Ha Makhoathi plateau at the centre of land dispute



MASERU – The Ha Makhoathi plateau has become the centre of a land dispute following the release of Gazette v.67 no.10 on February 22, 2022, which designated it for public use. Former chief Lebohang Makhoathi told Public Eye recently that a specific piece of land has been at the centre of controversy since January 2022.

Makhoathi alleges that upon hearing rumours of agricultural land being sold under the pretext of development, he personally approached the then Land Commissioner, Relebohile Lebeta, to report this suspicious activity. In turn, Lebeta is said to have reported the issue to the Qiloane Community Council, which is said to have ignored her warnings.

She then directed Makhoathi to the then Minister of Local Government, Chieftainship, Home Affairs, and Police, Lehlohonolo Moramotse, who assured Makhoathi and his associates that he would meet with Lebeta to resolve the matter.

In September 2022, Makhoathi, along with Chief Khechane Khechane and Chief Fako Makhoathi, initiated legal proceedings represented by their lawyer, Napo Mafaesa, filing case number LCAPN/0021/2022 in the Land Court against the Ministry of Local Government and the Attorney General at the time. The respondents were served on March 1, 2023, yet no response was received from the ministry.

In the founding affidavit, Makhoathi, as the first applicant, asserts, “Myself, the first and second applicants, own interests and rights to property or land that is compulsorily taken possession of under the authority of Legal Notice No. 10 of 2022.” He further states that his livelihood depends on farming activities conducted on the land.

Additionally, he mentions that the decision made by the Ministry of Local Government came at a time when he had undertaken a large-scale agricultural project. “In pursuit of this goal, I approached the Ministry of Agriculture, through a company in which I hold shares, to acquire machinery for the aforementioned purpose,” he explained.

To the former chief’s astonishment, on May 12, 2022, the Qiloane Community Council convened a meeting with Makhoathi and his fellow chief to announce the publication of Gazette Vol. 67, No. 10, on February 25, 2022, designating the Ha Makhoathi Plateau Qiloane Area for public purposes.

The purpose of the meeting was to notify the parties to register their agricultural land for sale for public purposes. On June 1, 2022, a meeting was convened at the Ministry of Local Government boardroom with Minister Moshe Leoma, who had replaced Moramotse at the time. Present at the meeting were Makhoathi, Chief Tšosane Mphutlane, Chief Khechane Khechane, Chief Fako Makhoathi, Lebeta, and her subordinate Chief Officer of Lands, ’Masebele Ponya.

The objective of the meeting was for Makhoathi and his party to present their grievances to the minister in his official capacity. Makhoathi said it was surprising that Lebeta appeared unaware of the gazette’s release, while her subordinate Chief Officer of Lands was well-informed and had even attended a monthly chief’s meeting in Thaba Bosiu, where Principal Chief Khoabane Theko expressed concern about the development observed on agricultural land.

What is even more disconcerting is that Makhoathi and his party were absent from the meeting, yet it proceeded without them. The Ha Makhoathi Community had not been formally notified about the ongoing developments on their agricultural land.

Allegations suggest that the then Councillor of Ha Makhoathi, Thabiso Mahoholi, was in carhoots with the Qiloane Community Council, asserting that the Ha Makhoathi Community had consented to the developments on their land. In his affidavit, Makhoathi insists that the decision made by the Ministry of Local Government is unlawful.

He notes that the government did not engage in any negotiations with the affected individuals, nor were consultations conducted as stipulated in Section 51 of the Land Act 2010 regarding compensation, payment, or settlement. Mahoholi rebuts these claims, saying: “Meetings were held to inform the Ha Makhoathi Community about the developments to sell farmland for residential purposes in 2019, with the first developments occurring in Ha Makhoathi.”

He says there were three meetings to inform and enlist those interested in selling their fields. However, Makhoathi and other chiefs contend that there was no formal meeting convened by Mohoholi to inform them about the developments on their land. At that point, Mohoholi and the Secretary General of Motjopa Community, Motlatsi Motjopa, had engaged Kamohelo Oliphant from Oasis Holdings Pty Ltd. as consultants.

The company had already established a Makhoathi Development Corporation dated 2020 on their profile. Following the conclusion of the meeting, Makhoathi wrote to Leoma, urging him to retract the gazette due to its failure to meet the necessary requirements for validity. The letter also warned that if the gazette was not retracted within 30 days, legal action would ensue.

On March 21, the Qiloane Community Council approached the Makhoathi Community again, alleging that the aforementioned case had been withdrawn, but they were unable to provide documents to substantiate their claims. The affected communities include Ha Makhoathi, Ha Fako, Ha Khekhane, Ha Lenono, Ha Bosofo, Mpesi, Rasenkisi, and Boqate.

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