By Elvis Muraranganda
LAND Reform Minister, Utoni Nujoma ignored the recommendations of National Assembly Speaker, Peter Katjavivi, and Environment and Tourism Minister, Pohamba Shifeta, when he failed to favourably consider the Ovitoto community’s proposal to establish a conservancy, before eventually allocating two farms to a private company.
The two farms, measuring 9 000 hectares, were awarded to a private company, Ovitoto Game and Hunting Safaris (Pty), which is set to use the land for game farming and other purposes.
This has infuriated the Ovitoto community, which has been banking on a directive by Nujoma’s predecessor, Alpheus !Naruseb, who they say had indicated during his tenure that all farms adjacent to Ovitoto, which are acquired by the State, should be added to the village for its expansion.
The community’s proposal, which was submitted to Nujoma’s office in October last year, entailed the establishment of a conservancy on the two farms.
An investigation by Confidente this week revealed that Nujoma allegedly ignored Katjavivi and Shifeta when he awarded the land to the private company on 13 April.
Katjavivi said he had written a letter of motivation on behalf of the Ovitoto community in October last year, which he sent to Nujoma and Shifeta.
“Both ministers acknowledged receipt of my letters. Nujoma responded to me in writing, whereas Shifeta actually wrote a co-motivation letter to his colleague (Nujoma) on the same subject, in favour of the Ovitoto community’s request,” Katjavivi said.
“The fundamental issue here is to support the Ovitoto community, to overcome the pressure of their limited land, and to alleviate poverty and general underdevelopment in the community.”
Katjavivi added that the idea of awarding the community the two farms was to enhance a sense of community ownership of resources, in the name of the conservancy, “so as to collectively prevent the alienation of the resources”.
He also believes that a community-run conservancy would have further reduced human-wildlife conflict in the area.
The two farms – Gusinde No.197 and Osema No.63 – were previously run as game ranges, and there is an existing lodge, as well as wildlife stock valued at N$4 million on the land.
The Ovitoto Conservancy, under which the community had applied for the land, had mooted rural development, employment creation and income-generation, as the basis of their proposal to manage the farms.
The Ovitoto Conservancy has about 10 000 registered members.
Shifeta said this week that he would have preferred that the two farms be allocated to the Ovitoto community, and not to a private company.
“I heard about it (the allocation), but I did not make enquiries, as I was out of town. I will now enquire as to what exactly happened; why it went to a private company instead of the community,” Shifeta said.
“I will find out what exactly happened. We need to meet (Nujoma and I), and I need to find out what happened. I was informed there is a meeting scheduled. Maybe the Land Reform Ministry has a reason why they awarded the farms to a private company.”
Omatako Constituency Councillor, Israel Hukura, said the community has lodged an appeal against the ministry’s decision to award the land to the private company.
“We want to know why a company of individuals has been favoured over a broad community initiative, which caters for a larger number of people,” Hukura said.
“We are still within the objection period and we have written to the ministry to question what happened. If there are reasons why the community did not qualify, we need to know those reasons.”
In the letter to Nujoma, dated 19 April, Ovitoto Conservancy Chairperson, Lisias Tjeripo Tjaveondja, informed the minister that the private company had nothing to do with the people of Ovitoto.
He further reminded Nujoma of !Naruseb’s directive that the community be given priority, when it comes to the allocation of available State land, next to the village.
“We therefore wish to register our objection to your decision in this regard, and humbly appeal that you reconsider the said allocation,” Tjaveondja wrote.
“We believe that the Ovitoto Conservancy was not afforded an opportunity to make any representations on the proposed project. We are informed the opportunity was only availed to shortlisted applicants.”
Questions sent to Land Reform Ministry spokesperson, Chrispin Matongela, on Monday, remained answered, at the time of going to print.
Matongela, however, sent a test message on Wednesday, which read: “I will call back.”
The questions sent to the ministry included an inquiry about how it arrived at its decision to award the farms to a private company, why the community’s application was overlooked, and whether Katjavivi and Shifeta’s motivation letters had carried any weight. The ministry had also been asked about !Naruseb’s directive.
Confidente has also submitted a formal request to the Registry of Companies for information about the shareholders of Ovitoto Game and Hunting Safaris (Pty), which was also not available at the time of going to print.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015