A GROUP of farmers in the Oshikoto region have threatened to take the law into their own hands should the government fail to intervene and order the immediate removal of a fence declared illegal by the Windhoek High Court in 2016.
The farmers are threatening to pull down a fence around an area measuring 3 600 hectares of communal land, which they say is depriving small-scale livestock farmers of access to their "traditional grazing area".
The headman of the Mpugulu village, Petrus Kalekela, had evicted people from their homesteads and cattle posts, claiming that the Ondonga Traditional Authority had allocated the land to him in 1986.
The land in question is located between the Oshiwambi and Olukalwa villages in the Nehale lya Mpingana constituency of Oshikoto. The area falls under the jurisdiction of the Ondonga traditional authority.
In 2013, Kalekela fenced off the land and sent eviction letters, ordering that by the end of March 2014, all farmers should vacate their cattle posts and homesteads.
Of the seven original cattle posts in the area, only four remain.
Andreas Asheela and Samuel Neshuku moved their cattle to Tsumkwe and Kavango West, respectively, while Imene Shigwedha went back to his home village.
The cattle posts of Reinhold Asheela, Paulus Thomas, Jason Stefanus and Ndilipunye Ngonga and the four homesteads belonging to Angula Erkana, Martin Kambungu, Joel Ngololo and Simon Angula remained, and are now enclosed in the fenced off area, while their animals are outside.
The farmers went to court in 2014 after the grazing area in the Oshana sha Munyankwe village was fenced off in 2013.
On 6 December 2016, Judge Shafimana Ueitele restrained Kalekela and his wife, Beata, from evicting the farmers. The court also directed that the respondents remove the fence not later than three months from the date of the judgement.
The applicants were represented by the Legal Assistance Centre, while Amupanda Kamanja Inc represented the defendants. The respondents appealed the decision, and the hearing is still pending.
Kalekela died last year.
The concerned farmers' spokesperson, Erastus Moses Naango, said although the fence was not removed as directed by the court, their cattle had free access to the grazing area because the fence was in a state of disrepair and gates were left open.
However, the situation changed last month with the arrival in the area of Andreas Nangolo, a nephew of the late Kalekela.
Nangolo allegedly erected a shack, built a kraal for his goats, started repairing the fence, drove the villagers' cattle from the disputed land, and locked the gates. He also vowed to defend himself and his property, as well as summon the police should there be any attempt to vandalise his fence.
According to court papers, Nangolo was not an interested party in the dispute, but merely assisted his uncle [Kalekela] with the erection of the fence.
He dismissed the livestock farmers' claims.
"I do not know where the notion of Nangolo fencing off a large tract of land comes from. This area was allocated to my uncle, Kalekela. This is our place, as far as I am concerned. We only came to repair it after years of vandalism," he stated.
However, Nangolo has now emerged as one of the main players in the dispute.
Speaking to The Namibian while repairing the fence, Nangolo said that his layman's understanding is that the status quo remains, pending the outcome of the appeal in the Supreme Court.
"The High Court decision falls away while we await the Supreme Court decision," he said.
He said that courts could also make mistakes, and that is why they appealed. The appeal hearing is scheduled for 11 July.
Some cattle herders claimed that a few days ago, Nangolo threatened them with a gun. But Nangolo denied this, saying that he carries a gun not to intimidate people, but because that is the norm in the area.
"Everyone here carries a gun when venturing into the bush because of wild animals," he added. Naango said they were aware of Nangolo's habit of carrying a gun.
"We have guns too. We will no longer entertain his provocation. Should the government fail to bring him to order and remove the fence before Friday, we will come and remove it ourselves," Naango charged.
He added that because of the fence, they lost some livestock in 2014.
"This time, it won't be the cattle, but rather human beings who will die. Perhaps that is the incident the government is waiting for before waking up from its slumber," said Naango.
He said Nangolo's action was also tantamount to contempt of court.
"By repairing the fence instead of removing it as directed by the court, Nangolo has shown utter disregard for the law. He has taken the law into his own hands," he said, adding that the fence was separating the livestock from their owners.
Cattle posts and traditional homesteads are inside the fenced off area, while the cattle are outside, he reiterated.
He further said that their herds - numbering between 500 and 700 head of cattle - now face starvation as the only available grazing is in the corridors between fences.
They have been grazing their animals in the area since 1992 with the permission of the Ondonga Traditional Authority.
"It was only in 2005 when people from elsewhere came and started erecting fences, gradually driving us towards the border between Oshikoto and Kavango West," Naango said. He stressed that the disputed area was the last portion of land left for them.
"When it was fenced off in 2005, we reported the matter to the traditional authority, and the intruders were ordered to remove their fences, with strict orders that the area should never be fenced off again."
Land activist Job Amupanda said he was made aware of this particular land dispute, and will try to intervene in favour of the affected livestock farmers.