All in all it was a big mix of land uses, and over the top of this, imaginary (or in some cases) real lines were drawn to delimit the property rights. The kitchen garden areas we tackled next; the big problem here was that many had mango and banana trees in them and it was difficult to determine where the property line might be as you walked it. Rather than confuse the trainees by recording GPS lines straight away which might need correcting, we taught them how to work with the farmer who managed the plots to walk with them before switching the GPS to determine where the boundary went. We found most of them determined features which sorted this out quite easily – a tree here, a ditch there, the corner of a building. Where the problem came is when we got to the far end of the plot away from the buildings and the farmer would wave vaguely off into an impenetrable tangle of vines. We showed our trainees how to stop the recording at one point, walk all the way round the obstruction to a second point where you could stand at a plot corner, start the tracing once more and the GPS would record a straight line between the two points.
Of course not all neighbouring farmers would agree on the lines you were drawing but we told our trainees not to worry – there was no problem about plotting two neighbouring parcels of land and having overlap. All it was doing was highlighting that there was some disagreement over where the land was that the villagers or the elders could sort out later. One of the purposes of the exercise was to show where possible disputes existed. What we had more difficulty understanding was what was the actual rights to property that people have.
Mapping the boundaries
Women were crying openly in the cabin; I was gripping the seat in front fiercely with my left hand while my right had tried to keep the book steady. It had been a good life, I thought.
We had so far travelled the hour from Maseru, had been kept in the holding pattern for thirty minutes and taken another thirty minutes to try and land. Could the plane fly for much longer? Could the pilots stay concentrated? Could the plane stay intact with the buffeting it was receiving? Could our nerves take more of this? There was only one answer to all those questions – We had to!
We came around once more. The routine was now familiar – dark clouds punctuated by lightning, the navigation lights and pools of orange from the street lights below. The sudden clearing of the skies revealing the airport hangars, terminal and runway. This third time was different as there was no inevitable throttle up as we headed into the sky. Instead, before anyone had noticed we had bumped down on the ground and the brakes were applied. We drew up quickly to a slow taxi, turned off the runway and were safe. The rain was still pelting down outside but now looked innocuous. We had to cross another couple of runways to reach the terminal. As I looked out to my right I saw a line of lights of four other aircraft desperately trying to get down on the ground. Our captain gave us his farewell message over the tannoy, using as nonchalant a set of clichés about “bit bumpy” and ” sorry for the slight delay”. There was a twinge of nervous relief in his tone, but also pride as he told us we were the first plane to have landed at Oliver Tambo in the last 40 minutes. Hence the stack of planes now trying to land on every available runway.
I looked at my watch as we continued to taxi past busy scenes of planes being loaded with passengers and freight, fuelled and watered ready for their journeys. In theory my Virgin Atlantic flight was due to depart in thirty minutes time. I knew already that this was an impossible timetable. If no planes had been able to land they would not be able to allow others to take off. We parked up out on the airfield and dashed down the steps and onto buses. I caught all the passengers exchanging glances and smirking with relief. We’d not talked much, we may never meet again, but we had shared a big experience that evening. When I got inside the terminal building it was crowded with people waiting for their delayed flights. I was surprised to see my own London flight was not badly delayed and we would be boarding in about 20 minutes. In a way I was grateful for the slick transfer. If I had sat around the terminal for much longer I may have had too much time to think about whether to ever fly again in my life.
My fellow passengers were all aware of the hassle and delays caused by the bad weather, but none of them had the same story I had. I settled back and got myself comfy for the long haul back over Africa and Europe to home. It was still lightning and rain outside but nowhere near as intense. The wind remained strong as I could see the rain passing the floodlights horizontally. But a fully loaded 747 at full throttle is more than a match for a headwind and after a few bumpy moments as we passed through the cloud, the storm gave us no further trouble and I was away.
Flying over Lesotho still spectacular
But our work was not to focus on the big infrastructural projects here. Tony was concerned that we look at a much more serious planning issue in this part of the island; that of squatters. Now when I have been told about squatters in most other parts of the world, I see shanty towns, informal settlements, whatever you want to call them, on the edge of the roadside taking over a scrap of land that had not been used, or had gone out of agricultural production. Tony drove us over to one of the squatter houses is this area. Turning off the main road and heading towards the coast the ground became open and grassy, the result of heavy grazing by goats, and peppered across the landscape was a mixture of chattel houses, concrete villas and , most bizarrely, some three storey, 8 bedroom mansions. I said to Tony that the owners there must be a bit peeved that the squatters were just randomly eating up the surrounding land. Tony smiled at me – the guy who has built that mansion, he said, is also squatting. He never bought the rights to that land. But the government has never been able to take any action against him.
Would you be able to spot who has illegally built?
Maybe easy to pick out in this estate
But would you ever imagine this house had no ownership of the land or planning permission
The problem of squatting in a small island is not all about the landless trying to find places to build their homes. Some people seek the advantage to take on what is known to be abandoned land without going through all the paperwork, and because family ties are strong and populations small, some find they are not challenged by the official “authorities” as they know someone who can sit on the little administrator and keep them quiet.
But spending huge amounts of money building a large modern mansion complete with external walls and lavish metal gates on land you did not own did seem a tad audacious. It really did cock a snoop at those honest civil servants who are trying to manage the whole country’s interests.