A Night Vigil at Oodi Sub-Land Board: Causes, Controversies, and Implications 

SHARE   |   Sunday, 30 November 2014   |   By Dr Boga Manatsha

I examine, albeit briefly, the causes, the controversies and the implications of the so-called Oodi land stampede, which aroused incredible public interest. My analysis is based on political, legal, economic and social contexts. The (Kgatleng) land application process is confusing and remarkably controversial. On 25 November 2014, around 10 pm, I received a message from a friend telling me that she will be driving to Oodi at 12 midnight to apply for a residential plot. I asked her: Why driving at night? She responded:  “Hundreds of people have already camped there”. They were planning to hold a night vigil at the Oodi sub-Land Board. I was mystified. After this conversation, another friend phoned telling me that he is in Oodi for the same reason. I asked myself: Do these hundreds people, who spent a night there, expected a first-come-first serve or what? Did they expect a raffle? Did they expect a Yes and No method? Did they expect sympathy because they spent a night there? I am not sure what Batswana thought of this Oodi exercise. If they expected any of this method to be used to allocate land, then something is deficient in this country. Another reason could be that Batswana have lost trust in the land administration system. 

The Kgatleng land application exercise was ill-conceived and highly likely to cause serious ramifications, which would be ghastly to contemplate, especially for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). On 26 November 2014, I drove to Oodi to witness what some call a ‘stampede’. Upon my arrival, I could not help, but ask myself:  ‘What the Hell is this’? I have never seen such chaos and anxiety, coupled with angst. I managed to chat with a senior Land Board official after introducing myself as a researcher. The Oodi stampede was unnecessary. I have consistently argued that land issues need to be handled with maximum care: there is no need not raise unnecessary alarm/emotions. I am not sure what the Ministry of Lands and Housing want(ed) to achieve. I am also not sure how the message was communicated to the public. This might have caused the chaos in Oodi. How can people go to a night vigil to apply for land? Batswana drove all the way from Kalane. Instead of going to work, people drove to the opposite direction.

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 A Commission on Land Tenure of 1983 states that “Land is a very special resource, the very base on which the nation stands. The way in which it is administered is a profound expression of national values” (Republic of Botswana 1983:3). Having researched about the land question and land administration in Botswana, I can certainly conclude that the way we administer our land do not express our national values. It expresses the values of the powerful and a certain clique. Those familiar with studies, which have critiqued the land reforms in this country, will concur. There is no value in our culture (I should not be misread to say Tswana culture because this has wrong connotation), which encourages the concentration of land in the hands of a few. Yet, our land reforms, and land laws, encourage that. Whose value is this which encourages the grabbing of land by a few? Botswana’s land reforms serve the interests of a few. Carefully study the Tribal Grazing Land Policy (1975), the National Policy on Agricultural Development (1991), the Tribal Land Act (1994), the Freehold Lands, the Fencing Policy etc. I will not repeat what I have said over the years. I only note that the way we manage our land reverberates with what Karl Max (1859) once dubbed ‘primitive accumulation’.  Some Batswana downplay the role of the class struggle in the access to and ownership of land. Yet, this has, since dependence, become significant. 

Classes became more pronounced during the colonial penetration. As Chazan and colleagues rightly state, colonialism “contributed to the formation of modern classes based on their relationship to the means of production and their conflicts with other classes on issues of private and public policy” (1999:119). Therefore, Batswana should understand the complexity of land administration within this context. The crises in class societies emanate from the rules and norms governing the distribution and ownership of goods and services (Bagchi1982:1). Douglas North calls these ‘institutions’. In Botswana, the Land Boards administer tribal land. Over the years, these boards have been criticised for being inefficient. Professor Sam Moyo argues that land policies are always contested. Land has a social significance “to the lives of most of the rural and urban classes”. Therefore, “its control is an important source of political power and a terrain for political contest between different social classes or groupings of people” (Moyo 2008:26). In Botswana, the ruling party will be chastised for what happened in Kgatleng. They should expect this. Land is a very political issue. The Kgatleng land crisis provides the best opportunity for serious engagement. The Botswana leaders are reluctant to admit that for us to unravel the genesis of the land question, they need to understand the “complex and political contradictions which have ensued from colonial and post-independence land policies, as well as from Africa’s ‘development’ and accumulation trajectories, especially with regard to the land rights of the ..  poor” as advised by Moyo (2008:1).

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The Oodi land crisis should be placed within Botswana’s land administration laws and policies. The Tribal Land Act section 10 (1) states that the tribal land is vested in the Land Boards “for the benefit and advantage of all the citizens of Botswana and for the purposes of promoting the economic and social development of all the peoples of Botswana”. Before the Tribal Land Act was amended in 1993, only tribesmen (morafe members from a particular tribal territory) could be allocated land in their tribal territories. The ruling elite, led by Sir Ketumile Masire, viewed this as ‘causing’ tribalism. It was also seen as against the spirit of nation building. Tribalism exists in Botswana and it is or was not caused by the allocation of land. It manifests itself in many ways. Although the Tribal Land Act was amended to ensure that Batswana have the right to acquire land anywhere in the country, the land overseers still discriminate against people they perceive to be ‘outsiders’. Moreover, that the Tribal Land Act purports to be promoting fairness and equity, the peri-urban villages are ironically suffering because of this provision.

For instance, Batswana flocked to Kgatleng recently to apply for land. Legally, they have the right to. The Constitution, section 14 (1) notes that every Motswana has “the right to reside in any part of Botswana” It is in this context that thousands drove to Kgatleng to apply for land. But do these people genuinely need land? Do they really want to reside in Kgatleng? The majority of those who went to Kgatleng already have plots/homes in Gaborone, Tlokweng, Gabane and even Kgatleng. Are we not abusing “the right to reside in any part of Botswana” clause? Many people who went to Oodi want the land not to reside, but to build units and rent out to others. Some want it for selling. Some genuinely need it. When some residents of Old Naledi were allocated plots at Block 7, they decided to sell them. They still reside in Old Naledi. Did they use “the right to reside in any part of Botswana” clause. If so, the system is rotten. It is unfair for people with multiple plots to have flocked to Kgatleng to apply for land. I urge the Land Boards not to allocate them more land. That every Motswana has the right to live anywhere is undisputable. Most Batswana have first homes in their respective villages of origins. For instance, I am from Masunga, and I have my house/home there. This is where I will be buried. Yet, in the peri-urban areas, some locals do not have land to build their first homes. The artificial reasoning that the merafe from Tlokweng, Bokaa, Oodi etc should not complain because they have the right to acquire land anywhere is deficient and insensitive, especially when considering the spiritual, cultural and social value of land as Batswana. Culturally, there is no reason why a Motlokwa should have his/her first home in Masunga. How many Batswana from the north or west have their first homes in Tlokweng or Oodi? Probably none. They have second homes here. Christodoulou notes that “land has been a locus of group identity and even national identity. A tribe or nation even extended family has ensured its identity as well as its security by defence of its territory and even linked group continuity with ancestral burial grounds whose inviolability was held sacrosanct” (quoted in Tirivangani 2004:8-9). As much as I oppose the land quota model that the president announced in 2013 on the basis that it violates the Constitution and the Tribal land Act, I still maintain that it needs serious discussions and consultation. The too much emphasis on the economic value of land has made the social, spiritual and cultural values irrelevant. This is pronounced in the peri-urban areas. In other areas, the communities stress cultural and spiritual bond to their land. They make noise about it. Yet, when it comes to the communities in the peri-urban areas, some Batswana will accuse them of being unreasonable and anti-nation building. The land issues are so complex such that pieces of legislations (subject to many interpretations) will not resolve them. That the tribal land is for the benefit of all Batswana (socially and economically), should take into account the peculiarity of the peri-urban areas. The government has failed in this regard. Over the years, “prime land [is] being transferred through the market to the country’s political and economic elite” (Molebatsi 2004:77).

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The BDP did badly in Southeast and Kgatleng because of the complex land question. What happened in Oodi is an indictment to the ruling party’s shortcomings in handling the land question. Kgatleng is the third smallest district in Botswana, and has cute land shortage. It was not proper for the Land Boards to accept so many applications when it is clear that there is no land in the first place. That the Land Board wanted to create a waiting list sounds problematic. First, the Land Board already has a waiting list. Second, it gives an impression that there is ample land, and the government has been misleading the nation about land shortage. Third, it raised unnecessary alarm and expectations. Batswana will use this against the ruling party. Is this an April fool hoax? Fourth, the processing of the thousands of applications (most from people who have multiple plots) is a waste of time and resources. Fifth, the Kgatleng exercise has the potential to arouse tribal tension. When President Ian Khama announced his land quota model in Bokaa kgotla in 2013, many residents complained that the Land Boards in Kgatleng are grappling with long waiting lists. They accused the Land Boards officials for being corrupt as they favour people from as far as Zwenshambe. The president assured them that 70% of the plots will be reserved for them. They took the president’s words verbatim and expect to be given the 70% share. I, therefore, see a disaster during the allocation of the plots that were being scrambled for (if they are any). The Bakgatla will use what the president said to justify what they would probably call legitimate demands. Despite the fact that what the president said has no legal standing (when reading alongside the Tribal Land Act and the Constitution), this cannot be ignored. I critiqued the presidents proposed model from a legal and political perspective in this column. I was also invited by the Botswana Tribal Lands Authorities Association (BATLA) to present a paper on the same. However, Batswana should try to understand why the president said this. I truly sympathised with him and I still do. Yet, I dismissed him from a legal perspective. 

The Constitution, section 15 (3) is against discrimination on the basis of “race, tribe, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex”. These, when taken into account, work against any preferential model such as the one advocated for by the president.  Batswana should further discuss the land quota model. As far as I know, they were not given the opportunity to comment on it. When partly supporting his model, I used the redistributive, restorative and distributive justices. These have been used in South Africa (when the African National Congress took charge in 1994). The idea was to resolve the skewed land distribution in South Africa, an apartheid relic. These can only be implemented when they are supported by laws and legislations. It does not make sense to me that people with multiple plots are able to get plots before those who have none. Our Vision 2016 calls for a ‘united and proud nation’. How do we expect unionism when we still have a grossly deficient land allocation model? It is deficient because people can get multiple plots all over Botswana. Some are allocated land and easily sell it. Whenever the issue of tribal land allocation is discussed, Batswana are quick to point out that such would cause tribalism. What a narrow view! So, we should bury our heads in the sand like an ostrich?  No. We should bite the bullet. We seem ignore that sustainable development is multifaceted. When I argue that land has serious spiritual value, some think that I am still backward. I am not.

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In Kgatleng, the move by the government has political ramifications. Gibson (2007) argues that “land questions are important because they can teach us something about transitional justice, and the roel of instrumentalism and symbolism in politics”. The BDP-led government and the Bakgatla have their own issues. The current land crisis, if mishandled, will further alienate the BDP in Kgatleng. I am not suggesting that the government should not allocate land in any part of Botswana. I, however, suggest that land issues need to be handled carefully and those in authority should not act on emotions. Politicians, all over Africa, have used the land question for various reasons.  The land question is what has extended Robert Mugabe’s political power in Zimbabwe. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in South Africa is also using it to endear itself to the people. Similarly, in South Africa, the Pan Africanist Congress Party and the Communist Party “have attempted to galvanize the people on land” (Gibson 2009:18). In Botswana, the BDP will eventually lose power, partly because of its careless approach to the land question. I have said so many times. Before the elections, I argued that the BDP will have serious problems in Tlokweng because of the land question. I noted the same with regard to the Tati West.  But Batswana should be careful because “Notions of indigenous land rights… can be manipulated by political elites to create political patronage systems and promote ethnic conflicts that purge the political weak from the land and make way for processes of land accumulation” as Sebastian Amanor  (2008:15) contends. 

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Botswana National Land Policy: Issues Report (Revised) of 2002 states that the government is concerned about landlessness and land hoarding by speculators. I argued above that a significant number of those who rushed to Kgatleng are land speculators.  I am not saying that Batswana do not need land. I am yet to be convinced that many people who cause the waiting lists to skyrocket are truly in need of land.  Botswana’s skewed development (the concentration of resources around Gaborone) is also to blame for the land crisis in Kgatleng, South East and Kweneng. Due to rural poverty and lack of opportunities in the rural areas, the masses migrate to the urban areas. Moreover, due to the economic value of land (which is exaggerated), some people have developed a habit of selling land, while others have become seasoned land speculators.  The government seems to have done little to stop this. The National Land Policy: Issues Report notes that: “It is clear that either through lack of [political] will or through inadequate legal provision, existing laws restricting amounts of land person may acquire or hold have not been effective. At the same time, the number of people without land, especially in urban areas is increasing” (Republic of Botswana 2002:vii). If the problem is well-known to the authorities, why do we still have crisis in the peri-urban areas? As for the Oodi or Kgatleng land ‘crisis’, I suggest the following: The government should not allocate those plots (if any) until it is certain that its records are up-to-date. This will help it to disqualify those who own tribal land in the vicinity of Kgatleng. Again, the government should clearly state who are qualified to get the land applied for. Many are not qualified. I also suggest that the government should disqualify all those who once sold their (tribal) land. I also request the government to criminalise the selling of land.  I know, the Tribal Land Act prohibits it, but its implementation is lacking. 



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