After more than 50 years of Independence, it is no longer possible to blame the British Colonial rule for problems now besetting Botswana of our own making. However, there is one legacy which continues to impact on the economic development of the country; and that is the question of land. The shortage of land around Gaborone and Francistown, inhibiting the growth of the two biggest cities in the country, can be traced back to Colonial times.

In the south, the Capital is hemmed in by private land originally taken by the British and, under mysterious circumstances grabbed by Cecil Rhodes British South Africa Company at the turn of the 20th century and became the 1000s of hectares called the Gaborone and Lobatse Blocks. In the north the Tati Company acquired over 50% of the land surrounding Francistown.

Over time, again under mysterious circumstances this land passed into private hands, and Gaborone and Francistown are surrounded by private farms. Attention seems to have been focused on the Tati Company’s huge tracts of land in Francistown, and the private farms in the North East. However, Gaborone is suffering from an equally serious shortage of land for development of the Capital. A map from the 1908 shows the site of our Capital surrounded by private farms including Broadhurst, Bonnington, Glen Valley, Notwane and the biggest of them all, Forest Hill.

These huge tracts of land – effectively stolen by the British from the Balete and Batlokwa, were apparently sold by the British South Africa Company to individual farmers, predominantly from South Africa, and have subsequently been sub divided and sold on numerous times. Many of them were acquired by early supporters of the Botswana Democratic Party – some of whom were members of the pre-Independence European Legislative Council and had seats at the table which drafted Botswana’s post -independence constitution.

It is not surprising therefore, that one of the longest sections in the Constitution is Section 8, protects private property from expropriation and shall not be subject to “compulsorily possession.”

After Independence, a number of these landowners, and businessmen, became members of Botswana’s first Parliament, and included George Sim, as a Specially Elected Member, who owned Broadhurst Farm and what subsequently became Phakalane.

Another member was Bernard Steinberg, elected as MP for Serowe who owned thousands of acres of land to the south of Gaborone, subsequently sub divided and sold as Mokolodi, including the Mokolodi Game Reserve, and other farms such as Senalte. James Haskins, who controlled land and businesses throughout the North East was a Minister in Sir Seretse Khama’s first Cabinet, as was David Morgan, a landowner in the Lobatse area. Although not an MP, another influential supporter of the BDP was Russel England a businessman from Lobatse.

Periodically, the Tati Company’s control of land in Francistown becomes a political issue, including what has been described as a secret deal between the late Sir Seretse Khama, and the company, one of whose General Managers in Francistown, was a Khama.

Less attention has been focused on the South, particularly over the land owned by the Catholic Church, some of which is the subject of an ongoing legal battle with the Balete.

The Church’s ownership of huge sections of the Forest Hill Farm extends south of the city to include St Joseph’s Secondary School, and west behind Kgale Hill to the BaKwena border. Gaborone Commerce Park, and the International Finance Park are built on land owned by the Church, and now another multi-million Pula development, an apartment complex opposite Old Naledi west of the railway line, is being built by the Louisville group.

The Church eats twice from these developments. First, from the multi-million Pula sale of the land for development, and secondly because, the land under development is being sold leasehold, and the Church continues to own the freehold, which means possession of the land will ultimately revert back to the Church.

Other private land holders, such as the Tati Company are greedy capitalists and have no interest other than profit. The Church, however, professes to be a moral and ethical institution driven, not by profit, but to promote quality of life; materially as well as spiritually.

It is time the veil of secrecy over the extent of the Church’s landholdings should be lifted, and subject to public scrutiny.
It is also time another Colonial legacy should be eradicated; naming suburbs of Gaborone as “Blocks”.