25 January 2013

Namibia: Raging Dispute Over Kavango Land

COMMUNAL farmers in the Ndiyona Constituency in the Kavango Region are angry over an agricultural project embarked upon without their consent. They claim it will dislocate them from their homesteads and mahangu fields.

A spokesperson for the group, Romanus Shampapi Shiremo, yesterday said that Ndiyona Constituency councillor Hildegard Mangundu, Gciriku Traditional Authority chief Kassium Shiyambi, and some headmen in the area had reached an agreement with an unknown South African investor for the allocation of 2 000 hectares to be set aside for crop production.

But he said no consultation took place with field owners at Ndiyona, Shihoro, Rucara, Hoha, and Kashipe villages that will be affected.

He said many people would be dislodged from their homesteads and mahangu fields.

Worse still, the disgruntled group claimed, is that the land allocation was done without the approval of the Kavango Communal Land Board, or the requisite procedures being followed.

Shiremo said there was no offer of compensation for those farmers who would have to move, no feasibility study was conducted, and no environmental clearance certificate was issued.

The Environmental Management Act of 2007 stipulates that no development may take place without an environmental clearance certificate. Contravention of this stipulation can lead to a fine of up to N$500 000 or imprisonment for 25 years, or both.

Shiremo was also quick to point out that it is illegal to put up fences in communal areas without permission.

"There is corruption going on here. Why is there total disregard for the laws of this country from people who have taken an oath to uphold and protect the Namibian Constitution and to be faithful to the people of this country?" he asked.

In a petition signed by 79 farmers and handed to Kavango Governor Maurus Nekaro, the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement and the Communal Land Board, the group said they were never consulted and never consented to giving up the customary land rights they are entitled to under the Communal Land Reform Act of 2002.

In a radio broadcast on the NBC's RuKavango radio service on January 15, Mangundu confirmed the allocation to the South African investor and said some mahangu fields in the area would be taken over to make way for the private agricultural scheme.

But the farmers say the lease cannot be granted if it directly and unreasonably interferes or curtails their use and enjoyment of the commonage.

The investor's Namibian consultant, Leon Tjihero, has reportedly started clearing large tracts of land with 300 temporary workers, while 50 casual workers are putting up fences around the allocated land.

In the process, said Shiremo, mahangu fields and wild vegetation and animals are being destroyed.

"While no formal permission was granted, no action is taken to halt the process," he added.

Kavango Communal Land Board secretariat member Leah Sasizo yesterday said the land board had not received an application for land use by the South African investor, which councillor Mangundu has identified as HGM Agri-Investments.

According to her, the traditional authority is supposed to have the consent of affected communities before land can be allocated for occupation.

"The people are crying; their land have just been taken," Sasizo said. "This is illegal. People must write a letter to the land board."

Mangundu disputed the claim that no formal procedures were followed.

She said discussions were first held with the traditional authority, after which all necessary documents were given to the land board and the lands ministry.

She said the traditional chiefs and headmen had consultations with field owners, and it is not true that communities are against the agricultural project.

"We have had five meetings with the communities and the royal king [Shiyambi]. All communities were involved. The allegations come from those who are not in favour of the project. We have given the land to the investor so that our children can have jobs and a future. They forget the aim of this project is for food security and to create jobs," Mangundu said.

The project, she said, has already created 300 temporary jobs.

She denied that homesteads or mahangu fields were being destroyed.

She said the South African investor intends to plant maize, potatoes and vegetables.

Mangundu also said that meetings would be held to discuss compensation to those who have lost their fields.

Mangundu did acknowledge that the necessary paperwork was still outstanding, saying: "Just to be honest, when investors come and get land, they are really offered [land]. This is so for most of the green schemes. They are often granted without a leasehold. We are still waiting for a leasehold."

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