Wesbank

Batawana to go to court

SHARE   |   Sunday, 13 July 2014   |   By Keitebe Kgosikebatho
Tawana Tawana

Batawana are said to be considering to take government to court over ownership of the Moremi Game Reserve.

As the tussle for ownership of the reserve, between government and Batawana unfolds, the tribe has reportedly taken the legal route to reclaim its land.

Information reaching this publication suggests that, Batawana will soon instruct their attorney to prepare litigation papers against government and serve the relevant authorities.

While Batawana tribesmen maintain that theirs is an apolitical fight, which is solely aimed at regaining what they think rightfully belongs to them and was fraudulently captured by the government,  Maun West Member of Parliament Kgosi Tawana Moremi who is by birthright, Batawana traditional leader has since the previous sitting of the 10th parliament been firing salvos at government. he has been posing questions in parliament, demanding answers from relevant ministers on issues pertaining to the ownership and management of natural resources in Ngamiland amongst them Maun Education Park and Moremi Game Reserve.

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On Wednesday  last week, he asked the Minister of Lands and Housing Lebonang Mokalake if he is aware that as of 1963, the land known as Moremi Game Reserve had been allocated and grant made as per the Tawana Land Board minutes of 20 March 1975.
He further asked if he was aware that the land known as Moremi Game Reserve was under the control of the Fauna Conservation Society (Tawana land board minutes of 6-7 February 1978).
Tawana had also wanted to know  if Mokalake was aware that tribal land regulations section 20 (4) required consent of the owner of rights over Moremi Game Reserve for any grants over the land and the Fauna Conservation Society is a customary Incorporation of Batawana tribe.

In response, Mokalake told Parliament that he is aware that Moremi Game Reserve was established in 1963 by Batawana and administered on behalf of the tribe by Ngamiland Fauna Conservation Society.

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He however, said in with the advent of the establishment of land boards the custody of all tribal land was vested on the land boards. In addition, the minister said he was also aware that Moremi Game Reserve was under the management of the Fauna Conservation Society until October 1979 when its administration was handed over to government.

Land Boards were established in 1969 by enactment and were given authority to allocate/ distribute tribal land.

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Mokalake said, currently, the resources in all game reserves and national parks in the country were managed by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks while land authorities manage the land and are responsible for issuing land rights to interested parties.

He hence dismissed the manner in which the reserve was managed and its administration handled for Batawana by the Ngamiland Fauna Conservation Society as not applicable in the current government set up.” The manner in which it was administered and managed then has been overtaken by events,” said Mokalake.

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Though he said he is aware of Regulation 20 (4) of the tribal land regulations, which provides that as long as the customary rights in respect of a piece of land subsist no grant of that land shall be made which would conflict with such right without the consent of their owner. The minister stated that this regulation is not applicable in this case because as already stated all the rights and title over Moremi Game Reserve is vested  with the land board.

He said as a result the management and administration of tribal land and the flora and fauna in the game reserve are now managed by the Tawana Land Board in collaboration with the Department of wildlife and National Parks respectively.

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However, Batawana intends to  take the matter to the courts of law, basing their argument on the premise that Moremi Game Reserve ownership rights were never handed over to government but rather its management and administration were, hence they want to end the special arrangement and get the land back, or rather get befitting compensation. Records of minutes of Land Board Special meeting held in the sub land board office on the 23rd August 1979 indicate that Kgosi Letsholathebe II indicated to the meeting that the administration of Moremi Game Reserve has been of their great concern for a long time. It is further stated that Letsholathebe indicated that he had in his capacity as Chief called a kgotla meeting to get the view of the people on the matter, in which it was agreed that  the game reserve  be handed to the Land board who in turn will hand over its administration and management to the Department of Wildlife. “The people also resolved that the constitution of the Fauna Conservation Society of Ngamiland be suspended without prejudice to their rights of the site,” the minutes read.

In the same meeting after some comments, the Land board resolved that; they accept the people’s decision, hence endorsing the earlier statements. The Land Board also resolved that the Department of Wildlife should take over the administration of Moremi with effect from August 23rd 1979 and start collecting entrance fees using their own books. The then Ministry of Local Government and Lands was in turn requested to ensure that the books of Moremi are audited in order to assess the assets and liabilities. It was also resolved that the Land Board accompanied by the senior  Game Warden should visit Moremi Game Reserve on the 25th August in order to discuss the take over with staff who were working there.

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A Maun based attorney who has so far been consulted by Batawana has  confirmed to this publication that that indeed the tribe was at the brink of taking legal action against government. The tribe, he says, wants to challenge the decision by Tawana land board to sublease certain piece of land within Moremi Game Reserve to third parties without consulting them/ Ngamiland Fauna Conservation Society as the rightful owner of the land.

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The attorney also stated that Batawana further want government in this case, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks  to hand back the management and administration of any land including Moremi Game Reserve that had been in the past handed over to them  by the former. Although preparations and talks are at are said to be at an advanced stage he could not disclose when the matter will exactly go to the courts as final decisions and consultations are yet to be done.