Botswana running out of land

The Minister of Lands and Housing, Ramadeluka Seretse, told parliament that all other towns except the two, according to the current town and city development plans, had sufficient land. The minister made the revelations when requesting parliament to approve 763,4 million pula for his ministry’s budget. Seretse said it was Gaborone in particular, which continued to face the pressure of land shortages and that the ministry’s efforts of expanding the city through acquisition of neighbouring freehold farms had not yielded anything. He said the other potential plan was to negotiate the release of tribal land that borders the city from the district authorities. In the case of Lobatse, he said, a tender had already been awarded for a geo-technical study that covers 655 hectares. “This includes 146 hectares of land already acquired and 509 hectares, which we are in the process of buying for the expansion of the town,” he explained. He added that the ministry was currently preparing a draft Tribalisation Bill for the freehold land that was acquired in 2004. Regarding the once fiercely contested upgrading of infrastructure in the squatters of Botshabelo North in Selebi-Phikwe, Ramadeluka said the contract had since been terminated because of poor performance on the part of the company contracted to do the job. “I must note here that the company that was terminated for non-performance was not a citizen company,” he said. The contract was awarded in December 2004 and cancelled in October last year. The contractor was supposed to upgrade water and sewage reticulation in the unplanned settlements in the area, but Seretse revealed that the ministry had since made a re-tender for the project and hoped a bid award would be out in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, land ownership has once again come under focus in Botswana at large. This follows recent government promises of giving preferential consideration to youths who want Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) loans for agricultural projects. Gaontebale Mokgosi, Youth Leadership Empowerment programme officer at the National Youth Centre (NYC), is for the idea, but concedes that non-availability of land for the youth can put paid to their dream. “Chances are that the situation would not change until young people exercise some autonomy in the allocation of land. Land Board committee membership is still not open to a lot of youngsters who could help make owning land attractive and accessible to their peers. The law only sees them as recipients,” Mokgosi told the Echo newspaper. According to Kweneng Land Board senior committee secretary Oshahaditswe Lasarwe, only citizens aged between 26 and 60 are eligible to contest for a seat on the Land Board. Conversely, Kgatleng Land Board secretary Banco Mogome places the minimum entry age at 30 years. NYC helps young people draw up project and business proposals to access various sponsorship such as youth grants at the Department of Culture and Youth. He revealed that although they had had lots of youths contacting them for business proposals so as to access this year’s increased grant, none eyeing the new CEDA provision had come forth. He attributed the lack of enthusiasm to the land problem. Botswana National Youth Council executive director Falcon Sedimo also acknowledged that the fact that youth did not own land could work against access efforts to empower them. “Many never had interest in owning land in the first place, and this development found them ill-prepared. But they can take advantage of fallow land by leasing it from its owners,” he said. A public relations officer at CEDA, Thabang Macholo, noted that pockets of interested youth had already called at his organisation. He said the response was not overwhelming because the scheme had not commenced yet. Although the problem may serve as a young person’s wake-up call to the importance of matters such as land ownership, acquiring the resource through land boards had never been easier. Although access to farming land is unrestricted with a good probability of special consideration to special interest groups, Lasarwe conceded that the process was fraught with bureaucratic red tape. Macholo said that it can take an average of six months to three years for one to be allocated a piece of land. “The board only sits once every three months due to financial constraints, which accounts for a backlog of applications. Agriculture-related applications are sometimes referred to the District Land Use Planning Unit for technical input,” she said. The delays may also be attributed to failure by applicants to submit comprehensive proposals with their applications in the case of business plots, Mogome added. The two land boards’ proximity to Gaborone may also explain the influx of applications and the resultant delays. Recently Seretse told parliament that the waiting list at Mogoditshane sub-land board, which falls under the Kweneng main land board, stood at 26 329. Allocation is done on a first-come/ first-served basis despite the fact that some of the applicants already own land in Mogoditshane or elsewhere. “My ministry is addressing this issue in the draft White Paper on the review of the National Land Policy by proposing one-person/one-plot in tribal areas,” he said.

March 2006
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