New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: Land Grabbers Appear in Court

A group of Oshiwambo-speaking farmers charged with illegal grazing and trespassing in western Kavango were on Monday back in court for plea and trial and they all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The northern farmers are accused of illegally grazing cattle, and erecting household structures and cattle posts in the Kwangali area without the consent of Chief Daniel Sitentu Mpasi of the Ukwangali Traditional Authority.

Twenty-five of the accused appeared before Magistrate Victor Nyaso in the Kahenge District Court on Monday.

Having been struck off the roll once in the past following the resignation of the investigating officer, chances of the case ending prematurely are said to be high considering the fact that only one of the 50 witnesses gave their testimony in the Kahenge courtroom on Monday.

Chief Mpasi and most of the witnesses, except for a policeman, were absent during the court proceedings.

Justice in rural areas still seems to be progressing at a snail's pace, as witnesses fail to pitch for set court dates without notifying court officials in advance.

Initially there were 37 accused but on Monday only 25 appeared because four were ill, one passed away and seven were exonerated by Prosecutor-General Martha Imalwa, because they are of Kwangali origin, making them eligible to access land within the jurisdiction of the Ukwangali Traditional Authority (UTA).

The deceased was identified as Petrus Mutilifa.

Erastus Sakaria, Emilia Nghilundilwa, Metumo nghilundilwa, Elly Shinwalulu, Aktofel Sakaria, Seth Kaukungwa and Junias Hamana were acquitted.

Court information suggests that the accused all grazed their cattle in the Kwangali area without consent from Mpasi, the UTA Chiefs' Council and the Kavango Communal Land Board.

Dragging on for more than half a decade, the case is described by many as a mirror image of the slow-paced justice system prevailing in the country.

With most of the accused being aged, court proceedings constantly had to be adjourned to allow time for the illegal grazers to visit the restrooms and stretch their legs.

The Oshiwambo-speaking farmers are said to have violated national laws such as Article 102 (subsection 5) and Article 10 (subsection 1) of the Namibian Constitution, the Traditional Act as well as the Communal Land Reform Act.

The case started when Owambo farmers drove more than 1 600 cattle in the jurisdiction of the UTA in 2003.

In 2007, the UTA leader and the Kavango Communal Land Board sought a High Court order to have the farmers and their cattle evicted from the 6 760-square kilometre area.

According to some community leaders, the Owambo-Kwangali grazing feud dates back to 1982, when residents from neighbouring regions such as Ohangwena and Oshikoto started illegally grazing their animals in the Kavango Region.

Some irked accused persons told New Era that they are being drained financially because government is failing to finalize the case.

In 2005, Cabinet decided that all Oshiwambo-speaking farmers and their 60 000 cattle should leave western Kavango.

With Mpasi and his followers being devoted Swapo supporters, political motives are said to have caused the grazing feud - because the Chairman of the Oshiwambo Cattle Herders Association Vilho Hamunyela, is a known member of the Rally for Democracy and Progress.

Hamunyela was imprisoned in 2006 for illegal grazing in Kavango.

The protracted court case is said to be fuelling ethnic, tribal and political conflict between the contending parties.

Defence lawyer Norman Tjombe is legally representing the accused while, Public Prosecutor Clara Mwilima is representing the State during the court proceedings.

The Kahenge District Court has been reserved for the case for the entire week.

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