Controversy is trailing the true ownership of the Moremi Game Reserve –a tourist’s fortress near Maun.
Member of Parliament for Maun West Tawana Moremi is on a mission to have the ownership of the reserve-described by the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) as a “gem of a National Park”-transferred back to the Batawana community. On Wednesday the MP asked the lands minister Lebonaamang Mokalake if he was aware that as of 1963, the land known as Moremi Game Reserve has been allocated and a grant made as per the Tawana Land Board minutes of 20 March 1975.
He said the land was also under the control of the Fauna Conservation Society–a Customary Incorporation of the Batawana Tribe-as per the Land Board minutes of 6-7 February 1978. ‘Tribal land regulations section 20 (4) requires consent of the owner of rights over Moremi Game Reserve for any grants over the land,” argues Moremi. Last month Moremi told a Kgotla meeting in Maun that Batawana will do anything in their power to reclaim ownership of the reserve. The MP has the support of the tribal leadership on the issue. However, Mokalake told parliament that though he was aware that in 1963 Moremi Game Reserve was established by Batawana and administered on behalf of the tribe by Ngamiland Fauna Conservation Society, all this changed in the advent of the establishment of Land Boards when the custody of all tribal land was now vested on the Land Boards in trust for the citizens of Botswana.
“Currently, the resources in all Game Reserves and National Parks in the country are managed by Department of Wildlife and National Parks, while Land Authorities manage the land and are responsible for issuing land rights to interested parties,” said the minister. Mokalake informed parliament that while Batawana established the reserve, the manner in which it was administered and managed then has been overtaken by events. “As a result the management and administration of tribal land and the Flora and Fauna in the Moremi Game Reserve are now managed by the Tawana Land Board in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks respectively,” he said in the absence of Moremi who was not in as parliament resumed for the winter session.
Over the years the reserve has garnered a number of important distinctions, including being voted the ‘best game reserve in Africa’ by the prestigious African Travel and Tourism Association at South Africa’s premier tourism fair, Indaba in 2008. According to information from BTO, Moremi Game Reserve, situated in the central and eastern areas of the Okavango, includes the Moremi Tongue and Chief’s island, boasting one of the richest and most diverse ecosystems on the continent. “This makes for spectacular game viewing and bird watching, including all major naturally occurring herbivore and carnivore species in the region, and over 400 species of birds, many migratory and some endangered,” reads information from the BTO on the reserve.