Home NewsLocal Dispute over Ha-Makhoathi agricultural land 

Dispute over Ha-Makhoathi agricultural land 

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…as gvt’s controversial land development decision divides community 

Mathatisi Sebusi 

A dispute has erupted over an expansive area of agricultural land, measuring an estimated?12, 797, 009 square meters at Ha-Makhoathi,?in Maseru District. 

The government had designated the land for a ‘town planning scheme’ and residential houses have started mushrooming on the fertile piece of land which has fed the local communities for decades.?This has created a major rift between residents, who want the land preserved for farming,?and their local authorities. 

In February 2022, the Ministry of Local Government, Chieftainship, Home Affairs and Police, issued Legal Notice No. 19 of 2022 “setting aside the agricultural land for a “town planning scheme”. 

Former local government minister, Lehlohonolo Moramotse, was at the helm of that ministry when Legal Notice No.19 of 2022 was issued in February of the same year. 

?The?Sunday Express?understands attempts were made to engage the former minister, but that in the middle of talks, he was transferred to the Ministry of Public Service. Mr Moshe Leoma would take over as minister in May 2022. But nothing much came of the talks because Lesotho was preparing for that year’s October 7 general polls.? 

Meanwhile, following release of Legal Notice No. 19 of 2022, cracks developed among community members. 

Some refused to part with their land and even accused their councillors of conspiring with their area chief to sell their agricultural land for residential purposes. 

But others were willing to part with their agricultural land for a price nonetheless. 

Portions of the same agricultural land are currently being sold to “agents”, who in turn segment them into smaller sites and sell for residential purposes. 

Ironically, the way houses are sporadically mushrooming in the middle of agricultural fields, defies what a proper town development scheme should look like. 

Prominent Ha-Makhoathi community member and avid farmer, Lebohang Makhoathi, has told the?Sunday Express?that after Legal Notice No.19 of 2022 was presented to them, they doubted its authenticity. 

As a result, they demanded that its authors must visit the community to present their plan and explain the decision to set aside their land. 

He said they demanded clarity as they were neither consulted nor informed beforehand about plans government had with their land. 

Mr Makhoathi told this publication that from 2022 to date, there has been no official word from government on the state of the land. 

Neither have officials been deployed to the area to explain government’s vision for the ‘town’. 

Instead, community members are transferring their land to ‘agents’ with the authorisation of the area chief and councillor, under the guise that it will continue to be preserved for agricultural purposes. 

But once the land is in the hands of the so-called agents, it is divided into smaller stands and sold for residential purposes. 

Mr Makhoathi said their area chief, T?eliso Makhoathi and his mother, Qiloane Community Council councillor, Malentsoe Makhoathi, are “co-conspirators” in selling their agricultural land being used for residential purposes. 

Mr Makhoathi alleged that Chief Makhoathi and the Councillor, sold land to agents “who in turn sell to people for residential purposes”. 

“This is wrong, the land in question is fertile and has been feeding our families for decades. Taking it away from us will be snatching our livelihoods,” Mr Makhoathi said. 

He said currently, a village has mushroomed in the middle of their fields, making it hard for them to effectively carry out farming activities in their respective fields. 

He said the house owners had bought the land from “agents” whose trade was authorised by the local authorities. 

“We were never consulted on the decision to develop our land and the only time we learnt about the matter, was when the council and the Chief presented to us the legal notice declaring that our land has been set aside for a town planning scheme,” Mr Makhoathi said. 

“This happened under the leadership of the then minister of local government, Lehlohonolo Moramotse and he was moved from the ministry before he could resolve this matter.” 

He said he is among community members who refused to vacate their land and continued farming it adding “we are not ready to give it away for other purposes other than farming”. 

Mr Makhoathi, who has acted as a chief for some years holding the fort for Chief T?eliso before he came of age, said he has warned his nephew against selling and “authorising selling of the land to no avail”. 

Ha Makhoathi’s fields are 24 kilometres north of the Maseru town and occupy about 12, 797, 009 square metres of land. The fields have for decades provided good harvests for both Ha-Makhoathi and surrounding communities. 

Worried by possible negative implications of agricultural land being converted for residential purposes, Mr Makhoathi and two other local chiefs around Ha-Makhoathi, challenged the legal notice setting aside their land for town development in the Land Court. But the case has not been heard since 2022. 

Among their prayers, they said they derived their livelihoods from farming activities and the fields that are about to be taken. 

They told the Court that the compensation mentioned in the legal Notice No.10 0f 2022 is vaguely described and thus amounts to “no compensation at all”. 

They further told the court that as a result, they were not ready to give away their land for any purpose other than farming. 

“The decision by the Local government ministry to take our land for other purposes other than farming is unlawful and?contravenes Section 52 of the Land Act, 2010 as amended,” they said. 

Their other arguments were that the government never negotiated with the affected people, and no consultations were conducted before exercise of the decision. 

Mr Makhoathi and other two local chiefs around Ha Makhoathi wanted the court to set aside the legal notice. 

Contacted for comment, Chief Makhoathi, did not refute allegations that he has been authorising the sale of agricultural land,?to be used for residential purposes. 

He said following the decision by government to set aside their land for other purposes other than farming, some community members refused with their land while others agreed and started to sell it to “agents”. 

“Some demanded that the authorities who wanted to develop their land must come to them for interrogation. When that did not happen, people started selling their fields and I authorised the trade,” Chief Makhoathi said. 

He said the “agents” have been engaging with community members who are willing to sell the land, and the “agents” in turn come to his office for his approval (stamp) which he avails. 

Chief Makhoathi said he was aware that it was a crime to sell agricultural land for residential purposes. But since owners of the land had all required documents as proof that the land belongs to them, and thus have the right to transfer right of ownership elsewhere, he saw no problem in authorising their requests to sell their land. 

He said the council as well, has been doing as expected of it, which is to take measurements of the fields whose owners want to sell. 

Chief Makhoathi, however, refuted allegations that he has been working with the current Qiloane Community councillor who is also his mother. 

He argued that his mother is new in office as she was elected at the 2023 local government elections. 

“Selling of the agricultural land started long before she could be elected councillor of Qiloane Community Council,” Chief Makhoathi said. 

Efforts to get a comment from Minister Local Government, Chieftainship, Police and Home Affairs Lebona Lephema and the Ministry’s Principal Secretary, Mamphaka Lebesa were futile. 

Mr Lephema did not answer his phone while Ms Lebesa’s was not reachable. 

However, during presentation of the budget estimates for 2024/2025 financial year last month, Mr Lephema told the National Assembly that ??his ministry was faced with a challenges of lack of compliance with the land and housing policies by the citizens, illegal land allocations by Chiefs, councillors’ illegal subdivisions of agricultural land, and change of its use to residential land as well as unlawful selling of land by owners, mushrooming of houses on ?farming land and increased cases of land disputes.? 

 

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