LAWRENCE SERETSE & LETLHOGILE MPUANG
On 7 May this year, police raided a farm belonging to the Minister of Agriculture Development and Food Security Patrick Ralotsia in Barolong Farms for cannabis, uprooted the plants, stuffed them into bags and left.
Two days later, President Mokgweetsi Masisi dropped Ralotsia, who is also the MP for Kanye North, from his cabinet. Although he denied any wrongdoing, he subsequently told The Gazette that he had leasied a piece of land at his farm in Kangwe to a company called Fresh Standard (Pty) Ltd that was into horticulture but later confessed his knowledge of the company’s cultivation of hemp (cannabis sativa) for medical and industrial purposes.
Records seen by The Gazette show that the company has two directors, Benny De Beer and Nametso Carr. “Fresh Standard is part a consortium of companies where the main company is called Botswana Fresh Standard (Pty) Ltd,” says the company’s Facebook page. “Fresh Standard has been on the forefront of new innovations and creating opportunities for small business individuals. The company has its roots in the renewable sector where it started with solar projects and its latest product is the Eco Trolley.”
Incidentally, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) was seen donating to one of these Eco Trolley to vendors a month ago.
Information gathered by The Botswana Gazette shows that De Beer is a fourth generation descendant of the De Beer family that associated with the diamond multinational that carries this family name.
According to available research, the name ‘De Beers’ was derived from two Dutch settlers, brothers Diederik Arnoldus De Beer (December 25, 1825 – 1878) and Johannes Nicolaas De Beer (December 6, 1830 – June 20, 1883) who owned a farm in South Africa’s Orange Free State.
After they discovered diamonds on their land, the increasing demands of the British government forced them to sell their farm on July 31, 1871 which would then become the site of the De Beers mine. Their name, which was given to one of the mines, subsequently became associated with the company.
Bennie, as affectionately referred to, is a very wealthy businessman who enjoys very close relations with Botswana’s former president Ian Khama. Apparently Khama has in the past had the liberty to borrow an aircraft from De Beer when the government banned him from accessing state aircraft.
Khama is also believed to have heavily influenced the recruitment of former ambassador to UK Roy Blackbeard by Fresh Standard. Blackbeard, who was unemployed after being recalled by Masisi from the United Kingdom as ambassador in May 2018, joined the company as executive secretary in March this year.
Blackbeard stepped down from his parliamentary seat of Serowe North to pave way for Khama’s entrance into politics from the army in 1998.
He has also been one of the country’s longest serving ministers of agriculture, having served under Ian’s father Sir Seretse Khama, Sir Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae.
Benny de Beer and UDC president Boko
The UDC has been clear about its intentions to legalise hemp should it take over power from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), citing the plant’s spectacular economic benefits.
De Beer in June took to Facebook thus: “First time I went to Botswana; I fell in love with the country. The people are well mannered, so friendly and the entrepreneurial spirit of the Botswana people is amazing. We are big investors, and still believe Botswana will be one of the great African nations that will manufacture the best Hemp products that will be used and exported worldwide.”
He has also been full of praise for UDC president Duma Boko following remarks by the Leader of the Opposition at a cannabis networking event in Johannesburg by Schindlers Attorneys in May.
This publication has also learnt that De Beer is one of Boko’s funders for this year’s general elections. Last month Boko donated 10 new eco trollies at his Gaborone Bonnington North constituency. Fresh Standard had reportedly donated them to Boko and his party.