The story is a thingamajig of a thriller that belongs to fantastic fiction replete with dead men attending meetings where vast tracts of land are allocated as rural communities lose their grazing land to gentrification.
A big question mark hovers over the fruition of the much-anticipated Mophane International Airport (MIA) that was to be situated just outside the burgeoning urban centre that is Palapye.
Owner of 1-2-3 Dimensions and promoter of the MIA concept, William Maje, is sitting with no rights to the land that he was previously allocated. Kgagodi villagers objected to what they term unprocedural allocation of the 2400-hectare swath of land at Lesenepole junction in the vicinity of villages like Kgagodi, Lesenopole and Tamasane.
Minutes of a meeting, purportedly of the one where Maje briefed the people of Kgagodi on his plans to build an international cargo airport in the Palapye area, conspicuously bear no date. Noted as present besides Maje and the morafe are names of men who have been dead for a long time.
Among the five men who supposedly attended the meeting, only Kgosi Motswadira Kepaletswe is in life. The dead men who are listed are Kgosi Moruping Gaomokgate, Kgosi Alfred Malokwane, Kgosi Keodirile Ramaago and Kgosi Seesela Malokwane.
While the absence of a date on these minutes presents difficulty regarding the veracity and viability of these men attending the meeting, the controversial project first came to life as a speculative proposal circa 2015 while the dead men walking have been absent from this side of Eternity for five years or more.
Representatives of a task team set up to counter the airport plan have narrated to Global Post the genesis of the dream of the international cargo airport. “Firstly, 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.
“What we want is due process to be followed. Mr Maje approached the village and made submissions for a swathe of land in our area on which to set up an international airport.
“We were surprised that a private person should want to set up their own commercial airport because we are accustomed to CAAB (the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana) running airports. So we asked him to bring us such assurances and business plan as to assist us understand his concept better.
“We requested from him all the information and the approvals for the project in order to convince us that the project was a viable one. We never heard from him again and soon we were hearing that land board officers were seen at Lesenepole Junction saying upon inquiry that they were demarcating land for an airport project.
“But the dimensions of what was demarcated amount to a double allocation and there are people who have certain rights to that land, including borehole and grazing rights. That is communal land and the villagers ought to have been consulted and have agreed to such an allocation being made.”
Mareko says their mistrust was stoked by stories abounding that Maje had acquired land for an oil refinery at Dibete but had sold the land.
He cites construction of Dikgatlhong Dam that was done with such thorough consultation that the remains of dead people buried in the land were exhumed for reburial elsewhere. Mareko points that an outstanding merit of Dikgatlhong Dam was that the project was for the benefit of everyone. “Anyone wishing to use communal land must emulate such levels of consultation,” he argues.
After grievances were filed with the Maunatlala Sub Land Board about the allocation, Maje’s allocation was rescinded. Maunatlala had to request Ngwato Land Board to reverse the allocation as it was beyond its powers to do so, given that it could not reverse its own decision.
Maje appealed the reversal of his allocation at the Land Tribunal in Palapye on 5 December 2017, but could not justify the urgency of the matter. The matter is still to be heard at the Tribunal sitting in Palapye where he intends to challenge the reversal of his allocation.
Maje, however, has a narrative that sharply controvert the account of Mareko and the masses that are his constituency in the matter. “The certificate is here and only the High Court can cancel this allocation,” he says. He concedes that the double allocation is a complication but says it is one that is not uncommon. He opines that if there were no double allocations done, there would be no projects ever. He cites several projects in the Central District alone that were double allocations, including Morupule B Power Station.
He references a South African company that he says has also been awarded a double allocation and argues that the matter was solved amicably with the four entities that they found already with rights to the land, cites Maje. He says it was a matter of talking things out with those affected, their respective compensations facilitated and projects undertaken as a result.
Maje laments that he has had to source funds to pay out families that were initially on the land he seeks. “The question we ask ourselves is, why can’t the same facilitation of compensation for double allocations not be offered to a 100% citizen-owned company when that was done for other companies?”
Maje has done a lot of work on this project, as evidenced by a trail of letters of support from various institutions. Among these is a letter of support from the National Strategy Office that asserts that the proposed project is in line with policies such as the Economic Stimulus Programme and Citizen Economic Empowerment.
The Department of Veterinary Services asserts that the project would not affect its operations negatively and that the land around the airport is mostly used for crop production as opposed to animal rearing.
Documents show that indeed the CAAB has advised the Director of 1-2-3 Dimensions, Maje, on what to do to gain proper sanction to go ahead with his airport project.
However, CAAB has informed this publication that no application has been received for establishment of an airport but the opportunity remains once Maje fulfills all the mandatory requirements and furnishes CAAB with an application.
Regarding the accusation that he is just trying to gain rights to the land only to subsequently sell it for profit, Maje says the allocation is on condition that he use it for an airport with peripheral uses welcome as long as the primary use is for the airport. “We were allocated based on a clear management plan that we provided and the land can be taken back if we do something else,” he says, adding that; “I have been accused of wanting to put cattle on the land.”
In seeking to understand these issues further, Global Post was direct to the relevant part of the CAAB Act: “A person shall not establish a private aerodrome unless that person has a certificate issued under this Act. (2) The Minister may, on the recommendation of the Authority, make regulations to provide for the issuing of licences for private aerodromes. (3) Any person who contravenes subsection (1) commits an offence and is liable to a fine not exceeding P5 000 000, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years, or both.”
Enter Maje again, emphasizing that the project is still on course despite being on ice at the moment: “The financiers of the project needed a government guarantee and for which one needs to go for tender. But we still have possession of the land, so it is not true that I sold that land,” he says.
CAAB brings Maje’s attention to the existence and proximity of airports in Selebi-Phikwe and Botepetepe, something which CAAB says he should consider.
Maje brings up another matter to explain Mareko’s position in the matter. The VDC man, Maje charges, is bitter because Maje turned him down when he approached him for shares in the project. This explains why Mareko went to mobilise his group of friends against the project.
Mareko dismisses Maje’s claim with a throaty laugh. “He must produce evidence of such claims,” he says.
Maje sees only chicanery and greed as the devils that are trying to manifest themselves in his dream, something that he terms “a Godly project.”
He says Mareko and Co. have tried all the tricks in the book to sabotage the project after he rebuffed their shady intentions to personally benefit. According to Maje, Kgagodi Councillor Masego Emmanuel is left out of the meetings mainly because it is a little battle in reality.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel wrote a letter to Ngwato Land Board saying there is no how the village could reject such a project. Maje says that councillors in the area have unanimously agreed on both the viability and feasibility of the airport concept. “We have done no wrong here and some of these things are just political battles,” he says. “Any project that comes will also bring self-interested individuals. First it was the CAAB issue which they ran away from. Then it was the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment). Then came the issue of double allocation.”
He says even the pensioner groupings have endorsed his project as they can also read into the political battles and that BaNgwato Regent, Sediegeng Kgamane, also caught wind of the contention that surrounds the land for the airport and wrote a letter of support.
The MIA saga points to a clash of interests, pitting one side against another and resulting in two clashing narratives.
It is alleged that Maje had the favour of the village Kgosi and the councillor. Maje says he went around the villages of Moremi, Lesenepole and Tamasane with the District Commissioner to meet with the residents and that minutes of these meetings were taken and signed for by Kgosi Moriti Gabokgathe of Kgagodi.
However, it is unclear how the minutes of a purported meeting between Maje and Kgagodi villagers should contain names of people who have been dead for years and the Kgosi signing such minutes. It is also in question how the final allocation of the land came to be made, something that all the initial rights holders of the land in question want answered.
Emmanuel declined to comment on the issues save to say that she is concentrating on retaining the councillorship of Kgagodi Village. A second attempt to elicit a comment from her also drew a blank. Mareko, the VDC chair and member of the land issue committee, is a looming contender against Emmanuel in the impending Botswana Democratic Part primary elections.
Emmanuel had written a letter of support for Maje to Ngwato Land Board where she alludes to some people in the village intent on stopping development projects. When controversy around the issue started, she was said to have withdrawn her support hurriedly.
Kgosi Gabokgathe confirms 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 acknowledges that existence of minutes of a meeting in which dead people’s names appear as if they were present at the meeting. However, without being specific, he mentions that many things happened in his absence.
“As the kgosi, I can tell you that I don’t know what happened,” he says. “I don’t know how the allocation happened. You know that before an allocation happens, the one who is applying for the land is taken on a site tour, and such things did not happen this time around. The man came once and never came again. Mareko came to me finally and told me that the land is back in our hands and that is what I know. We were happy about the project because it would have created multiple jobs for our people.”
Gabokgathe said even the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services has come to him to enquire about the airport issue. However, he says when he signed for the minutes, the names of the dead people were not there and were possibly added after signed.
The people of the area have seen buildings set up in anticipation of much employment opportunities at a rumoured Fengye Glass Factory only for the abortive project to send their dreams up in smoke.
Still in the same vicinity, Selebi-Phikwe became a ghost town overnight when government took a final decision to close down BCL Mine operations and Tati Nickel Mining Company in the North East, rendering 6, 000 workers jobless.
Maje is clearly not blind to the fast growing status of Palapye and the rapid manner in which it is being turned into a commercial hub. He is not averse to building business concepts that run into the billions. In 2013, he announced plans to build an oil refinery in the Masama/Dibete area, a P2.5 billion project which was to be undertaken by a local private company, Ulti Pack, with Maje and a British partner, Donald Ferguson, at the helm.
Any development projects in or near Palapye would complement the malls, the BIUST campus, Morupule B and others. That Palapye is very central, geographically, is sufficient to back up rumours that indeed plans are underway to declare Palapye as the third city after Gaborone and Francistown.
The airport, which was to be designed to the latest international standards with a projected runway of 5.2km, would accommodate ICAO 3C/D standard 787-800 airbuses, which are unable to land at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport due to limited space.
Maje even informed a Palapye council meeting on August 23, 2017 that the new airport project was at planning stage and that construction would take place between 2019 and 2021.
Global Post interviewed the representatives of families affected in the double allocation who all refuted Maje’s claims that he has negotiated compensation with them.
“That’s a blue lie!” exclaimed Palo Mokwena, a descendent of the Mokotedi family, when the question of compensation was posed to him. Mokwena says the family was allocated a borehole in 1990 and later in 1999 they were also allocated a dam. Mokwena says he has tried to retrieve minutes of the meeting in which the allocation was made but all in vain. “They have refused to give me the minutes of that meeting,” he says. “All they say is that the matter is before court.
“Personally I tried to tell him to engage Batalaote properly and engage his lawyers for that. But that was then. We told him that this is a good project but we want many people to benefit, not just one person. He spoiled this thing with his tricks.”
“Re dumalane ka eng? Leng? Kae?,” exclaimed Calvin Sekwababe. According to Sekwababe, there was never a time when Maje negotiated or made any offer to them as a family. “And also, how do you make a deal on land that is in dispute and the matter is before the courts?” he asked rhetorically.
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.
Ontshetse Phuu also poured cold water on Maje’s assertion that they are on the verge of making a deal for compensation as rights holders within the 2400 square metre land.
Phuu says the land actually belongs to Tamasane and they were not consulted. They were surprised when the chief of Kgagodi had signed minutes which were then used to acquire the land. As far as he knows, Moremi village was consulted.
NOTE: TREAT THIS A SIDEBAR
CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
20 FEBRUARY (2017)
The Sub Land Board wrote to Kgagodi VDC on its objection to the allocation to say the application is not yet concluded and that the application was referred to the Sub District Land Use Planning Unit “for advice regarding the few hiccups that did not sit well with the Board.”
8 MAY Mareko wrote to Maunatlala Sub Land Board for a faster response to their query about the land allocated for the airport, adding that the community is a stakeholder in the land and should be involved.
“Your silence on the matter is raising eyebrows here. Hoping for a positive response soon,” ended the letter.
Acknowledgement of the letter came on 22 May with a promise that the matter would be presided over at the next board meeting in June 2017.
Maunatlala informed that the issue is escalated to Ngwato Land Board for cancellation of the allocation.
“Maunatlala had sought to allocate 1-2-3 Dimensions but has now thought otherwise. Please note that this was after careful consideration of your letter together with the one from Palo Johannes Mokwena on behalf of G. Mokotedi and Sons. Maunatlala Sub Land Board at its meeting of 13th June, 2017 resolved to refer the matter to the Main Land Board for cancellation of the allocation. This was due to the fact that Maunatlala Sub Land Board could not set aside its own decision as a matter of procedure,” states the letter.
In the same letter, Maunatlala Sub Land Board tendered an apology to the Kgagodi task team for the delay in communication to them about their objection, citing the need for investigations as the reason. The Sub Land Board however draws the task team’s attention to the fact that they did not initially provide a “Power of attorney” to show that indeed, they represent the morafe.
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.
In a letter signed by one Mogomotsi Kepaletswe, purportedly for a team of five people assigned by the Kgagodi community to deal with the matter of the objection to the Airport allocation, written to Ngwato Land board, the Kgagodi villagers voiced their contention.
“This letter serves to object an allocation as it was done with consultation in which resulted double allocation as there are some properties in the area that are registered such as a crèche, a dam, borehole, and ploughing field. The owners are Grey Mokotedi, Calvin Sekwababe, and Phuu who are also not consulted.”
“Therefore we appeal for cancellation of this allocation which was done by Maunatlala Sub Land Board.”
Through the secretary of the task force, Mogomotsi Kepaletswe, the Ngwato Land Board was informed that a meeting of around 150 people from Kgagodi Village had met on the 5th July of the same year, and wholeheartedly the allocation was done in bad faith and due process was not followed, particularly consultation with the morafe. The call made on February 2017 to reverse the allocation is reiterated as well as a re-affirmation of the task force. The power of attorney that was sought by Ngwato was finally provided.
First Tribunal appearance of Maje and the Ngwato Land Board, where the urgency of the matter is not recognised.