Botswana's Freehold Land Problem(Part 3):Ruretse

 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.


For years past up to the present day and probably years to come, the land officially registered as "Kenmoir" farm but is colloquially known as "Ruretse" after being purchased by the first president Seretse Khama and his wife Ruth and sections of it first developed into the residential plots of today in 1987, has been a source of friction between Batlokwa and the Khama family. To understand the Ruretse land issue, it is first important to understand the historical happenings that led to Batlokwa ending up in Tlokweng, or more correctly, Moshaweng, which borders Ruretse.

Before settling in Botswana, Batlokwa of present-day Tlokweng inhabited a settlement called "Marothodi" on the west side of present-day Sun City. Marothodi was a copper and iron smelting center and the capital of Kgosi Taukobong and his son Kgosi. Fast forward a few years and Kgosi gets killed in a battle against the invading Bakololo of Sebetwane and the splitting and dispersion of Batlokwa from Marothodi begins, with some groups traveling so deep into Botswana as to reach present-day Serowe.

Matlapeng, who was the son of the deceased Kgosi and had been safeguarded by Bashe who was part of one of the split groups from Marothodi who settled in present-day Letlhakeng, eventually bears a son, naming him Gaborone. Years later after he had ascended to the chieftaincy, Matlapeng and his subjects run into some issues with the invading Boers, eventually leading to them moving from Letlhakeng, or Matlapengsberg as it had been renamed by the Boers to establish their authority, to join Bakwena of Sechele at Dithejwane.

As Sechele's subjects, Batlokwa move with him and Bakwena to Ntsweng or Molepolole, as it is today known. A falling out eventually occurs between the two groups, leading to Matlapeng and his people moving and settling at Tswene-Tshwene which is present-day Madikwe Game Reserve.

Fast forward several years later and you have Bakgatla of Kgafela leaving the Transvaal to stay briefly with Matlapeng who is the former's uncle. Bakgatla eventually settle in the Bakwena territory of Phuthadikobo and the two get involved in a war that ends in 1883. One of the casualties of the war is Matlapeng, who had chosen to fight on his nephew's side in the war. His son Gaborone succeeds him as the chief of Batlokwa. It is important to note that Bakgatla of Kgafela had won the war and annexed the eastern portion of Kweneng.

After the war, Gaborone pays tribute to Sechele, a symbol of correcting the grudges which might have arisen as a result of the former's father fighting opposite the latter in the Bakgatla-Bakwena war. In response, Sechele gifts Gaborone and Batlokwa, the land in and around Moshaweng, known today as Tlokweng, which becomes their final settlement up to this day.

After the British declare a Protectorate over Bechuanaland, Sebele I who is the son and hence successor of Sechele, succumbs to pressure from the Protectorate administration to give some land under his dominion to the British South Africa Company(BSAC) owned by Cecil Rhodes for the building of the railway line which is to run through the Protectorate. The land which Sebele hands over to the British, which they call "Gaberones Block" as a sign of acknowledgment of the fact that it belongs to Kgosi Gaborone and his Batlokwa subjects, is eventually given to the BSAC.

The BSAC decides to demarcate most of the granted land into freehold farms to sell to white settlers, only leaving out the Crown Reserve land(shaded dark on the map below and which eventually becomes the capital city Gaborone) for the Protectorate administration. Despite efforts by Sebele to invite Batlokwa to move out of the Moshaweng land which now legally belonged to the BSAC and into the Bakwena Reserve land, Gaborone decides to stay put and in return pay rentals to the Company for occupying some the land which has not been sold as farms to white settlers(unmarked portion on the map below). The Company includes a condition in the rental agreement that after Gaborone dies, the rental agreement shall become null and void and Batlokwa shall have to vacate the land.

1912 map showing demarcation into 14 farms by BSAC of the land called "Gaberones Block" granted to them by Sebele I via the British Protectorate administration.The portion to the north called Huijser's Chance(3) eventually became Kenmoir then present-day "Ruretse".Sowen Flat(4) to the top-left became "Phakalane". The unnamed middle portion between the demarcations to the north(Almond Hill(1), Clent(2), Huijser(3) ), and those to the south(from Notwani(10) downwards) was the rental area for Batlokwa as per the agreement with the BSAC.

After Gaborone dies in 1931 at the ripe age of 106, a new agreement is set out which leads to the Company conceding ownership of the Batlokwa occupied land(unmarked middle portion on the map) to the British High Commissioner and the British declare it as "Batlokwa Native Reserve".

Coming to the present day, the dispute between Batlokwa and the Khama family about the Ruretse land is not an easy one to judge. Batlokwa remain the politically and economically present tribe with the smallest tribal land territory in Botswana as a result of the demarcation of most of the land into freehold farms by BSAC so their feelings of being hard done are legitimate. Another factor that should make them feel hard done is that the British, instead of considering Gaborone and Batlokwa as having dominion over the land as it was given to them by Sechele, chose to consider Sebele I as the owner of the land(despite having called it "Gaberones Block" to acknowledge Batlokwa ownership) who then proceeded to hand it over to them.

Nevertheless, the fact that more than half of the land they were given to by Sechele, including what is now Ruretse, got taken from them and eventually sold by the BSAC is the reason that to this day the descendants of Batlokwa are experiencing land shortages and is another painful reminder of the evils of colonialism. As for the Khamas, fortunately for them, they were one of the few natives who benefitted from the works of the colonialism administration by being able to purchase and now lay claim to that which used to belong to Batlokwa. Such is life.

PS: A considerable amount of credit for this article goes to Professor Fred Morton, formerly of the University of Botswana for his work on the paper titled "Does Ruretse Belong To Batlokwa?:What History Tells Us"