- Expatriate farmer sues Land Board
- Minister Maele embroiled
A farmer of South African origin, Hennie Van Romburgh, acting on behalf of his company Animal Care Agencies (Pty) Ltd has taken the Kgalagadi Land Board to court for refusing to issue his company a Common Law Lease Agreement.
At the centre of the legal dispute is the 2004 ‘controversially’ allocated IL-4 farm, 30kms West of Tsabong around “Bar Trek Ranches”.
In the legal proceedings filed at the Lobatse High Court, under case number MAHGB-000436, Van Romburgh cites Kgalagadi Land Board and Mogononong Syndicate as the 1st and 2nd respondents respectively. Mogononong Syndicate is led by Richard White as its chairperson.
Van Romburgh contends that the land board lawfully allocated his company the rezoned commercial farm in April 2004 and asks the court to direct the Land Board to issue him a Common Law Lease Agreement.
In addition, van Romburgh also seeks a Court Order preventing the Land Board from reviewing its earlier decision and re-aligning and reducing the said farm IL-4, from its original extent to any size.
Van Romburgh, as the Managing Director of Animal Care Agencies, also pursues the court to order that Mogononong Syndicate holding rights, title and interests under certificate of customary land grant, over Falconbridge Borehole (WPS 625) be revert back to the Land Board. The said borehole point was allocated to Mogononong Syndicate in July 1992.
In his founding affidavit, Van Romburgh reveals that in 2002, on behalf of his company, he applied for farm IL-4. At the time he applied for IL-4, it was one of the farms dezoned after demarcation in 1984.
He says the intended purpose of the farm was to operate a Game Farm and Tourism facility, and that in September, 2003, a task team of various specialists carried out an assessment determine the suitability of the area for his type of business.
The Land Board approved the recommendation to allocate the farm to Van Romburgh in 2004 where upon the Department of Wildlife accepted his management plan.
After allocation, Van Romburgh insists he was entitled to be issued with a common law lease but the Land Board backed out, even despite having been issued a statutory demand.
Van Romburgh further states that he needed the lease to register with Deeds Registry to enable the company to seek finance to fully develop the farm. He highlights, in his affidavit, that despite the allocation he has not been informed as to the conditions of the lease, rentals payable, development covenants and other terms that would normally be included in the lease.
How Mogononong Syndicate was Drawn in the Matter
Hennie Van Romburgh discloses that in October 2012, on a related matter before the Land Tribunal, Mogononong Syndicate appealed the Land Board allocation of IL4 to van Romburgh and company, and sought to have the decision nullified.
The Botswana Gazette has learnt that the Land Tribunal ruled that it had no jurisdiction over the matter and dismissed the proceedings on a technicality. Over the years, Mogononong syndicate led by its late Chairperson William “Tikkie” Matswiri and Richard White, had contemplated seeking further redress from the High Court, but had not done so to date.
Giving their background to the dispute in his syndicate’s answering affidavit, White states that in 1975, the government of Botswana introduced the Tribal Grazing Land Policy (TGLP) as part of the drive to improve the cattle industry.
White states that in the Tsabong area, some 20 possible ranches were identified to the west of Tsabong and these ranches were physically demarcated between 1979 and 1980.
“In August 1985, Land Board conducted a consultation exercise on this block of farms and at a Board Meeting on August 26 to 27, 1985 it resolved to de-zone ranches IL-2, IL-3, IL-4, IL-6 and IL-8. The Board sought to revert them to communal status, with IL-4 been the centre of the dispute,” White discloses.
White goes on to note that during the TGLP consultation process, it became clear that three farms IL-3, IL-4 (Van Romburgh’s farm) and IL-6 were in use as communal grazing by people from Khweyane, Maubelo and Logaganeng.
This publication has also learnt that in December 2003, a certain Fredrick du Preez and van Romburgh being South African citizens, applied for common law land rights on two de-zoned TGLP farms, numbered IL-3 and IL-4, for use as game farms.
The duo requested the Kgalagadi Land Board to treat the two farms as a single but joint enterprise under the name of “Alpha Ranches”.
According to White, the Land Board resolved to allocate the farms separately in April 2004 without the minister’s consent to make such an allocation to non-citizens.
White, in his court documents disagrees with van Romburgh, that there was any consultation done prior to allocation of IL-4 farm. White maintains in his affidavit that in no instance did van Romburgh consult with any of his prospective neighbours, nor did either he or his company obtain a recommendation by any recognized headman or land overseer in the disputed area, as is required on land application forms.
White further argues that at the time of application and allocation, all the shareholders in these companies were non-citizens and that strong objections to the allocations were voiced at a Kgotla meeting held in Tsabong on March 7, 2004.
“I am advised by my Attorney that a company registered in Botswana but whose shareholders or majority thereof are non-citizens is not a ‘Citizen Company’ and cannot be deemed a ‘Citizen’ for the purpose of land allocation under the Tribal Land Act,” says White in his response affidavit.
White says so far, no lease was concluded by the Minister of Lands, Water and Sanitation Services, Prince Maele with either van Romburgh or his company Animal Care Agencies (Pty) Ltd.
“We are still following court proceedings and I would have been informed probably by the court or our lawyer if there is any development undertaken by the Land Board to have the Minister’s consent to issue the 1st Applicant a lease, but for now I know the minister has not consented to the issuing of lease,” White said.
An anonymous source who is an employee of the Kgalagadi Land Board said he saw van Romburgh 2 weeks ago at the Land Board office and that he had a strong feeling that he (van Romburgh) went there to try and corner the Land Board to issue him the lease amid the suit.
“He is probably trying to get the land board to give him the lease and in return drop the suit, but could be possible only if the Minister Maele would oblige to consent to the issuing of the lease but it will create more problems again for the Land Board,” said the source.
In January 2016, the Kgalagadi Land Board invited the Mogononong syndicate members namely Edward Bojang and Richard White along with Fredrick du Preez and Hendrick van Romburgh to a meeting whose purpose was to resolve the impasse concerning Alpha Ranches and Farms IL-3 and IL-4.
The then acting Chairman, Leo Tumaeletse, admitted before the board and the concerned parties that:
• The land in question has not been re-zoned for commercial use.
• The community was not consulted about the proposed change of use.
• Affected parties were not given a hearing.
• The availability of the farm was not advertised.
• The Minister’s con sent was not sought prior to the resolution (as required under Section 24(2) of the Tribal Land Act and Paragraph 20(2) of the Tribal Land Regulations),
• The occupiers do not have any lease for the land nor the minister’s consent to issue a lease been obtained.
White however contends that the meeting was improperly influenced by ministry officials and some Land Board staff members who advised the acting Chairman that the Board had resolved on the issue in October 2004, and had then resolved to substantially reduce the combined size of ‘Alpha Ranches’ so as to exclude Mogononong Syndicate and Bojang’s borehole sites.