Monday, September 28, 2020

Will Francistown become Botswana’s first land war zone?

Just like a simmering volcano under the rocks which often erupts unexpectedly causing devastation, land conflicts behave in the same fashion. More often land conflicts are taken frivolously, but the truth of the matter is they have caused wars, bloodshed and even deaths across the world.

In what might end in a similar catastrophe, Francistown and the North East District authorities are currently at logger heads with Tati Company, a controversial British company accusing it of land theft. Politicians across political divide have since called for expropriation of land from Tati Company as they feel the company acquired the land during the colonial era and continues to take it from the natives through unscrupulous means. Registered in the United Kingdom as a Trust, Tati Company Limited is a company that deals with buying and selling of real estate.It is owned by British natives, the Glazier family.

Francistown and the North District at large are currently faced with shortage of land for residential, business and even agricultural purposes. The backlog of land allocation dates back to as far as the early 80’s. Tati Company has more often received the blame for taking all the land from the natives and even failing to develop it. In a heated meeting that was held last month in Francistown, some authorities threatened to mobilize communities to take the land from TC company by force while the company maintained its legitimacy and its rightful ownership to the land it holds.

Last week the Sunday Standard had an exclusive interview with Tati Company General Manager Ogaisitse Khama to get the company’s side of the story.

 “Contrary to popular beliefs that Tati Company owns all the land in the North East District and Francistown, the truth of the matter is that TC has since surrendered all the land to government at no cost. TC has title to the little land that it holds. Here is a little history, TC was purchased from its colonial owners by its current owners the Glazier family and they donated and sold at nominal value all the Company’s undeveloped land in Francistown and much of its agricultural land in the North East to benefit Batswana. In Francistown we retained high value developed income areas,” said an unfazed Khama as he began answering his interview.

He explained that according to history the land was owned by Lobengula of the Amandebele as he is believed to have conquered the natives being the Bakalanga, Bakhurutshe, Bangwato and others. He said they were also Difeqane wars that led to the British taking control of the land as it custodian. The colonial government then handed the land to Cecil John Rhodes who was a strategic businessman. He said Cecil John Rhodes was prospecting for minerals and the British government protected his interests. He added that the land was ultimately sold to the Glazier family from Tati Concession Limited another company which had bought the land. The company had gone bankrupt.

“Most of the history is in the archives. What I can only assure you is that Tati Company has title to the land it has and it is a lawful owner,” he said.

He however emphasized 350 000 acres was given back to government after Independence in 1966. He said the company retained four farms measuring 22 000 hactres that it was utilizing being Bisoli, Sikukwe, Lady Mary and Sam Estates. He said most of the farms are used for cattle ranching. He also explained that 95 percent of the North East District including all the undeveloped land in Francistown came to be owned by government and third parties and not Tati Company.

“Government used the land to resolve pre-colonial land demands, and provide housing and services at reasonable prices to Batswana especially those with limited means. The notion that Tati Company also owns a large proportion of the North East District and is responsible for land shortages is also false,” he said.

He also added that government acquired all the company’s mineral rights for a nominal amount based on its decision to own these rights. He further said part of the company’s agricultural land has recently been included in the expansion of Francistown. Khama explained that an application has been made to subdivide this land for the city’s growth.

“As a minority landowner, the company cannot dictate land prices as some assumptions. It does not control the economy,” he said.

Francistown City Council has also threatened to take TC to court for refusing it access to a farm it acquired from the company. However Khama said that they are in the process of resolving the issue amicably.

“We are currently in the process of resolving this issue amicably with Francistown City Council as our important partners. The bone of contention here arose from the fact that the farm which measures 139 hactres was bought from TC by government and it is located within TC property (Lady Mary Ranch). TC has other tenants and when they leased the property they secured the whole property to protect their investments. He said these posed a challenge for access by the city council” he said.

He however said after this development a proposal was made to the city council and added that discussions are on-going between the two parties. He was adamant that the issue will soon be resolved amicably.

Asked on threats that were made by the local authorities and politicians to mobilize people to seize the land from TC by force, he said such would be unfortunate. He said Botswana was founded on democratic principles and respect for rule of law. He challenged those who feel they have a case against Tati Company to use the courts of law to settle their issues.

“What I can assure you is that Tati Company holds the title to the land it has and it acquired it legally. In fact as part of its corporate social responsibility it has donated most of its land to the government of Botswana which shows corporate citizenship. The company’s tax records are in good order. Our annual records are filed on time,” he explained. Khama could however not disclose how much the company is worth saying that it is family trust

He said in conclusion that they value Francistown City Council as strategic partners in uplifting the lives of Batswana. He said the company has the interest of Batswana at heart.

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