The land crisis in our country is a clear threat to the peace that Botswana has enjoyed for many years. I witnessed with my own eyes yesterday as thousands of Batswana, young and old, invaded Oodi village with the hope of getting their names on to the waiting list for plots in the small Kgatleng village.
Is the stampede and chaos experienced in Oodi yesterday reflective of the scarcity of land in Botswana? Why is it that countries such as France, which is approximately the same geographical size as Botswana, with a population of over 65 million does not rank shortage of land as one of the key national issues? It cannot be true that there is inadequate land in Botswana, smaller countries with higher populations than Botswana are able to provide their citizens with adequate land for residential and commercial purposes.
The few people that I talked to in Oodi do realise that the land problem requires a political solution. This is not a problem for the Oodi Sub-Land Board to solve. It is a national issue that requires clear political interventions by the highest authorities in the country. Those that I talked to understood that the BCP had prioritized the issue of land in the election message. They know about the issue of the land audit and feel that there is need for the nation to understand how we got into this messy situation. An audit would help us to understand the gravity of the problem we face and the forces that add petrol to the burning fire of landlessness. We are not suggesting that an audit is a solution in itself, but it will allow for all of us to be fully informed with critical details pertaining to the crisis we face.
There are a number of other proposals in the BCP manifesto which if implemented, will address the issue of accessing land and promoting property ownership amongst Batswana. These include imposing a development covenant on undeveloped freehold land. As you drive to Oodi from Gaborone, you pass through huge tracks of land that was allocated decades ago and remains undeveloped. This adds to the artificial shortage of land. Is it not time to impose a time frame for all those who have been legally allocated land to develop the land they hold? If they develop small estates and sell to other Batswana, there will be no need to take a day off work and rush to a village like Oodi just for one to get onto a waiting list.
The land crisis we face is as a result of policy and leadership failure. We can look back as the BCP and say, we were right to prioritize the issue of land. The solutions we proposed remain relevant as we move to 2019.
*Saleshando is the President of the Botswana Congress Party.