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Palapye airport saga reaches Land Tribunal

Palapye airport saga reaches Land Tribunal
June 11
13:36 2018
  • Project promoter asks for time to negotiate with current occupiers of land
  • Initial residents of proposed site decry apparent divide and rule tactics
  • Former DC Ernest Phiri denies link with ‘unprocedural’ land allocation
  • It is not clear how the P20 billion project will be financed

 

VINCENT MATUMO

 

The promoter of the envisaged P20 billion airport project in the vicinity of Palapye, last week, asked the Land Tribunal to postpone the hearing in which he is contesting Ngwato Land Board’s decision to reverse the allocation of the land made to him.

 

On Friday last week, the Land Tribunal in Palapye agreed to give William Maje, the owner of 1-2-3 Dimensions and promoter of the Mophane International Airport (MIA) concept, up to 31st July to have sealed negotiations with the families that already had certain rights to what is mostly grazing land for Palapye and its satellite villages.

 

While Maje challenges the rights of the said holders of the land as he was never given the proof of ownership of the land, he nonetheless “offers compensation to the alleged affected people and has in fact started negotiations with them should they prove their title thereto,” legal documents seen by this publication reveal.

 

“Let Ngwato Land Board not be seen to be stifling developments and economic advancements of the nation,” the legal documents state. “This is so because the project involved therein is estimated at P20 billion and no reasonable land board would refuse such massive investments within its Tribal territory.”

 

Maje requested the Tribunal to grant him more time to attempt to negotiate and seal compensation deals with those that he found with certain rights on the land in question, when he was allocated the land.

 

He appealed the reversal of his allocation at the Land Tribunal in Palapye on 5th December 2017, but could not justify the urgency of the matter. The matter was to be heard last week on Friday before Maje requested time to settle amicably with the affected parties.

 

Through his legal representatives, Ditlhobolo Attorneys, Maje had sought to reverse what was Ngwato Land Board’s decision to rescind his allocation of a 2400-hectare swath of land at Lesenepole junction in the vicinity of villages like Kgagodi, Lesenopole, Tamasane and Diloro.

 

Tshenolo Kapo, a middle-aged Kgagodi village descendent, said he was elated at the news of an international airport in the vicinity only to be disappointed not only at the revelation of undue process in acquiring the land but that he would be directly affected as he has borehole rights on the site in question. Kapo says he was in the process of transferring land rights also from his father to himself. “He has never done any negotiations for compensation with Maje,” he says.

 

Congregating outside the Tribunal in Palapye after the court session, the Phuu, Sekwababe and Mokotedi family representatives mused among themselves how they came to be implicated in a case;  they generally deem themselves mere collateral in what was supposed to be a matter between Ngwato Land Board and Maje.

 

The families wonder why Maje wants time to negotiate with them, saying there has never been any indication of intention to consult or negotiate with them from the onset. “He merely makes these tentative approaches, trying to create an impression that he has concluded with other affected parties, to entice them to cede their rights to him,” said Palo Mokwena, a descendent of the Mokotedi family.

 

“It must be made clear that we are not against development projects in our area,” said Mogomotsi Mareko, who is the Chairman of Kgagodi Village Development Committee, adding that “what we want is due process to be followed.”

 

Conspicuously missing from the list of affected parties is Tshenolo Elton Kapo’s name, who also has a claim to the land allocated to Maje. “I have been trying by all means to find out why I am left out of these proceedings but my efforts have all been in vain.

 

The affected families also note what they see as name dropping by Maje, who they say brings in the Office of the President in an attempt to show that his business concept is a national project.

 

After a series of written interactions between the Village Development Committee of Kgagodi village and the Ngwato Land Board, on 6th July 2017, Maje was informed that his allocation would be rescinded by the Ngwato Land Board due to the double allocations that were done with complaints being received for the same. Maje had 30 days to appeal to the Main Land Board if he felt aggrieved.

 

Kgosi Gabokgathe of Kgagodi confirmed previously that indeed the committee that pursued that matter of the airport land allocation was sanctioned by the morafe, conferred on it during a meeting of Kgagodi residents. He acknowledged the existence of minutes of a meeting in which long dead people’s names appear as if they were present at the meeting. Offering no specifics, Kgosi says that many things happened in his absence.

 

Maje, however, is of the view that he has equal rights to the land with those that he found, opining that only negotiations can break the deadlock. “The certificate is here and only the High Court can cancel this allocation,” he said to Global Post previously.

 

He conceded then that the double allocation complicated the situation but said it is one that is not uncommon in allocations for big projects. In legal documents seen by this publication, Maje’s attorneys opine that the rights were accrued to him when the allocation was made and that the project is of national importance and would therefore be subject to Section 10 of the Tribal Land Act. “Such rights have been lawfully granted as stated supra and cannot be cancelled without the compensatory requirements followed to the letter,” the legal papers read.

 

The Ernest Phiri factor

 

The name of the former Palapye District Commissioner (DC) Ernest Phiri, who is now the deputy permanent secretary in the Office of the President, keeps cropping up. The families, dying to know how the allocation happened in the first place speculate that there was pressure from above to facilitate the allocation, Phiri’s name associated with the influence.

 

Contacted for his version of the story, Phiri told Global Post that he was approached by Maje at the time he occupied the Palapye DC’s office, who revealed that he had investors lined up to finance an airport at Lesenepole junction.

 

Maje was armed with letters of support from various institutions, including one from the National Strategy Office which administers the Economic Stimulus Programme. “I then verified the origins of the letter and proceeded to accompany Maje to see the communities of Goo Moremi,” Phiri said, adding that “I made it clear that I was merely accompanying him.”

 

“Even at the time it was never clear, how the project would be financed. Of course communities are naturally happy when they hear of developments that can stimulate work and better livelihoods,” he said.

 

No comment could be drawn from Maje as he has since avoided phone calls from this publication. This publication also failed to reach his legal representative, Kerobile Ditlhobolo, for further comment.

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