Namibia: Orange River Dispute Irks MPs

22 September 2020

NAMIBIAN members of parliament are questioning South Africa's decision to push its borders beyond the Orange River into Namibia's dryland.

This is against international law.

Parliamentarians feel the ambiguous border between Namibia and South Africa is one of the reasons Namibia is not fully benefiting from the Orange River's water.

During the ratification of the revised Orange-Senqu River Basin Commission agreement in the National Assembly last week, Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) leader McHenry Venaani blamed the poverty at Namibia's southern border on the imbalanced utilisation of the Orange River.

The ratification of the revised agreement last week was necessitated by the need to negotiate reasonable and equitable access to the waters of the perennial rivers on Namibia's borders and to align the agreements with the framework provided by the revised Southern African Development Community protocol on shared water, among others.

Venaani said the commission must seek a win-win situation for all riparian countries through the revised agreement.

"We are supporting the ratification, but what we are saying is that we are not getting the benefit of this agreement," he said.

Minister of agriculture, water and land reform Calle Schlettwein said Namibia has an off-take water agreement with other riparian countries, which only allows it to use 65 million cubic metres of the Orange River's water per year.

This is not enough to even meet the requirements of the grape industry, Schlettwein said.

MPs feel this is a rip-off considering the water-sharing agreements Namibia has with other countries.

BORDER DISPUTE

United Democratic Front parliamentarian Dudu Murorua said the commission must also consider resolving the stand-off between Namibia and South Africa regarding the southern border.

Murorua said South Africa's decision to shift its border to the northern banks of the river is problematic.

Minister of labour Utoni Nujoma said it was unfair that South Africa considers the Orange River as its own.

"Namibia is an arid country and the little resource we can benefit from, we should fight for unreservedly," he said.

Maureen Hinda, a Swapo MP, also expressed concerns over the "one-sided management of the upstream [use of the river] by countries".

Swapo MP Jerry Ekandjo said even though Namibia was ratifying this agreement, the country has already been played by South Africa, who is taking up the bulk of water from the Orange river.

Ekandjo said in the 1970s to 1980s, Lesotho entered an agreement with then apartheid South Africa to build a huge dam for Lesotho alongside the river.

According to him, the dam contains big underground water pipes that direct water to gold mines in South Africa.

"If the dam is not full, the Orange River is dry. So, I don't think we will get any real equitable amount of water from this agreement," he said.

Minister of fisheries and marine resources Albert Kawana warned that if the Orange River riparian countries are not careful about how water is shared, it could lead to conflict.

RURAL COMMUNITIES

Landless People's Movement leader Bernadus Swartbooi said the commission must ensure that water resources from the river must not exclusively serve commercial interests "the majority of which are either South Africa's or Europe's" at the expense of adjacent communities.

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