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Letter to the Editor: Justice Mosojane speaks


“The British stole our land”- Justice John Mosojane (Ret.)

At the risk of being offensive to the powers that be, namely, the Government and Tati Company Limited, but I have no intention of offending anyone, save merely to comment upon alleged purchase of land by the Government from Tati Company Ltd.

To the best of my knowledge Tati Concessions Limited came in to being in 1895 following King Lobengula’s death at the hands of the British in January, 1894. It was owned by the British Baronet Sir John Swinburne, no Cecil John Rhodes as alleged, unless he was operating from behind the scenes which is very unlikely.

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It was then widely acknowledged that Lobengula claimed the Tati District as being part of his Matebeleland by conquest.

King Lobengula himself openly acknowledged that the Tati District was ancestral land of the Kalanga people who were living on the land at the time.

Being king and ruler over the entire District, he took it upon himself the responsibility to grant exploration and mining concessions for a fee, to those foreigners who would apply.

The last such concession granted by him was in 1888, to a company named Tati Concessions Mining and Exploration Company Limited, owned by Samuel Edwards and James Fairbain.

It is this company which, without authority, transferred the concession granted to it by Lobengula to the Tati Concessions Limited in 1895.

Lobengula had no immediate successor to the throne, and Sir John Swinburne, a previous defaulter, and the British were very much aware of this.

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This fact enabled the Baronet in complicity with the British Authority to claim ownership of the land unlawfully.

Hitherto, all concessions had to be in writing, signed by Lobengula, the Concessionaire and two witnesses under the condition that all sovereign rights over the land were strictly reserved for the king.

In other words, under Lobengula no concessionaire could claim ownership of the land just because he held a mining or exploration concession, which is what the Baronet, Sir John Swinburne, did this time, taking advantage of the fact that King Lobengula was no more.

Sir John Swinburne was aware of this condition from his previous dealings with Lobengula and seems to have come back timely and conveniently after the demise of the King so as to lay claim to ownership of the land.

This claim to ownership was followed by a long debate between the Baronet and the British Authority, and culminated in Proclamation No.2 of 191, which unlawfully transferred the entire Tati District to Tati Concessions Limited.

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This Proclamation was preceded by a Commission of inquiry in which the indigenous inhabitants of the land, described derogatorily as natives, were not consulted although they were seriously affected. These were/are the people of Mosojane, Habangana and Masunga.

The precise contents of this long debate lasting from 1895 to 1911 are not known, but it can be assumed that it was to do with how safely the land could be stolen.

Indeed Proclamation No.2 of 1911 is wishy-washy as to why then land was ultimately given away to Tati Concessions Ltd.

It begins with these words: “Whereas it is expedient to confirm the Tati Concessions Limited in the full, free and undisturbed possession as owners of all the land within the Bechuanaland Protectorate, usually known…as the Tati District…now therefore, under and by virtue of the powers in me vested, I do hereby declare, proclaim and make known…that Tati Concessions Limited, its successors and assigns, is hereby confirmed in full, free and undisturbed possession as owners of all the land within Tati District,…..”

How anyone can have ownership of land or anything for that matter, transferred to him/her for the sake of expediency only, or because it is merely expedient so to do, is extremely baffling to say the least. In my mind this was theft, clear and simple. This Proclamation was dated 21st January 1911.

However, roughly three months later, the British tried to correct this impression by an Order in Council dated 4th May 1911 which stated as follows: “Whereas doubts have arisen as to the ownership of certain lands within the Bechuanaland Protectorate known as the Tati District……”This became the new reason for meddling with Tati District. It also seriously contradicts the one given in the Proclamation cited above. But this didn’t help, for both the British and Sir Swinburne knew the land was owned by the occupiers, the Kalanga people who had been living there for centuries, and some time immemorial. Why should doubts have arisen as to who owned the land when there were organised villages of the land, in each case, led by a chief. There’s no question therefore, that the land was stolen.

In 1914, only three years after acquiring ownership of the Tati District, Tati Concessions Limited went into voluntary liquidation for reconstruction purposes only, and emerged from this ruble, as it were, as the Tati Company Limited.

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This was a change of name only and theft sticks. In any case stolen property remains stolen wherever, or in whose hands, it is found. It is no defence to say, I didn’t know it was stolen.

The owner is entitled to his property wherever he finds it. This leads me to the question, why would the Government of Botswana buy land stolen from a section of its people, instead of simply repossessing it. Is it because of lack of knowledge or simply that the Government doesn’t care?

In my view, Government should join hands with the people of Tati District to claim reparation from the British Government and the Tati Company Limited who caused us so much harassment, disruptions and other harms: and contributed nothing to our development with so much money they got from the sale of our land which they got for nothing.

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Instead, they enriched themselves with the money from the sale of, and rentals for, the land by investing it elsewhere outside this country.

The money for reparation shall be used to develop the district which is presently under-developed in terms of roads and bridges connecting several villages, and in terms of other amenities and facilities.

Another question that remains unanswered is when and why the Tati District was annexed to the Bechuanaland Protectorate between 1895 and 1911.

This seems to have been done stealthily too between these years, and why? The British Government caused us a lot of damage and discomfort in this district which must be included in any calculation for damages or reparation to be demanded from them and the Tati Company Limited.

Many of us had to quit the district for shortage of land, to live in neighbouring Ngwato District under oppression, which, no doubt, was intended by the British.

Still, some of those who remained were reduced to tenants of the Tati Company on their own land which had been unjustifiably converted to Tati Company land.

This naturally, made them poorer and dependent. This is just a few of the damages caused; the list is endless.

Much of what is divulged in this document is stated in more details in my recently published book: The Truth Hurts: Botswana Democracy British Justice.

JZ Mosojane
P.O. Box 1364, Francistown

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