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Landless Amidst Plenty: Plight of the Modern Day Citizen of Botswana

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THABO SHATHO NLEBGWA

Almost a decade ago I was part of group of concerned who undertook the momentous task of delivering a petition to government for land policy reform and called for an audit. Among the brave souls that spearheaded the campaign were Jimbo James, Joe Serema, Tebogo Mogaleemang and Motlhaleemang Moalosi among others. This was a committed group and industrious group of youth (as most of them were at the time and I think I am the only one left in the youth category today). We toiled collecting signatures and defining the agenda of the movement which would constitute the envisioned petition.

The Land policy reform movement which was born as a result of meeting held at the UB Library Auditorium on Monday 10 September 2012 would come up with an eight-point agenda. The agenda came as a recognition that the land and housing situation in Botswana has turned into a crisis that can no longer be ignored by any responsible citizen of this Republic. The situation is undeniably getting worse with each day. The agenda of the petition, as a reminder, included the following demands:

That there should be an urgent plan to provide residential plots to address the current applications backlog that goes back 20 years in some places. To achieve this, government should create synergy between land allocation authorities and other stakeholders like Water Utilities Corporation, Botswana Power Corporation, and the Departments of Roads and Sanitation to help address the urgent need for government to provide serviced land. The situation where people wait for a considerable amount of time, often exceeding 10 year, only to be given un-serviced land is unacceptable. We believe the Ministry has the capacity to achieve this target once they get rid of the backlog.

That the Minister of Lands and Housing commission a land audit for all types of land in the country – tribal, state and freehold land: Botswana is a very big country with quite a small population, with the Central District alone bigger than England, and slightly smaller than France. We therefore find it ludicrous to be told that there is shortage of land. We are therefore calling on the Minister to commission a land audit so as to inform government where all the land is and who has it, as well as establish where there could be pockets of free land. The audit should also provide a needs assessment of land in the country, ranging from residential to ranches. We further demand that the results of such an audit be declassified so that Batswana can know what the status of their land is. If it would emerge that there are individuals who own large pieces of land or unexplainably large number of plots, thorough investigations should be carried out to establish how came to be in possession of such.

That the Land Act be amended as a matter of urgency: One of the things government should consider when reviewing the Land Act is to impose a hefty land tax on all unproductive freehold land in excess of 50-hacters. The tax should be so punitive as to force the land owners to either make the land productive, or release it back to the state. We believe this would help free huge chunks of freehold land, particularly in the North East and South East areas where the situation seems to be even dire.

That an Act of Parliament be enacted to regulate the real estate sector: This would lead to controlled property prices and rentals, which at the moment are exorbitantly high, and keep rising unabated. Penalties for operating an unlicensed real state urgency should be prohibitive.

That government revises the transfer duty paid by first-time home buyers and absorb their conveyance fees. That the Minister should stop evictions of all people accused of squatting if they have been there for a period exceeding 10 years, but instead, give the squatters rights of tenure:

The squatting problem normally affects people who had applied for land many years ago but were never allocated residential plots, and their desperate situation to have a shelter over their heads ended up pushing them to seek any available space to use while waiting.

At the time of the petition it had been almost three years since I had applied for a residential plot in Tutume with the Ngwato Landboard and was disillusioned with the delay in allocation. Today as a pen this paper it has been more than a decade since I applied for a piece of land and seven years since the petition was submitted to a parliamentary committee on land and housing. I have grown beyond disillusionment and have surrendered to the sad reality that I may die without being allocated land or if I am lucky that would happen when I am about to retire.

Our government continues to fail the nation. With the rate of inequality growing, those at the edges of the economic ladder, that is the poor find themselves in dire straits. They can’t to rent a house to shelter themselves nor can they access land to construct their own shelter. They find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. The most affected being single parent families a headed by females and young people.

To compound into the above misery, for those who are working especially youth entering the world of work at entry level they are unable to afford a mortgage or, as above, have access to build their own homes. It doesn’t seem to me, years later, that the plea of the youth was listened to. Our cries went with the wind and our petition gathered dust with many of the reports of parliamentary committees. Maybe the consolation is that transfer duty for first time buyers was scrapped to a certain degree but that requires you to afford a mortgage in the first place. Basically, the youth are still given the middle finger by the system and institutionalised incompetence.

Land is a great wealth and income inequality equaliser and as a consequence of government ineptness it has contributed to growing inequality. Many of our dreams as youth and the general citizens of the country go down the drain on account of lack of access to land. Government continues, by design or default, to disenfranchise the vulnerable owing to its failure to allocate people land.

Until we have access to land we shall continue to wallow in poverty and see a rise in inequality. We need land policy reform in the shape we advocated for almost seven years ago. More importantly, we need government to be deliberate in its intentions and implementation of land policy.

*Thabo Shatho Nlebgwa is a MA in Economic Development (Social Economics and Labour) candidate at the State University of Campinas, Brazil. He is a blogger focusing on general political commentary and labour policy.

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