Disagreement between government and residents is the main barrier to the relocation process. Some residents want to know what they will benefit from making way for the regeneration plan, while others are opposed to making way for multinational tourism operators who they say have no interest in upholding their dignity and welfare.
Government’s plan to relocate Kasane residents from the Kasane-Chobe prime land to Kazungula in the billion pula Regeneration Plan for tourism development by elite investors is causing conflicts among leaders and residents of the town.
Information gathered by this publication confirms that the Botswana government is caught up in an impasse with residents of the tourism rich district who are up in arms opposing the intended relocation. They are against losing their ancestral land and say they will not benefit anything from the envisaged tourism investment. Consultations for the relocation were initiated in 2013 and are yet to be concluded.
BDP Councilor Chifu Munehango of Kasane Central ward said information about the impending development was still unclear; “We have tried to enquire about the impending developments but no one is willing to tell us what they are all about, so we do not know whether these developments are from government or private investors. But what I can confirm is that some of the residents are against this impending development, while few support them,” he said.
Despite this conundrum, investors have enlisted government which in turn is preparing to move 300 landowners to pave way for the mega transformation of the tourist town.
Kgaphamadi, one of Kasane’s oldest and highly populated townships will be the first to undergo a multi-million pula facelift to improve infrastructural development and landscape. Its current inhabitants will be moved to subserviced land in the east.
Chobe Land board Chairman Nelson Masule told media last week that for many years, the township which is in the vicinity of the entrance into Kasane has been an eyesore to arriving tourists and therefore needs transformation.
Masule revealed though that the Ministry of Lands and Housing and the Chobe Land Board have resolved to relocate residents of the township to an identified piece of land next to the Kasane airport.
“The assessment of the affected properties was completed recently and a total amount of P55 million has been reserved for compensation of the affected property holders while the P129 million has been reserved for construction of infrastructural development which includes among others construction of access roads, sewer lines, and water reticulation. “Preparations to relocate Kgaphamadi residents are ongoing. Currently 300 plots has been surveyed and the land is being serviced,” stated Masule.
The Council Chairman at Kasane Manota Kachana told this publication that some people do not want to be relocated, preferring to keep their prime land plots while some demand to be given shareholding in the envisaged tourism enterprises to be established on their residential plots.
Kachana hinted however that disagreement between government and residents is the main barrier to the relocation process. He also said that it appears there is a clear intention to separate economic classes, in terms of monetary terms that is bound to show itself when the facelift kicks off.
The Board Chairman, Masule also concurred that despite having completed the assessment of affected properties, the relocation might delay due to some challenges they are experiencing from property holders. He also cited resistance from some of the affected property holders and delays in compensating them as some of the challenges they are facing in the process of relocation. In addition the Chobe Land Board Chairman said the existing budget might not be enough to cover expenses for compensation and engagement of project consultants.
Nonetheless, some residents point accusing fingers at big tourism multinationals in the country for attempting to forcibly remove them from the prime area so they benefit.
“Its now becoming a norm in Botswana that people are moved to pave way for the interests of a few,” an affected resident said, citing the example of the people of CKGR who were forcefully removed to pave way for diamond mines and lucrative hospitality businesses despite prior denials by Botswana government.
Tourist companies are notoriously known for getting land cheap in the Chobe area and milking millions in return for few individuals with connections to the highest office in the land. Once owners of the prime land close to the river stated that they were forced to sell their land for a song- to moneyed tour operators by some government officials. “The land is now worth millions and we were only paid peanuts by connected tour operators,” a resident said, further citing that they were forced to develop quickly.
The Kasane residents also argue that their residential area has not seen national developments for the past five years, which shows that they have been politically neglected, “Why would we now move to a place with no developments at a subserviced land,” one asked rhetorically.
“Plots were given to people in Kazungula longtime back where there are no services and it still remains a bush because no one can develop without water, roads and basic infrastructure,” one resident said, adding that the Chobe bushes were dangerous as animals prowl everywhere.
The Minister of Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, did not respond to this publication’s calls to enquire about the impasse in Kasane and to assure local dwellers that they have been included in any potential beneficiation. Member of Parliament (MP) for Chobe Ronald Machana Shamukuni said that although there are some residents who are still reluctant to relocate, there have been consultations. “In kgotla meetings that I attended, only few people were against the idea of relocation. Perhaps when I learnt about the idea I was also skeptical, but when I realized most people did not object- that is when I gave it a thumbs up. To my knowledge this impending move is meant to develop Kasane tourism.”
Adding to this, refurbishment of the Kasane airport will cost P280 million as it will need a new air traffic control tower as well as the refurbishment of a fire station and a technical block. Over the years, Kasane has slowly turned into a popular tourist town both regionally and internationally, and acts as a gateway for tourists to the region.