Happy New Year: Back to the Land Question

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 13 January 2015   |   By Dr Boga Manatsha

Last year I concentrated on various land issues, and how they relate to our everyday lives and politics. My intention, contrary to the thinking of some, is not to criticise but to critique. I constructively engage and debunk some entrenched myths about land in Botswana. In African countries, Botswana included, land issues become explosive because those in power underestimate the extent to which they can cause fissures in a society, if mishandled. Our rulers, for some cosmetic reasons, think that land issues are peripheral. They do so with the hope that land issues will eventually disappear. Yet, land issues, if unresolved, have the proclivity to cause untold political and social quagmire as happened in Zimbabwe.
I am of the view that until and unless we talk about land issues, openly and candidly, we cannot resolve problems such as landlessness, homelessness, poverty, hunger and unemployment. All these are, directly or indirectly, linked to the land question. Recently, it was announced that Botswana’s unemployment rate is continuing to skyrocket. It is estimated to be around 20 percent (of course, this is a conservative figure). What is raising eyebrows is that the youth are the hardest hit. Botswana has the potential (owing to political will) to utilise its land resources to create thousands of jobs. As we approach the so-called Vision 2016, we-Batswana (the leading and the led) should fight to ensure that the unresolved land issues are appropriately addressed (of course, not in the manner in which we saw the Oodi ‘madness’). There are ways that these can be done. I have spelt them out over the years. Herein, I suggest a radical land reform (including agrarian reform). This would be in the spirit of social justice (equity and fairness).
This is 2015, and our leaders ought to think differently. The year 2014 was different in that it was clouded by political rhetoric (in the eve of- arguably the most contested elections since 1965). Since the 2014 elections are over, all parties (more especially the ruling party) need to ensure that Batswana are provided with land (both for agricultural and residential use, equitably). That there is shortage of land in Botswana is a myth, and this thinking, simplistic as it is, should be discarded in 2015. There is no shortage of land in Botswana. But there is poverty of thinking in those who are tasked with managing our land resources. This has been so for many years, but I remain hopeful that the new leadership will prove me wrong.
I have lived in Japan for six years, and I have witnessed how the industrious and innovative Japanese use their tiny land productively. Japan has a population of about 130 million, and its total land area is 377,915 square kilometers. Worse, about 93 per cent of Japan’s land is water and mountains. Curiously, Botswana has a population of two million and a land area of 581,730 square kilometres- yet we talk of serious land shortage. I found it very annoying that in Botswana, one person can own 1,000 hectares of land (as a farm) and then 300 hectares of land as masimo. This kind of thinking/arrangement is counterproductive. Studies have shown that smallholder farmers (for crop production) produce much better than those who own thousands of hectares. In Botswana’s case, we see the ranches acquired in 1975 under the Tribal Grazing Land Policy underutilised (or permanently abandoned). Land barons (and policymakers) fail to understand that ‘primitive accumulation’ (in the form of the ownership of large chunks of land) does not lead to development but underdevelopment. It concentrates land in the hands of the few who do not use it for any public good. It is high time that we deconstruct this kind of thinking.  I have argued elsewhere that awarding 100 hectares of arable land to one family is just wasting land resource. I am of the view that a two and half hectare of land, if utilised properly, can sufficiently feed a family. The Japanese did it, so did the Chinese. In fact, after World War II, Japan instituted the most successful land reform in history. It destroyed large land holdings and redistributed small plots (1 hectare each) to the individual farmers.
In Botswana, the main objective should be food security. Smallholder farmers can effectively contribute in this regard compared to commercial farmers. I always hear people proudly saying that “I own 500 hectares of land”. Yet, others do not have a piece. Similarly, it makes no sense to continue allocating 900 square metres of residential plots. Some of those who get such huge plots end up sub-diving and selling to other Batswana and even foreigners. I have argued against the selling of land. The Land Boards should standardise residential plots to a size of 450 square metres. This will assist in solving the so-called land shortage. I want Batswana to seriously think about certain myths concerning our land. In 2015, I will continue writing my views, without fear or favour. I will constructively engage our leaders and policymakers. I do not need to write what those in power or policymaking like. I write what I like. As an academic, I am aware that my views ought to be challenged.

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