19 September 2003

Namibia: First Water Court Case in Years Bubbles to Surface

Windhoek — THE Water Court of Namibia could sit for the first time since Independence after residents of village in the Otjozondjupa Region village filed a claim against a communal area farmer to allow them access to fresh water.

Residents of the hamlet of Kandu, some 130 kilometres north-east of Grootfontein, are suing Government and Grootfontein resident, Titus Streidwolf, who has established a cattle post on communal land in their area.

They have 30 days to respond.

The complainants are the !Kung Traditional Authority, Kandu resident Michael Alfons, who is also a traditional leader and a councillor in the traditional authority, the N#a-Jaqna Conservancy and Ronard Raphael, a local resident.

They are asking the court to order the farmer to give the villagers access to a borehole and water from reservoirs.

The villagers, who are a represented by Norman Tjombe of the Legal Assistance Centre, filed their claim with the Water Court late last week.

As far as could be established through enquiries at the High Court the Kandu villagers' case is the first to be filed in the Water Court since Independence in 1990 .

In terms of the 1956 Water Act, a piece of South African legislation that is still on Namibia's statute books, the Water Court has the power to adjudicate disputes over access to public water sources.

A High Court judge must hear cases brought before it.

In an affidavit filed with the court, Alfons claimed that Streidwolf has kept animals at a cattle post near Kandu since about 1991, although the farmer said he had in fact done so since 1989.

Kandu has about 80 residents, who get water from four communal taps connected by a pipe to two elevated water reservoirs at the cattle post situated 800 metres away, Alfons said in his affidavit.

The water system was constructed and maintained by the former colonial government and this role was taken over by the Namibian Government after independence in 1990.

But over the years a conflict has arisen between the village and Streidwolf over the use of the water, with the part-time farmer having, at times, shut down supplies to the village.

The nearest other water that is fit for human consumption is at a village about 5km from Kandu, or at Omatako, which is 12km away.

The villagers had complained to Government officials at the nearby Mangetti Dune village with little success, Alfons said.

The residents of Kandu were "extremely poor" and only three people - two old age pensioners who each receive N$250 a month and himself - had an income, Alfons added.

No-one in the village owned a motor vehicle and could not afford to travel long distances to collect water, he added.

He described the denial of water to the village as "a blatant violation of our constitutional rights, more particularly our rights to dignity under Article 8 of the Namibian Constitution", as well the right to life.

Streidwolf, speaking to The Namibian by phone from Grootfontein, said he did not plan to contest the action, adding he had no quarrel with the villagers over their rights to access to water.

Claiming that he had never denied them access to the water, Streidwolf said that since 1990 he had been responsible for supplying the diesel used to power the water pumps at the cattle post.

There had been times, he said, when the diesel had run out while he was in Grootfontein and there was no means of pumping water to the borehole.

His animals had also been affected and the problem was only sorted out when he brought new diesel supplies.

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