Mababe residents lash out at BTO, Landbank initiative
A land conflict between Ngamilanders and government, which has been simmering for years, this week rose to the fore as tempers flared during a heated Kgotla meeting in Maun as people demanded their land back.
If the anger expressed by the people during the Kgotla meeting that was held on Wednesday, is anything to go by, then the country is headed for a crisis over issues of land ownership and management.
At the centre of the conflict is a 2014 directive by government to take Okavango Delta from Tawana Landboard management and place it in the custody of Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO), through a controversial initiative termed “The Landbank”.
“We are all weeping for our land in Mababe. The Landboard has stopped allocating land in our area and we hear rumours that we may be relocated. Where would we go? Where would you relocate a 90 -year -old who was born and raised in Mababe?” queried Kutlwano Russel, a young woman of Mababe.
Russel further explained that what pains her people the most is that the government cheated Mababe people out of their land years back when it appropriated a chunk of it without compensation under the pretext that it was creating a buffer zone, but later ceded to the Okavango Delta.
“BTO (Botswana Tourism Authority) is oppressing us, it manages our land the way it pleases. They do not consult us. They have taken our land and are now distributing it under the so called Landbank,” Russel fumed.
She said that Mababe residents were so fed up of dictatorship and BTO trickery that they may start revolting and blocking tourists ‘s vehicles from entering their area.
Another resident from Mababe, Polelo Xhunokopee, said Mababe people were being tossed about because their tribe is despised: “Why is it that state land has only been picked from Basarwa people? Basarwa are always at the receiving end of government oppression. They are always the ones to be relocated, why?”
Tawana Landboard officials who attended the meeting explained that they stopped issuing land certificates or allocating land in Mababe because the area has been turned into state and taken from their ambit.
State land is controlled by Central government, under the Ministry of Land and Housing and BTO, an arrangement, which does not sit well with Ngamiland people in general.
Their view is that the new development has opened an opportunity for corrupt land allocations.
In fact, they suggested that it was mainly white foreigners who are allocated big chunks of land in the Okavango Delta to operate tourism businesses at the expense of locals and it is the non-transparent Landbank that is being used to disposes the people.
“Time will come and we will grab our land from the wrong hands. Our land has been issued out to foreigners through the Landbank,” stated Merafhe Amos of Khwai.
A Maun resident, Mark Kyriacou added that it was about time the custody of land is returned to Landboards, as the people were never consulted when it was transferred to the Landbank, in the first place.
Batawana Paramount chief, Kgosi Tawana Moremi who is also Maun West Member of Parliament, agreed with the people that the way the land allocation was carried out in Ngamiland in general was very wrong.
His contention was that when all prime tourism areas in the country were taken from Tawana Landboard, a number of concessions were transferred to foreign businesspeople without consultation with locals.
“The Landboard are administrators of the tribal land, on behalf of the people, the land does not belong to them. But certain pieces of land were transferred from Landboard custody without consultation and chaos emanated from there. There was no longer accountability. A minister appointed those he wanted to run the show and allocated the land to those he/ she wanted.” Tawana pointed out.
The MP however added that, there was hope under the current administration, which is open to suggestions to relook at the Landbank and most likely do away with it.