16 May 2017

Namibia: Ovitoto Farms Given Without Resettlement Criteria

THE controversial allocation of the N$40 million Osema and Gusinde resettlement farms was done without criteria for resettling people on game farms.

According to documents in the possession of The Namibian, land reform minister Utoni Nujoma approved and signed the resettlement criteria in November last year after the deadline for an advert that called for the expression of interest on the game farms.

Some ministry officials admitted in an email to one of the aggrieved applicants, Chobezi Game Farming and Safaris, that the criteria were not used to determine the successful applicants.

"The criteria were approved after the closing date of the advert of the subject farm, and thus not applicable in your case, but for future resettlement farms to be advertised," read the email.

Chobezi's consultant Tartisius Gaeseb on Wednesday questioned how the ministry chose the successful applicants without the criteria for game farming resettlement in place.

Gaeseb said it was unfair for the ministry to disqualify some candidates when it had not indicated what they wanted the applicants to offer.

"The advert only said the farm is recommended for game farming, and gave no other details," he said.

Land reform spokesperson Chrispin Matongela confirmed last week that there were no game farming resettlement criteria when the two farms were allocated.

Matongela, however, said the allocation was based on the existing resettlement criteria and that the new criteria would be used in future.

"This is not the first time we are buying such farms and used the existing resettlement criteria. It is not true that we had no criteria in place. It is just that the current resettlement criteria were upgraded to include game farming," explained Matongela.

He also said it is up to the applicants to indicate what they want to do with a farm, sell their idea to government and not the other way around.

"You cannot want to apply to be the head of a franchise like KFC, for example, and not have a proposal in place. You have to know what you want to do with the farm," he stated.

The Ovitoto Conservancy members expressed shock when they learnt that the farm had been awarded to a company called Ovitoto Game and Hunting Safaris, stressing that they had been lobbying to get farms in the surrounding areas for years.

Another blow for the community was finding out that they are minority shareholders in the company which got the farm, despite having applied to get the farm for the conservancy on their own.

With a total size of 9 128 hectares, Gusinde No197 and Osema No 63 have up to 800 wildlife of different species worth more than N$3 million. The two farms are adjacent to the Ovitoto Conservancy.

Ovitoto community activist Rirua Komeheke said he feels the community was given a raw deal as he is not aware of any meetings where the community agreed to be a shareholder in this company.

In a press statement, Ovaherero Traditional Authority chief Vipuira Katuuo also said they had appealed several times to government for the farms through letters in 2015 and meetings with land reform minister Utoni Nujoma.

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