Villagers up in arms over quarrying of Makwate Hill

Neo Masanako BG correspondent
Monday, 22 October 2018
Headman of Mmuabui, Motswaudi Diau Headman of Mmuabui, Motswaudi Diau

Residents of Makwate Village in Mahalapye East constituency are bitterly split over the decision to quarry Makwate Hill for the construction of Dibete-Mookane-Machaneng road.Makwate Village is situated 55 kilometres from Mahalapye. Arriving in the village, one is greeted by the hill, as it stands guard over the village.

Besides the hill, there is really nothing much to the village. That would perhaps explain the uproar that has since developed in Makwate.  Information reaching this publication is that there is ongoing quarrying of the hill to produce concrete for construction of the road that passes through Makwate. However some residents feel that the Hill is a national heritage site, so unique, diverse and deserving of conservation.

They object to creating a burrow pit at Makwate Hill because they feel the hill has significant attributes of cultural and historical significance, spiritual and archaeological importance and is also home to many species such as birds, animals and plant life.The quarrying action, they say, will amount to irreversible destruction and kill their dreams of turning the hill into an eco-tourism development project that could benefit the Makwate community in future.

When the Botswana Guardian team visited Makwate Village recently, the area to be quarried was already fenced. Although there was no one at the site, it was evident that land clearing had already begun; the area had been debushed all the way to the hill. Jacob Coetzee, a resident of Makwate and a man who has been very vocal about the goings-on at Makwate said he was still in shock at the government’s conduct.

He said it beats him why government would want to destroy a hill that they believe is worth treasuring.  As if that was not enough, it seems government is not willing to listen to residents’ complaints and fears that the beautiful hill will soon be destroyed. “My ploughing field is just 200m away from the area to be quarried, my home is 400m away and my business is only 750m away.

This whole thing will obviously affect my business because tourists passing by Makwate will no longer enjoy the beautiful view of the Hill when they fuel their cars at my filling station,” he said.  One elderly man, Elliot Tlhankane (69) said big machines have been moving up and down on the west side of the hill. He said contractors had been given surface rights to quarry and were now busy at work.

With despair and disappointment, so bitter it seemed to burn his tongue; Tlhankane said in all his life he perceived the hill special. Actually his entire life revolved around it. He had heard beautiful stories surrounding the hill and how their great grandparents once lived up there. Tlhankane reared his small livestock there when growing up.

“That hill has many treasures that need to be preserved; we are shocked that the government is willing to destroy such a beautiful feature that boasts of a rich history. There are also graves up there because my parents shared with me the history behind this hill,” Tlhankane said.

Quizzed on how a decision was reached to quarry the hill, Tlhankane explained that there had been meetings at the Kgotla with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), land board and roads department present. He had always been against the idea of the burrow pit however he was shocked to learn at a later time that the process was going ahead and surprisingly, the village had agreed to the quarry.

The owner of Bodibeng Bar and General Dealer situated not far from the hill, Sarah Batsalelwang said she was also against the government’s decision to destroy the hill. Batsalelwang argued that proper consultation was not done adding that she wishes the government should reconsider quarrying the hill.“We have nothing against the road being constructed but we cannot celebrate development at the expense of destroying the hill.

Firstly we have not been presented with the Kgotla minutes that prove that indeed the people of Makwate agreed to the burrow pit and also we have not been given the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (EIA) by the DEA,” Batsalelwang said.

Helpless frustration balled in her chest, Batsalelwang explained that they do not believe that the EIA was ever carried out. She said that they have been regular customers at Sefhare Land board offices trying to reason with them, hoping they will have a change of heart but to no avail. “Land board has granted contractors surface rights to quarry,” she said.

Batsalelwang added that the noise from the quarry would affect her business, “My customers come here to relax, now imagine that with all the noise pollution from this side disturbing them? My flowers that beautify this place are most likely to die because of the dust but I was never consulted,” she argued.

Meanwhile headman of Mmuabui Ward, Motswaudi Diau accused all those who are against the quarry as power hungry and want to stop developments in the village. He said he was present when residents of Makwate agreed that the hill be used to extract the needed concrete for the road and it was disturbing that some now want to interfere.

Diau labelled those who were against the quarry as “outsiders” who could not fully explain the culture of the Hill. “What graves are they talking about; they cannot even prove what they claim. They will not quarry the entire hill but only a part of it that is even unnoticeable at the back,” he said.Village Development Committee (VDC) Vice Chairperson Joel Koobeetswe said they have taken into consideration the people’s cries and wish for the quarry to stop while they assess the matter.

He acknowledged that the Hill had deeprooted culture that they need to take into consideration. “We should be careful not to destroy what could be beneficial to us in future,” he said.Another resident Sedie Rankhudu born and bred in Makwate claimed she has a plot not far from the hill however she also was not told of the developments. She had wished to turn the hill into a tourism site especially that the village was not very far from Parr’s Halt border.

“About 100 cars pass here daily now imagine if we were to beautify this place, make it look attractive, the dream was there but we had not shared it because we were still trying to brainstorm how best to present it,” she said.Nevertheless it remains to be seen if their pleas will be listened to. According to the minutes of Sefhare Land Board Special board meeting held on the 13th -14th March 2018, the complaints of Makwate concerned citizens   were dismissed and the application for the quarry approved.

However they have since appealed the Sefhare land board’s decision to Ngwato land board in Serowe. Ngwato landboard acknowledged receiving the appeal on the 4th May 2018. The concerned residents are hoping for a positive response from Serowe however they are worried that the land board is taking long to respond despite the fact that the contractors are busy clearing the land.

When reached, Member of Parliament (MP) for Mahalapye East also Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Botlogile Tshireletso said she knew nothing about the matter. Tshireletso distanced herself from the matter saying the residents never told her of what was happening in Makwate.

The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism could not respond to the questionnaire sent to them three weeks ago despite repeated efforts to reach the ministry. Alice Mmolawa, the chief public relations officer was always said to be held up in meetings or not available.  

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