Botswana's Freehold Land Problem(Part 4):Tuli Block

 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.


Tuli Block

With an illustrious history going as far back as tens of thousands of years ago, the area that is now Tuli Block is as interesting today as it was back when it was roamed by the San people.

Shortly before Bechuanaland had been declared a Protectorate of the British Crown, the land of Tuli Block had been in control of the Bangwato of Chief Khama III after coming out victorious in a tussle for it against the Matebele tribes of the area.

After the declaration of the Protectorate, fearing the increasing likelihood of incursions by South African Boer farmers, Khama III ceded control of the Tuli Block area to the British South Africa Company (BSAC) owned by Cecil Rhodes.

Rhodes had initially wanted ownership of the entire Bechuanaland Protectorate but after this failed, he settled for a proviso that the section of the Protectorate that is Tuli Block shall be transferred to the BSAC to build their railway line through.

When the BSAC realized that Tuli Block's rugged terrain which consisted of rocky outcrops, gorges, and several rivers made building a railway especially difficult and prospects of gold mining also seemed not possible, they started selling off the land to white private commercial farmers.

The farmers soon found out that the northern section of the land was not that good for large scale commercial farming and after World War II, discovered that the real goldmine of wealth in the land lay in tourism. With its archeological heritage, rich flora and fauna as well as majestic rocks, the northern area of Tuli Block made for a perfect tourism site. With a booming tourism industry after the war, most of the northern section of the strip adjacent to the Tuli Circle was converted into private game farms and reserves.

Today, the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, made up of a collection of 36 freehold properties which then make up three major concessions(Mashatu Game Reserve, Nitani Private Game Reserve, and Tuli Safari Lodge and others) on the confluence of Limpopo and Shashe Rivers,  cover an area over 70 000(yes, seventy thousand) hectares and is the largest privately-owned game conservation area in southern Africa. 

This conservation area, together with the southern remainder of the Block running along the Limpopo River on the border with South Africa and comprising of numerous commercial farms like Seleka Farm, brings the total size of the Tuli Block to around 800,000 hectares(yes, eight hundred thousand) of freehold land, a magnanimous amount considering the fact that natives still struggle for periods sometimes exceeding multiple decades, to be allocated a mere residential plot.