The emotive and controversial issue of land ownership in the North East District has once again reared its ugly head with escalating tensions between civic leaders and the Tati Company - owners of vast amount of land in the area.
The Tati Company has owned huge tracts of land in the North East district for decades but politicians have constantly been a 'thorn in the flesh' of the Tati Company, with some voicing distaste in general and others going as far as advocating for the company's land to be seized by the state.
This, some say, should be done with no offer of compensation. Tati Company recently - in its attempt to project a positive image about its land dealings hosted a breakfast briefing for councillors and the media.
How it got the land
Tati Company officials say they came to secure the land under their disposal after buying out an entity known as the Tati Concession Ltd.
Through this the company came to control of the land situated on the periphery of the Matabeleland territory and overlapping into the northern hinterland of the then Bechuanaland protectorate; the driving force behind the Tati Concession Limited's interest in this area was for prospecting purposes.
This area covers the confluence of the Shashe River with the Tati River and Ramokgwebana River, forming the watershed of these rivers.
The concession was made between King Lobengula and the Tati Concession Ltd, which had, after expressing strong interest in the area, initially approached members of the Bamangwato polity to ascertain the land.
The Bamangwato had claimed ownership of the territory by virtue of staking their claim on the land because they used the land across the Shashe River for grazing their cattle, thus, according to them, inadvertently the land was theirs.
The Matabele King, Lobengula, claimed the territory fell under his 'sphere of influence' by virtue of conquest, and made himself a pivotal player in facilitating the land in the borderlands of the Matebele Kingdom and Bechuanaland protectorate into the possession of the Tati Concession Ltd, in exchange for a monetary transaction, periodically paid to the Ndebele monarchy by the Tati Concession Ltd.
In the early 1900's the concession was formally annexed into the Bechuanaland protectorate, becoming an intricate aspect of the statutes of the protectorate, recognised by the metropole, Great Britain, and the British crown recognising the legislature.
The Tati Company was incorporated in 1954, when the Tati Concession Ltd faced financial difficulties and was bought out by the Tati Company.
Since then, Tati Company has not known peace over this acquisition. It has received harsh criticism over their ownership of this land, with questions about how they came to acquire it and some innuendo's that they overprice land they sell to the Botswana government.
Political representatives of the North East have constantly called for the repossession of the land - even without offering the company any compensation.
When Zimbabwe's former president Robert Mugabe launched a campaign of confiscating white owned farms, former MP Chapson Butale, called for a similar solution with regard to the Tati Company's hold on the land in their area. In recent years, MP for Tati East, Guma Moyo also called on the government to repossess the land.
Francistown land frustrations
The Tati Company has recently once again come 'under fire' from legislatures at local government in Francistown, with even Mayor Sylvia Muzila suggest that the Tati Company's ownership of a huge portion of land in the city and its immediate environs was frustrating their expansion plans.
In an effort to 'set the record straight' and project the reality of the situation, the Tati Company issued a media clarification that highlights historical facts pertaining to the Tati Company.
Firstly, it declares: "Tati Company was purchased from its colonial owners by its current owners, who donated and sold at nominal value, all the Company's undeveloped land in Francistown, and virtually all its agricultural land in the North East District to government, for the benefit of Batswana."
Tati Company Limited Manager Ogaisitse Khama stated that, "It should be clearly communicated and understood that the Tati Concession Ltd that initially acquired the land which is currently the North East District, they attained with it land and mineral rights. When the Glazer family purchased the Tati Concession Limited in 1954, they ascertained it with land rights with the right to precious stones and metals being bequeathed to the Botswana government."
Khama added that "All agricultural land in the North East was given to the government of Botswana, with the exception of farms the Tati Company had utilised. We, as the Tati Company, currently own a very small fraction of what the Company initially acquired in Francistown."
There is documented intimations that the Tati Company has donated 115 000 acres of rural land and 2 000 acres of urban land in Francistown to the government. This further supports the assertion made in their Media clarification that the Tati Company has donated "350 000 acres of land... " to the Republic of Botswana.
A non- indigenous Motswana, whom is part of a lineage of a generation that originally owned huge portions of land in the North East, and to this day are major property owners in Francistown, when quizzed on the controversial Tati Company debate, on condition of anonymity, said: "Politicians, especially in Francistown, use the land issue to stir emotions, in order to 'catapult' their campaigns and make it seem like their political agenda has a legitimate focal point, as this matter is raised periodically on the eve of elections."
Probed for further comment he added that, "Once office has been attained by these ambitious politicians, they cease to aggressively pursue the matter, as history has shown."
The white Motswana further added that "Botswana's situation is unique in that land was not violently obtained; no barrel of a gun was used to steal land from Batswana as in South Africa or Zimbabwe with the Anglo - Ndebele and Shona war, yet politicians in this area paint a deceptive picture that suggests the North East situation is similar to other colonised African states, whilst in fact the acquisition of the Tati Company was through a legal transaction devoid of bloodshed."
Francistown's Deputy Mayor, Godisang Radisigo, said: "I strongly feel that there should be an amicable dialogue between the Tati Company and the City of Francistown's civic leaders."
"If necessary government should purchase, on behalf of the city, land that the council would require to meet Francistown's expansion and development."
With regard to sentiments expressed by some that the land Tati Company's is currently in possession of should be aggressively repossessed without any compensation to the Company, the Deputy Mayor said, "It must not be taken for granted that the Tati Company bought the land it currently had and the portion of land it has left in its possession. Agitating for violent land invasion or dispossession of the land from Tati Company without compensation would undermine the rule of law that has been the cornerstone of Botswana's ideals. We should strive for an amicable resolution between the Tati Company and the civic leaders of our city, which will result in the attainment of Francistown's positive growth and development," he said.
Tati Company's clarification of Historical facts
Tati Company was purchased from its colonial owners by its current owners, who donated and sold at nominal value all the Company's undeveloped land in Francistown, and virtually all its agricultural land in the North East District, to Government, for the benefit of Batswana. This amounted to approximately 350, 000 acres of land.
· The Company retained four farms that it was utilizing, and certain developed plots in Francistown.
· Approximately 95% of the North East District, including all the undeveloped land in Francistown, came to be owned by the Government and third-parties, not the Company.
· Gerald Estates is owned and developed by Government, not the Company. It has capacity for thirty thousand (30 000) more residential and other plots.
· The notion that the Company owns a large portion of the North East District is therefore false. The habit of blaming the Company for land shortages is stale and a distraction.
· Government acquired all the Company's mineral rights for a nominal amount, based on its decision to these rights throughout the country. The Company does not own any mineral rights.
· There is no relationship between the Company and Tati Nickel, other than in name.
· Respect and honour arose between Government and the new owners of the Company. The agreements were innovative, resolved pre-colonial land demands, and led to major transformation.
· Part of the Company's agricultural land has recently been included in the expansion of Francistown.
· Application has been made for the subdivision of this land, for the City's growth.
· As a minority landowner, the Company cannot dictate land prices. It does not control the economy.
· The Company is honoured that Botswana is its home.