The ownership of the controversial Maun Educational Park (MEP) has driven a wedge between Batawana and the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama.
The government wants to take ownership of the MEP and a brief meeting between the two camps left the tribal leadership vowing to fight to the bitter end for what they believe is theirs and that which rests within their tribal territory.
They also decried the fact that government appears to be undermining them as they were never consulted ahead of time so as to correct what they now see as a very big blunder on the part of the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) which falls under Khama’s ministry, by believing they can do as they wish in their tribal land and with tribal property for that matter.
At a kgotla meeting this week, they took turns to shun the new arrangement, which threatens to rob them of MEP, and have resolved to do all what it takes to make sure government falls short on this one, even if it means taking the matter to a court of law.
Kgosi Oleyo Ledimo said at a kgotla meeting on Friday that they were surprised to hear Khama, who had at the commencement of the meeting claimed to be “just passing by and checking on them”, whereas in actual fact he had brought with him a burning issue which he, however, did not want to discuss further as he felt it was no big thing.
Prior to Khama’s meeting, Ledimo said they (tribal leadership) had also turned down a request by BTO to have a meeting with them, at which they were to be issued with the final draft management plan of the park as well as to make their takeover intentions clear. He said it was then that they sat down and discussed the issue further, after which a resolution was made through a response letter to BTO that their request had been turned down as it did not carry any weight.
“To our surprise, Tshekedi followed just after two days to say he was just checking on us. But we were all curious and suspected there was more attached to the visit, also considering his uneasiness. We wasted no time and started firing questions, the MEP issue taking centre stage, after which we came to learn it was also a big relief for him as he then opened a can of worms. Little did we know there was much to discuss on the day planned for what was to be a mere visit as he also appeared to be in possession of our response letter to BTO. We differed in most of our discussions, and we were almost angered when he told us that by meeting us he was just doing us a favour and that according to his knowledge, MEP is administered by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), and that BTO should take control of the place. He even told us that since we wanted to convene a kgotla meeting he was just giving us a six-week period instead of the initial 12 months which were requested by Kgosi Charles Letsholathebe to have given him feedback, something which we felt is a very big insult as his instructions are also very inconsiderate on us,” said Ledimo.
Among the things envisaged for the park by BTO, in collaboration with a private investor of their choice, were a five-star hotel with a casino and conference rooms, an Eco friendly lodge, a cultural heritage centre, Okavango Delta environmental education centre, and a restaurant with amphitheatre overlooking the Thamalakane River.
Also in attendance was Maun West Member of Parliament, Tawana Moremi, who said he had tried hard to distance himself from the issue at hand as it has to date not been tabled in parliament and, as such, does not make any sense to him personally.
“There are standing order procedures in parliament which we follow before issues of concern, such as this one, can be out for public consumption. I stand here today to say this has never been brought to the attention of any of us at parliament. I do not even know if the House of Chiefs has an insight on this matter, and I strongly believe it is time ministers stop belittling our authority as MPs. It is very dishonourable for someone of Tsehekedi’s status to come here and confidently say things which he is not sure of and does not even know their origins, but still claim to have an upper hand at them. That is so distasteful and so I believe he needs to be corrected,” said the visibly furious MP.
Narrating the events that led to the establishment of MEP in 1969 as a tribal property run by the Fauna Conservation Society (FCS) which was then a community trust, Moremi said Batawana were also set up Moremi Game Reserve which they later learnt was not being mismanaged. He said they were advised to also establish a community trust which was to be run according to a constitution, and that the House of Chiefs has always been informed on all developments taking place. Therefore, he said, there is no way that the House of Chiefs should be sidestepped on issues concerning tribal properties as they should take the lead and be involved in all decision making.
He said that even parliament is not allowed to interfere with laws surrounding tribal properties as stated in Botswana constitution.
In his view, he said Tshekedi was very wrong from the onset by saying he was just doing the tribal leadership a favour by showing them the draft, whereas he does not know what it entails himself.
“MEP is a private entity in a wildlife management area which is wholly owned by Batawana and no one else. You people assigned me way back in 1990 to dig deep and look into this issue and other related matters concerning our natural resources which you wanted to protect, but I didn’t have sufficient information then. Now I have more than enough and so can confidently say we are in this fight together and will support you every step of the way. The so-called decision makers should know that there is no way tribal properties can be discussed without the involvement of merafe. Even dikgosi are well-versed nowadays, such that they know that whatever is in their tribal land does not belong to them but to merafe. What we do is to help with and only act as back up. And so you need not fear anything because you are on the right track. Question things, fight tooth and nail to make sure you get what belongs to you, and not to any outsider,” he said.
Meanwhile an interim committee, which is tasked with looking into other stuff besides MEP, has been formed. It has since been touring the rest of Ngamiland discussing the matter with chiefs for their input at various villages. They have also reportedly met the Tawana Land Board and instructed them not to allow any developments to be made on the disputed “tribal land” up until they get a go ahead from the tribal leadership.
The same committee, through its treasurer, Keloitsang Ledimo, also facilitated Moremi’s coming to the meeting by flying him in from Gaborone after claims that pleas by the committee to have their MP trip to be officially sponsored was “turned down by the Speaker of Parliament”.