No trust in The Trust
Tensions in the sleepy village of Khwai are simmering dangerously close to boiling part in a long-standing dispute over the affairs of its Community Development Trust.
For the past three years, this small settlement situated in the Okavango Delta has found itself divided.
At the centre of the conflict is a cluster of villagers who call themselves simply ‘Concerned Group’. They have sworn not to rest until they overthrow the current board, with their anger especially directed at the Chairperson, Jonah Amos.
“We have been asking the board to call a meeting. We have lost confidence in them and we need them replaced. The village is ready to vote them out and they know it; that is why they are afraid to call a meeting. They know we are going to pass a motion of no confidence on them,” insists Baefesia Sango, a leading member of Concerned Group.
For Sango, the Covid-19 regulations prohibiting large gatherings is no excuse for failing to call a meeting.
“Where there is a will there is always a way. We can call meetings in batches, maybe say three groups. Khwai does not have so many people. Each group will voice out its opinion but at the end of the day, what I know is that all the groups will stand against the current board because nobody is happy with the way they are running the Trust!” seethed Sango.
The conflict dates back to 2018 when the newly appointed board, under the chairmanship of Amos, agreed to settle a drawn-out court case between the Trust and a Safari company operating within Khwai concession on a 15-year sub-lease.
The Trust runs NG 18 under a lease given to them by Tawana landboard. The landboard leases concessions in North West District to communities in wildlife protected areas as a way of promoting self-sustenance and tourism.
In turn, communities sub-lease their land, which usually earns them millions of Pula on an annual basis.
The landboard requires the communities to account for and ensure the leased land is used in accordance with environment protection regulations. The Trusts are meant to prepare a report in that regard every five years.
“When we wanted to conduct an assessment on this lease, the owner of the safari company refused and even kicked out our consultant. We tried getting the Ministry responsible for Environment and Tourism to help out but we were turned down hence the matter ended up in court,” explained Sango.
According to Sango, decent but slow progress was being made in the case when the board abruptly decided the legal fees – said to be around P1.3 million – were getting too high.
“A campaign was done in the village for people to think that the task team which was the weight behind the court case was spending too much money and that the Trust coffers were running dry,” he revealed.
Amos and his board subsequently settled out of court, an action Sango maintains was against the community’s wish.
However, Amos is adamant his board made a wise move in settling out of court as the case was sucking them dry.
“Somebody had to take a decision and it was an important one to save the Trust from drowning in debt. But that is beside the point. This Concern Group you are referring to are just a few characters from the village who are up to no good; they don’t like peace!” stated Amos in a brief interview with The Voice.
He cited a recent meeting called by Maun District Commission’s office meant to bring the two warring factions together to address the issue, but which Sango’s team walked out of in protest, as proof the group are out to cause trouble.
“They are not interested in resolving this matter amicably, they don’t even respect district leadership. But what we have to note is that the meeting will be called and this matter will soon be water under the bridge,” Amos concluded confidently.