Okavango communities fight land allocation of OP

⇒Indigenous communities dispossessed in the land grab

⇒Residents want High Court to grant them an order that will allow them to be allocated part of NG28

Some members of the indigenous community in Xaxaba village in the Okavango are protesting the allocation of NG28 to the Office of the President (OP). On the other hand, Mababe residents are also at war with the government's decision to deny them ownership of their ancestral land.

At the centre of the contested land, some of Xaxaba residents in the Okavango Delta have engaged Martin Dingake of Dingake Law Partners to protest the allocation of land in court. Dingake confirmed the development. The indigenous communities residing in NG27 in Xaxaba village located in the inland of the delta, a stone’s throw away from NG28 argue that they are the rightful owners of the land and have been denied their right to their ancestral land.

“We are demanding to be allocated part of our ancestral land. We have made several applications to Tawana Landboard and to the government to be allocated that land to use it for tourism business before, but our applications have been rejected,” said Lekopanye Mokobela.

Mokobela is suspicious that the government's move to allocate the land to OP was a grand plan to dispossess them of their rightful land as it has been done before. Mokobela said that currently, there are foreign-owned tourism establishments within Xaxaba that are operating business, while most of them are wallowing in poverty.

“The land was taken without consultation before and they want to continue with land grabbing,” said Mokobela, adding, "Why is it that we were denied the opportunity to use the land for tourism as we had requested? “We have engaged a law firm to challenge the allocation of the concession to OP. We want the court to also consider allocating us part of the land in NG28 as opposed to giving OP a stretch of land that can benefit us economically”.

He said that allocating OP the land was a calculated move to deny them access to their ancestral land.  

“For years we have requested the government to give us the land rights and ownership to our land, but our request fell on deaf ears,” he said, adding that even in Xaxaba village where he was born in 1981, they don’t have land rights ownership to their land even if there is proof and evidence.

"We have seen lodges belonging to foreign nationals and foreign entities such as Eagle Island Lodge operating in our shores in Xaxaba,” he said. Eagle Lodge is one of the lodges that French billionaire, Bernard Arnault owns under a parent company called Belmond Safari.

Mokobela said that they are against a policy that only favours the OP but disadvantages them, adding that as the rightful owners of the land they should have been consulted. “There were no consultations despite that we have parents who were buried in NG28,” he said.

He said that they have made applications before as one of the indigenous communities comprising Basarwa and Wayei in the delta. Another resident said that they want the court to grant them an order that will allow them to be allocated part of NG28. Quizzed on whether he was aware of the residents of Xaxaba who are against the land allocation to OP, Tawana Landboard Chairman Emmanuel Dube professed ignorance.

“I only know that some of the residents were claiming to be the rightful owners of Chiefs Island but ended up withdrawing their case at Land Tribunal,” said Dube. He added that Khweedom Council was representing the community comprising of Xaxaba residents when demanding Chiefs Island to be given back to them. Chiefs Island is within the land that was allocated to the OP for the VVIP resort in the delta.
But Mokobela on the other hand denied that they have withdrawn their claims over Chiefs Island. “We are still waiting for a judgment at Land Tribunal on who is the rightful owner of Chiefs Island,” he said. Meanwhile, the issue of land rights among the indigenous Basarwa has snowballed to Mababe. Dube confirmed that there was a sudden u-turn in allocating the land to residents.

“It became clear that after Tawana Landboard gave the residents the land rights certificate ownership in the state land we were advised by the government not to go ahead with the allocations,” said Dube. He said that those that have already been given land rights certificates to certify that the land is theirs will not be affected.

“They remain the rightful owners to the land. We were asked to facilitate if they want to convert their land into integrated land use,” Dube said. He said that the Tawana Landboard has no jurisdiction to allocate land in Mababe. Mababe Village Chief, Kgosimontle Kebuelemang however, is worried that rescinding the allocation of residential plots has disadvantaged many people.

“Many people had not formalised their applications to be granted land rights certificate ownership on their land. Some were lucky to be granted land rights certificate ownership by the land board,” said Kebuelemang. He said that the decision to rescind the granting of land rights ownership means that residents can't access services such as water and electricity.

“The Botswana Power Corporation grid has long arrived in the village, but it's like people cannot connect electricity to their homes. For one to connect electricity to a residential plot, they should show a proof of ownership that most don’t have,” said Kebuelemang.

He said the residents are hurt that they cannot even connect water to their homes. “We have appealed to the Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services to intervene,” said Kebuelemang.  Gilbert Sesinyi, a Land Right Activist said that “It is a right to be given proper documentation on land rights ownership whether it’s ancestral land.” He said that denying one land rights certificate ownership is similar to denying someone their right.

“The issue cuts across the entire nation. It is not unique to Okavango Delta,” said Sesinyi. He said that people should not be denied proper documents on the ownership of their ancestral land. He said that usually there is a lot of evidence to support someone who wants to claim ancestral land such as the presence of burial sites.

Plant Ecologist with the University of Botswana Okavango Research Centre, Keotshepile Kashe has noticed that people who reside or own properties such as fields along flood plains do not have any documentation on the ownership of their land.

“Usually people who practice Molapo farming have fields along the river but have no title deeds or certificate to their land,” said Kashe. He said that surprisingly there are people who have land rights ownership certificates to some properties existing in the same place along the river.
He said that there has been a proliferation of developments and properties along the river stretching from Chanoga, Kgantshang, Matlapana up to Shorobe where people own land rights while some individuals owning fields have been denied land rights ownership.

“It depends on social status because those who are given plots along the river basin where these fields are located have more financial power compared to farmers. “It’s a prime area and is bound to be susceptible to corruption. A small man will not get anything but the rich will benefit,” Kashe said.