… As new economic dispensation beckons for Oranjemund
By Hilary Mare
IT’S official! The legal restrictions, symbolised by a boom gate that limited access to Oranjemund, have fallen and the town is now officially open to all.
Following its proclamation by the State in 2011, the opening of the town took place this past weekend at its entry gate, amid the mixed of emotions of victory and a gnawing anxiety about what the future holds.
For the first time in 81 years, residents of Oranjemund are faced with an open society, which is less protected, and directed by a new administration on all fronts, especially with regards to socio-economic development.
“Blessed are the feeling of the past and the anxiety of what is to come. We will face the challenges of the future, welcome to Oranjemund,” sang a joint choir from the town’s two top schools – Ambrosius Amutenya Combined School and the Oranjemund Primary School.
The poetic lyrics, sprinkled into the town’s anthem, gave a telling glimpse into the emotions that laced this historic day.
A quick survey carried by Confidente, targeting the long-term residents of the town, revealed that most people were ecstatic about the town’s opening, and they were vague about whether a town council will nurture much-needed economic development.
Oranjemund Mayor Henry Coetzee highlighted that after protracted negotiations, the opening symbolised the fact that a new order was inevitably coming and the old order was being cast away after 81 years.
“The future of the town’s sustainability, beyond mining, needs collaboration and unity. The Oranjemund Vision 2030 was developed with the three pillars of transfer, transformation and diversification. The town transformation process has not been easy, but despite all these challenges, we continue to manage the process, through the commitment of those that have been trusted with leading the process,” Coetzee said.
“Changes bring a range of emotions for our residents, and so I can understand if people feel insecure and feel they are open to the world. We need our people to embrace these changes. We see Oranjemund as an economic hub, and so we urge investors to come and help us make this town economically viable, as we have promised. It’s important that this town finds other business opportunities to sustain its self, beyond the diamond resource. The stimulation of the town will help government efforts to eradicate poverty.”
Indeed, from now onwards, the once secluded settlement in the former ‘Sperrgebiet’ (forbidden area) will become like any other town in Namibia. Anyone will be able to enter, or drive over the impressive Sir Ernest Oppenheimer Bridge to Alexander Bay on the South African side. This opens huge economic prospects for this hidden gem in the Namibian Desert, including tourism. But what is the real commitment towards this agenda?
“This is the commencement of the golden years of the town. Namdeb, as a key stakeholder, remains committed to continue working with the town council, to bring about sustainable development to this town. Oranjemund remains the mainstay of Namdeb operations and will continue to be for many years to come,” the towns transformation committee chair and a representative of Namdeb, Tony Bessinger, said, amid concerns that the mine was winding down its operations and was ready to depart in the next five years.
But this is not the only concern that the resident’s harbour. For the first time, residents will be subjected to rates and taxes, something that will drill holes in their pockets.
Patron of the of the town’s 2030 vision, Attorney-General, Sacky Shanghala, made it vehemently clear that this new order was soon to follow.
“Oranjemund is now a fully-fledged town and perhaps the most beautiful one. There are issues still lingering, relating to the transfer of property and other things, but much as already has been done. This town carries great hopes for Namibia. Its purpose will have to be redefined from time to time and we will have to integrate people in the habit of paying taxes, among other rates,” he told residents.
On the brighter side, it is worth noting that the Oranjemund 2030 (OMD2030) Alliance was established to facilitate the smooth transition from a company-owned mining town to an independent municipality. Steered by Namdeb, various government ministries, investors and residents are involved in OMD2030 which states that only about 10 to 15 years are required to transform the town.
According to OMD2030, the opening of the town creates a new economic zone of approximately 300 kilometres around Oranjemund, on both sides of the Orange River. Keetmanshoop, Rosh Pinah and the South African towns of Springbok and Port Nolloth are to benefit from Oranjemund being a key connector for tourism and trade. An economic diversification programme has been drawn up, with strategic frameworks outlined for tourism, renewable energy, seawater farming and agriculture.
Notably, the former Sperrgebiet was proclaimed as a national park a few years ago. As the barriers fell, plans are underway to open up the Tsau//Khaeb National Park into various concessions for guided tours by concession operators. This will include a concession for the Chamais Road, connecting Oranjemund and Lüderitz. The existing Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park could be extended to the Sperrgebiet National Park.
Further, in 2008 Namdeb workers made an exciting find at a mining area near the town: a Portuguese shipwreck, thought to be the Bom Jesu, which sank in 1533 near the Orange River mouth. Archaeologists found hundreds of gold coins, cannons and navigation instruments among the wreckage. A museum exhibiting some of the treasure is planned for Oranjemund.
With a new transition, many challenges follow. One such challenge is coherence and unity among those giving power and those receiving it, and this seems to be the current challenge facing Orangemund.
Without being divisive and picking a side, Minister of Works and Transport, Alpheus !Naruseb, who represented President Hage Geingob at the town’s opening, called for calm and unity.
“Namdeb is standing on the threshold of handing over everything that was associated with Oranjemund to a legally established town council. Namdeb, the town council and the political leadership of the town must engage each other to find a win-win situation – an amicable solution, that is. If you were able to co-exist for 81 years, then you can do it. During the process of engaging one another, so we find a solution, we should not try to reinvent the wheel. We already have a similar case in Arandis, and we should take a leaf from there. My appeal is that, let’s move forward holding hands. Let’s not create that artificial reality of ‘them’, relating to Namdeb management. Let’s be able to deal with these artificial, dividing barriers,” !Naruseb said.
With very little doubt, onshore diamond reserves in the area are now dwindling, and mining has been downsized. Indeed, this was the best time for Oranjemund to start preparing for the post-diamond era. Since Oranjemund was declared a town in 2011, and held its first municipal election a year later, its seven town councillors were always going to face an enormous task.
“We have a challenge of the hospital here. We have a private hospital and a clinic that cannot cater for our people. We are pleading with government, not only to build a hospital for us, but also build a government school that will absorb our children,” Oranjemund Constituency Councillor, Lazarus Nangolo, told Confidente.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015