Botswana's Freehold Land Problem(Part 2):Tati

 Although freehold land makes up a seemingly meager 5-6% of all the land in Botswana, the economic value of the land cannot be overstated enough. From most of the country's beef produce coming from the freehold farms and ranches in Ghanzi, to a majority of the country's tourism activity taking place in the freeholds of Tuli Block to the sprawling and magnificent real estate in the Phakalane and Ruretse freeholds, it is clear that freehold lands hold major economic significance.

However, as a result of numerous historical happenings including pre-independence colonial administration which demarcated most of the country's desirable fertile and valuable land to white settlers, most freehold land, despite its unquestionable economic value, serves as a constant reminder and enabler of the country's dire income inequality. In this blog series, I will be exploring the history of numerous major freehold lands in Botswana, how they came to be, and the impact their being had and continues to have in the country's various socio-economic issues.


When the Europeans first "discovered" gold in the Tati Goldfields in 1864, the area, which is along the Tati River, was part of the Matebeleland and was already being pit-mined by the Bakalanga who together with other tribes like Barolong, Bakhurutshe and Basarwa were inhabitants of Matebeleland. In 1870, a deal that is widely regarded by scholars as "fraudulent" was struck between the Ma-Ndebele King Lobengula and British Baronet Sir John Swinburne, granting the latter's London and Limpopo Mining Company the concession to operate in the Tati area.

When Swinburne failed to pay the annual concession fee in 1880, the concession was revoked and transferred to the Northern Light Mining Company, formed by Daniel Francis (Francistown named after him) among others and later renamed to Tati Concessions, Ltd. After the British declared a Protectorate over the then Bechuanaland, they extended the coverage of the Protectorate to include the Tati area, detaching it from the Matebeleland turning Tati Concessions, Ltd from a tenant of the Ndebele to that of the Protectorate administration.

In 1911, the Tati Concessions Land Act. was signed between Tati Concessions, Ltd, and the Rhodesian Railways Company owned by Cecil Rhodes who was pretty much in charge of the Protectorate as the colonial administration wanted to defer administrative costs of the "useless" Protectorate to him and his British South Africa Company. The agreement gave the latter permission to build part of its railway line through the Tati land. Clause (2) in the Act, titled "Land in the Tati District vested in the Tati Concessions,Ltd", officially gave the Tati Company freehold ownership of the land in the Tati area. It reads,

The Tati Concessions, Limited, its successors and assigns, is hereby confirmed in the full, free and undisturbed possession as owners of all the land within the Tati District, the limits of which district are as follows, viz.: From the place where the Shashe River rises to its junction with the Tati and Ramokgwebana Rivers, thence along the Ramokgwebana River to where it rises and thence along the watershed of those rivers, subject to all the terms and conditions of this Act and in accordance with the laws now or hereafter in force within Botswana.

Easily and briefly put, the Protectorate annexed the Tati District land from Matebeleland and indirectly vested it under the British South Africa Company as it was in charge of the administration of the Protectorate through the Charter granted by the British Empire. The BSAC(through Rhodes Railways) then transferred ownership of the land on a freehold basis to Tati Concessions, Ltd through the Tati Concessions Land Act of 1911, only asking Tati Concessions, Ltd (which eventually got incorporated into Tati Company) to allow them to build their railway line through the land.

When the Company eventually got disappointed with the number of gold deposits remaining in the area, they started demarcating the land into farms that were to be sold to white settlers who had come to the area as a result of the gold mining boom of the 1860s. Seeing the need to reserve some land for the aforementioned native populations (Bakalanga, Barolong, Bakhurutshe, etc) who were now rendered landless by the fact that the land was no longer part of Matabeleland, the Company set aside 344 square kilometers of the Tati area's 2069 square kilometers area as the "Tati Native Reserve" to be used by the natives. This land proved insufficient for the natives and their livestock and as a result, some did not move to the Reserve land, making them trespassers and squatters in their own land which now belonged to the Company and the white settler farmers it had been sold to.

From then onwards, life for the natives became increasingly bleak. With no goldmines to work in and having been dispossessed of their land which now belonged to the Company, the only economic activity possible was to use the meager Native Reserve land set aside for them for both rearing and ploughing. This led to the quick degrading of the land as erosion ran rampant, eventually rendering the land unsuitable for any agricultural activity.

The white settlers, with their newfound land wealth, were not faring any better. With the railway line not yet complete and limited markets due to the decline of the gold mining industry, the only agricultural activity possible was small scale farming, cattle speculation, and general trading activities. Seeing the struggle of the settlers, the colonial administration took the same measures it took in Ghanzi to assist white settler farmers which included loans for drills to construct boreholes and wells with the colonial government providing the labor for the drills. As for the natives, no assistance was provided to them despite being worse off than the settler farmers as they were occupying marginal lands that were undergoing extensive overcrowding and overgrazing.

Initially, when the Company assumed ownership of the Tati area land, some sections of Bakhurutshe and Bakalanga had remained on the now Company-owned land instead of moving to the Native reserve for various reasons including fear of losing touch with their ancestral history in the land. The Company allowed them to remain on the land on conditions that included providing cheap labor for the white settler farmers as well as paying hut tax to the Company. Feeling the strain of the exploitative conditions and also not being able to move to the overcrowded Native Reserve, a large section of the Bakhurutshe and some Bakalanga moved to and settled in Tonota which was under Bangwato rule.

For the natives who decided to remain on either the Company land under the stated conditions or on the Native Reserve, the exploitation by the Company continued to get worse. For those on Company land, their economic activities were under the control of the Company with any agricultural produce having to be sold to the company at prices it pre-determined and the tenants being forbidden from using cash to buy elsewhere but rather barter with Company officials and the white settler farmers. For those in the Reserve, in order to use Tati land for grazing for their livestock, they had to rent it at exorbitant prices, failure to pay often resulting in the Company impounding their livestock.

Other exploitative conditions imposed by the Company on use of its land by natives included polygamous natives in Company land having to pay extra tax for every extra wife they had, constant doubling grazing fees, charging rent fees though the natives were already paying poll tax to the colonial administration and evicting tenants with no notice as evidenced by a period in the mid-1950s when land sales to white South African speculators were booming and natives were evicted, forced to move to squatter camps in and around Francistown.

Finding themselves in dire economic conditions, most of the natives had to resort to either providing cheap labor for the white settler farmers or finding work in the gold mines of South Africa to sustain themselves as well as pay the Company's rental fees for those who still had families occupying the Company's. This led to the breaking down of family structures, the effects of which are still felt today. By 1957, the Company had sold over two-thirds of its land to white South African land speculators who proceeded to kick out the natives renting the land from the Company, leading to the fast-paced increase of squatters in Francistown.

Since the time it assumed ownership and control of the Tati district land, the Company's freehold ownership of the land had been nothing short of destructive for the native populations who had been occupying the land way before the Company. From some Bakalanga who ran to Bangwato land to escape exploitation being mistreated by their Ngwato landlords, leading to tribal grudges which are still present today, to the breaking down of family structures as natives were forced to move to South African gold towns to afford rentals to the Company, to the natives being forced to lose touch with their ancestral lands, to the loss of economic muscle of the natives as a result of the exploitation by the Company, the list of the effects of the Company's exploitation, many of which are still felt today, goes on and on.

Today, although it has sold some of its lands to either the government or private buyers, Tati Company, which is registered in the United Kingdom, still owns a significant amount of land in the North-East area of Botswana, some experts estimating that the land held by the Company and other freehold farmers it sold to makes up over 40% of all land in the North-East district, while natives continue to wait years to be allocated mere residential plots.

PS: This article would not have been possible without the work of  University of Botswana scholar Wazha Morapedi on his paper titled "The Settler Enclaves of Southern Africa and The African Peripheral Areas (Reserves): The Case of The Ghanzi and Tati White Farming Districts of Botswana,1898-1970

Please purchase it HERE.


  1. What about the 1970 Tati Company Act? Look into it, please. You may also find more leads here:

  2. How do I know if the land is freehold??? what do I need to get?? or where do I need to go??, lastly how do I get to be given a freehold??

  3. Thank you that was useful info


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