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Home » Archived News » General » Khumaga residents relocated CKGR style

Khumaga residents relocated CKGR style

Publishing Date : 22 May, 2017

Author : ALFRED MASOKOLA

Government of Botswana, through its Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism is ensnared in another land relocation controversy in which residents of Khumaga, a wildlife rich area in Boteti are being forced to make way for wildlife.

The development will see residents losing part of their land, which they have occupied since pre-independence era. The imminent relocation of Khumaga residents has the hallmark of the controversial relocation of the indigenous tribe of Basarwa from Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) a decade ago, a move which was later ruled unlawful by the High Court.


In January 2002, the Government of Botswana terminated water, food and health services to the Bushmen residing in the CKGR. The service cuts were followed by relocations to adjacent areas. Access to the reserve was restricted for those who relocated, resulting in some of the Basarwa no longer being able to enter the land they had occupied or to pursue their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. This decision was taken to force Basarwa out of the CKGR.


In a court case that followed, government lost on the basis that the Basarwa were in possession of the land which they lawfully occupied in their settlements in the CKGR, and depriving them of such possession by the Government forcibly or without their consent was unlawful and unconstitutional. The court also upheld that refusal to allow the Basarwa entry into the CKGR without permit was both unlawful and unconstitutional.


In another tourism interest battle, government had sought to convince the Khumaga resident to give away part of their land for tourism interest but the consultation process reached a deadlock. The matter has been dragging on for the past five years, with the government failing to offer residents assurances that they still have a future after erection of the new fence.


The key players in the saga have been President Lt Gen Ian Khama, his brother and Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Tshekedi Khama, Member of Parliament for Boteti West Slumber Tsogwane, Former Minister of Tourism Kitso Mokaila,  and other cabinet members who have visited Khumaga with the view of bringing the matter to finality.


Last year, Tshekedi appointed a task team to engage with a Khumaga delegation over the matter. The two parties reached a deadlock resulting in Government going ahead with the markings that identified where the fence would be erected. WeekendPost has established through sources close to the developments that this is despite earlier assurances by Tshekedi that the government would only go ahead after agreeing terms of erection of the new fence with the residents.  


Area Member of Parliament, Slumber Tsogwane has decided to stick on the side of the government to support the relocation. Tsogwane has since 2013 tried to convince residents to cede their land to government to no avail. His decision to stand with government has seen him being unpopular in the area. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) again lost the Khumaga ward to opposition, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).


Last year Tsogwane confirmed to WeekendPost that government had started with the markings and insisted that residents were consulted though he conceded the two parties had not agreed terms yet. “Consultation does not mean agreement, but Khumaga residents know what the Government wants to do as they were consulted, and Government continues to engage them,” he had said. “Of course not all people agree with the Government’s decision, and I am not aware of their intention to go to court. If it is something that they want to do, there is nothing wrong with it,” Tsogwane had suggested.


According to sources, the residents also feel hard done by the area councillor, Thomas Kgethenyane who has decided to take sides with government on the matter. Kgethenyane reportedly told residents that he has no position in the matter and has chosen to take the middle ground. This statement is being viewed by the residents as lending support to government.


GOVERNMENT RENEGE ON PROMISE


Meanwhile, the Khumaga residents contend that Government’s decision to go ahead and make the markings has rendered the negotiation and consultation process “academic”. A committee was established for the purpose of overseeing negotiations with government over the erection of the new fence.


“What the Minister (Tshekedi Khama) is saying is not exactly what is happening on the ground. Tshekedi gives an impression that consultation with residents has led to the agreement, but they have gone ahead with the erection of the fence while negotiations are still ongoing!” exclaimed one of the delegation members. Tshekedi last year told this publication that he did not want to impose decisions on the communities but valued painstaking consultation with communities when dealing with matters involving them.


“I do not believe in imposing decisions. I try to reach consensus with people because if you impose decisions on them, you will face some sort of resistance,” he had remarked. “When things are done right, people will appreciate and there will be no criticism,” the minister had said.


Tshekedi had also asserted  that the reason why it took a long time for him to resolve the matter between his ministry and people of Boteti over the erection of the new fence which separates people and wildlife is because he wanted to do things right. “People think we want to take their fields and we had to convince them that the decision is being taken in their best interest. We are about to conclude the negotiations…I also want the ministry to be as flexible as possible. If they want boreholes, we will drill them wherever they want,” he had said.


In his last meeting with the residents last year, President Khama faced resistance from members of the community who were discontent with Government’s intentions and feared that Government would default on its promises. President Khama had however given assurances that Government would deliver on its promise hence he visited the residents to resolve the matter. He said subsequent to the erection of the fence, the community will be given two camp sites and there would be job creation for residents as some would be hired to look after the fence.


One representative of the committee revealed to this publication that, while the erection of fence is underway, all of what has been promised is not being followed. He said what president Khama had promised has not materialised to date. The residents fear that they stand to lose than benefit from the relocation as the erection of new fences will see residents losing part of their land which will then be reserved specifically for wildlife and tourism purposes. Ploughing fields and cattle posts belonging to Khumaga residents and nearby villagers could be sacrificed in the near future.


It is understood that several villages in Boteti, among others, Moreomaoto and part of Rakops cattle posts, will be affected by the proposed acquisition of land for Khumaga residents. Residents have always feared that President Khama’s love for tourism and wildlife would be used to influence the decision.


ARE THE KHAMAS PURSUING PERSONAL TOURISM INTEREST?


Khumaga residents however are of the view that appointment of a task team by Tshekedi was a mere formality in view of the fact that his ministry had already designed a map which captured the envisaged demarcation of land that will be acquired from residents to be reserved for wildlife.


The Ngwande Trust, which is owned by the Khumaga community, has always believed that the decision to erect a new fence is a plan by the Tourism ministry to protect the interest of one of the leading tourism companies, Chobe Holdings which has numerous interests in tourism in Botswana, including in Boteti around Khumaga village. The Khamas have interest in Chobe Holding company with their nephew Dale Ter Haar serving as one of its directors.


Chobe Holdings, which is headquartered in Maun, is the mother company of Desert and Delta Safaris and Ker and Downey Botswana, which operates combined 19 luxury lodges and safaris in Botswana and Namibia.  The lodge and safaris are sparsely located in tourism rich areas including Okavango, Maun and Boteti (where Khumaga is situated). Some of the lodges owned by Chobe Holdings’ two companies include Chobe Game Lodge, Savute Safari Lodge, Camp Moremi, Camp Okavango, Xugana Island Lodge and Leroo La Tau among others.


In 2013 Chobe Holdings challenged the ownership of Gwaraga land, a wildlife rich area owned by the Ngwande Trust.  Chobe Holdings contended that Ngwande Trust’s acquisition of the land will conflict with its operations and argued that it was never consulted when the Land Board handed the land to the Trust.

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