Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Botswana’s president goes shopping for a farm

In south-west Botswana, near the border with South Africa, the government owns some prime farmland – Banyana Farms. The land was originally bought in order to promote commercial cattle farming in Botswana.

Last year, Banyana Farms – a state-owned company – decided to lease out several large ranches on the property, and designed a competitive tender process to do so. After all, this is valuable real estate, and the lease is for 14 years. The biggest ranch, the 49 square kilometre Portion 2, attracted considerable interest. The 39 bidders have now been whittled down to a shortlist of three.

On that shortlist is a familiar name: Mokgweetsi Masisi, the president of Botswana.

In Botswana, it is not illegal for presidents to engage in commercial enterprises. But it is frowned upon – especially when there is any suspicion of conflict of interest. Plenty of suspicion surrounds this transaction.

The INK Centre for Investigative Journalism saw the tender documents for the ranch, which lay out the conditions which all potential bidders must meet. Two major conditions are that bidders must pay a visit to the farm; and must submit to an interview with the Banyana Farms assessors at the offices of Botswana’s Attorney-General.

President Masisi met neither of these conditions. Instead, he sent representatives to view the farm; and arranged for the interview to take place in State House in Gaborone.

Even more seriously, the tender documents specify that bidders should not already own a ranch in Botswana at the time of bidding. But Masisi is engaged in commercial livestock production and horticulture at Matseta near Gaborone, where he grows vegetables and rears cattle and small stock. His family inherited a farm at Sekoma where there is commercial livestock production. He is also said to have a feedlot in Moshupa and farms at Tshele and Morupule. 

The office of the president declined to respond to questions sent by the INK Centre. The ministry of agriculture, under whose remit Banyana falls, responded only to say that questions would be forwarded to the Office of the President.

Although he has so far declined to answer INK’s questions, the president’s spokesperson Batlhalefi Leagajang told radio station Gabz FM that the president “doesn’t have farms elsewhere”. Pressed by the anchor Kealeboga Dihutso to explain further, Leagajang said the President did have “agricultural land”.

He did not clarify the difference between a farm and agricultural land. “I know he [the president] is interested in Banyana Farms,” Leagajang said.

Asked if it is ethical for Masisi to do business with the government in his personal capacity, Leagajang told the Gabz FM anchor, Kealeboga Dihutso, that the president does not sit on the board of Banyana Farms and is not involved in procurement.

Micus Chimbombi, a former permanent secretary for the ministry of agriculture who is now an opposition politician, said that President Masisi should not have been given preferential treatment. He added, however, that it is difficult for public officers – such as the board of Banyana Farms – to resist pressure from politicians. “In principle they can resist but in practice that could make the outcome of their decision tilt in favour of those individuals,” said Chimbombi.

This is an edited version of an investigation by the INK Centre for Investigative Journalism. This version first appeared on The Continent, the new pan-African weekly newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here. The full investigation is here.

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Calistus Bosaletswe
Calistus Bosaletswe is a journalist based in Gaborone, Botswana
Joel Konopo
Joel Konopo is the co-founder of the INK Centre for Investigative Journalism. He is a former Botswana Guardian editor and a board member of the Media Institute of Southern Africa
Ntibinyane Ntibinyane
Ntibinyane Ntibinyane is a journalist from Botswana and co-founder of INK Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit news outlet that does investigative journalism in the public interest

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Pockets of instability in Kenya are underpinned by unequal development

Stability in Kenya hinges on a just, equitable distribution of resources, and a commitment to progress human development for the marginalised

Eastern Cape premier Mabuyane lives large amid province’s poverty

Oscar Mabuyane and MEC Babalo Madikizela allegedly used a portion of state funds for struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s commemoration for their own benefit

Constitutional court confirms warrantless searches in cordoned off areas unconstitutional

The law was challenged in response to raids in inner Johannesburg seemingly targeting illegal immigrants and the highest court has pronounced itself 10 days before an election in which then mayor Herman Mashaba has campaigned on an anti-foreigner ticket

A blunt Mantashe makes no promises during election campaigning

ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe told people in Daveyton to stop expecting handouts from the government

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…