Botswana: Kgosi Tawana Clashes With Basarwa

23 January 2020

BaTawana Advisory Committee Chairperson, Keith Diako has advised Basarwa to desist from peddling false information claiming that they are the rightful owners of the controversial tourism prime area, Moremi Game Reserve.

Through Botswana Khwedom Council (BKC), an organisation that represents the interests of BaSarwa, the tribe recently wrote a letter to Tawana Land Board (TLB) opposing Kgosi Tawana Moremi's ownership claims of one of the largest islands in the Okavango Delta -Chiefs Island. Moremi claims that the island which lies in the heart of Moremi Game Reserve belongs to him, having inherited it from his forefathers.

Last year, another activist, Willican Khoebee Satau also cautioned TLB against awarding ownership of the game reserve to BaTawana, arguing that the prime land is the ancestral land of BaSarwa people. "...because of stories and heritage dynamics that surround Moremi Game Reserve, I caution the Board not to proceed processing claims made by Kgosi Tawana," Satau warned.

Early last year another activist group (SAYEMBU) which advocates for the land rights of Basarwa, Bambukushu and Bayeyi also sought the representation of Survival International in the on-going dispute between Botswana government and BaTawana concerning the Moremi Game Reserve. Survival International is a human rights organization that campaigns for the rights of indigenous tribal peoples with a general focus on tribal peoples' desires to keep their ancestral lands. SAYEMBU Chairperson, Polelo Tebalo adamantly told this reporter in a recent interview that the Reserve belongs to them not BaTawana hence they are appealing for Survival International to help them get the land back to its rightful owners.

But Diako condemns that it is being selfish for BaSarwa to claim that the Reserve belongs exclusively to them. "These people seem not to understand that this Moremi is jointly owned by all the ethnic tribes in Ngamiland including BaSarwa themselves," he quips.

Diako said the problem is that people are now adapting a different approach towards the debate over ownership of the Reserve. Every individual now wants it for their own personal benefits not for the benefit of the tribe as a whole, he observed. According to him, the concept behind the Reserve is for community ownership not for individual purposes. According to his own understanding, Chiefs Island belongs to BaTawana (as tribe) as well after it was in 1976 incorporated into Moremi Game Reserve after the Resident Commissioner advised that the two should be combined for conservation purposes. "If we do that, whereby everyone now is claiming ownership of Moremi, we will not win, it will remain difficult for us to convince government to transfer its ownership back to us as a tribe," Diako warned.

TLB is currently hearing the application by Batawana and their Paramount Chief in which they are seeking ownership of the Reserve to be transferred from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks back to the tribe. The board will reportedly soon make a deliberation on the application. This follows after President Mokgweetsi Masisi ordered for ownership of another tourism land which has also been the bone of contention between BaTawana and government, Maun Educational Park to be returned to BaTawana. The President added that issues surrounding ownership of Moremi Game Reserve should also be resolved by Tawana Land Board.

Moremi Game Reserve was established in 1963 by BaTawana and the tribe and later in 1979 its administration was transferred to government after the Fauna Conservation Society which was entrusted to administer the Reserve failed to do so.

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