Thursday, October 1, 2020

Zone 6, 7 farmers clash over grazing land around Dikgatlhong Dam

A rift is ensuing between farmers of the Zone 6  Matopi area of the North East District and Zone 7 Robelela area in the Bobirwa sub-district over a piece of grazing land following the relocation of the Foot and Mouth Disease control cordon fence to pave way for the construction of Dikgatlhong Dam.

Before the construction of the dam, the cordon fence demarcating the two agricultural zones was strewn along the Shashe River.

The fence was, however, moved downwards north into Zone 6 to create space for the dam and an adjacent quarry site used by the contractor, Sinohydro, for its source of crushed concrete stones.

Information turned up by The Telegraph team at the site showed that prior to the commencement of the dam construction, the area under dispute lay squarely in the jurisdiction of Matopi area of Zone 6.

However, as part of the arrangements between the Tati Land Board and the Ngwato Land Board paving way for the construction of the country’s largest dam, which occupies 65 percent of the North East District and Zone 6 area, the cordon fence had to be relocated northwards.

The dam occupies 35 percent of the area under the Ngwato Land Board jurisdiction in a zone that in terms of FMD control is classified as Robelela crushes in the Zone 7 area.

However, as the construction of the dam progressed early last year, there was an outbreak of FMD in the Zone 6 and 7 areas, effectively infecting the cattle in the area around the dam site.

The FMD outbreak in the Zone 6 area east of the railway line led to the killing of all the cattle in the Zone while those affected with the disease in Zone 7 were instead vaccinated in a bid to contain the spread of the disease to other areas of the country that were not affected.

The fence relocation downwards in to the Zone 6 Matopi area has now given some Zone 7 farmers of Robelela the latitude to relocate their cattle from their drought ravaged grazing spots into the Zone 6 cattle depopulated Matopi. The relocation is now pitting the farmers against each other in a dispute whose solution is not yet clear.

Matopi farmers are aggrieved that the Zone 7 Robelela farmers have now been allowed to move into their erstwhile grazing lands in the area that they vacated to pave way for the dam and the quarry.
Addressing a kgotla meeting at Matopi recently, the area MP, Samsom Guma, was alerted to the issue by angry farmers who called on him to ask the Robelela farmers to move their cattle out of the disputed area back into Zone 7.

The enraged farmers accused the Zone 7 farmers of encroaching into their grazing lands, taking advantage of the relocation of the cordon fence north wards into their former grazing lands.
They also asked Matopi tribal authority, Kgosi Tshimologo Toteng, to intervene and throw out the Zone 7 farmers whom they claimed had encroached into their grazing area.

The farmers alleged that the relocation of the fence was never intended to alter the border between Zone 6 and 7 and although currently they were awaiting the cattle restocking exercise, Zone 7 farmers should not be allowed to use their grazing lands.

It, however, looks complicated how the issue will be resolved given that the cordon fence has been moved into the Matopi area thereby reducing the Zone 6 grazing land in the area under dispute.

At least four crushes or cattle posts have already been built in the area under dispute. Their cattle are freely roaming and grazing the area that has effectively become part of Zone 7 in terms of the fence relocation.

Asked for comment, Matopi Kgosi Toteng implored The Telegraph team to exercise restraint in reporting on the issue because any negative reporting on the issue had potential to fuel the feud between the farmers while the tribal and land authorities were still trying to resolve the impasse.

“Who told you about this issue? We are getting the relevant land boards and the tribal authorities on both sides in conjunction with the Department of Veterinary Services in the Ministry of Agriculture to deal with the issue and find an amicable solution. Any negative reporting will fuel the rift and estrange the farmers. We cannot stop you from reporting on it but exercise restraint so that it is not blown out of proportion,” pleaded Toteng.

Toteng was alive to the grumblings by some farmers in her jurisdiction that while their cattle were killed to contain the spread of FMD to other areas, the cattle in the Zone 7 area were instead vaccinated.

Some farmers had even gone to the extent of tribalising the issue and accusing government of killing the Bakalanga farmers’ cattle to create more grazing land for Bangwato in the Robelela area.

Some of the Bakalanga farmers who brought the issue to this publication’s attention were of the view that government was deliberately trying to create more grazing land for Bangwato around the Robelela area.

“If that is not the case, why is government now not reinstating the fence to where it originally was save for the land that was taken up by the dam? The contractor is about to finish its work on the site. If government had no ulterior motives, it should then move the cordon fence back and give us our land. We will definitely need that grazing land once restocking starts,” said a farmer who preferred anonymity.

Guma said he was still familiarizing himself and investigating the issue before committing himself to a comment.

“I still need to familiarize myself with the facts and make my own investigation in order to make whatever appropriate intervention that is required of me. I have been to the area under dispute but I have to gather all the facts, meet the relevant authorities and determine the way forward. It is only after that that I would be in a position to comment,” said Guma at the time of going to press.

His counterpart, the Mmadinare Member of Parliament and Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Ponatshego Kedikilwe under which falls the Robelela area could not be reached for comment at press time.

Attempts to solicit comments from Department of Veterinary Services as well as the Ngwato and Tati Land Boards also drew a blank at the time of going to press.

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