmakers acknowledged receipt of the court order in writing and also that they confirmed that to him verbally during his Wednesday visit. Over the months, Molefi says that the brickmakers have been “pleading and pleading” with the government for more and more grace and all along were “granted indulgence.”
The minister also confirms that Modubule did indeed not accompany him to Ditena. His account is that the MP said that he had to attend to a prior engagement, which, incidentally according to Molefi, did not clash with the site visit. Judging by his words, Molefi would not have expected Modubule to defer to protocol because he says that when the MP showed up at the Civic Centre “he was not in the mood.”