Closer Regional Economic Ties Urged

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By Frederick Philander KEETMANSHOOP A regional unemployment rate in excess of 28 percent, retrenchments of workers in the major economic sectors and HIV/AIDS are some of the main problems hampering economic development in the Karas Region. This was said by the Governor of the Karas Region, Dawid Boois, when he addressed a week-long conference on a twinning agreement between his region and the North Cape government in South Africa on Monday. The Prime Minister of the Northern Cape, Elizabeth Peters, and a 30-member provincial government delegation are in the country to revive and consolidate an agreement signed between the two neighbouring regions in 1999. “We are facing many challenges in the economic sector of the Karas Region, challenges we hope will be beneficially ironed out under the twinning agreement for both our regions. The hardest-hit sectors by retrenchments and unemployment are the fishing, mining, agricultural and meat-processing industries in the Karas Region,” said Boois. He said the HIV/AIDS pandemic is a cross-cutting issue that is depleting the Karas Region’s economically active labour force. “Through the impact of HIV/AIDS, the level of unemployment is already in excess of 28 percent. As a result, people are becoming disillusioned, which leads to a less productive workforce and ultimately no production, and abject poverty the result thereof,” the governor said. Boois announced that a Regional Poverty Forum will be conducted in early December in which all stakeholders involved will assess the situation and design strategies towards the alleviation of poverty in the Karas Region. “Rural poverty is one of our biggest challenges in the region despite the fact that it is rich in natural resources which do not directly benefit the people. Both our regions possess natural resources such as diamonds which, through exchange of expertise, can be exploited to our mutual benefit. In the Karas Region a number of interventions have been undertaken and projects have been launched to curb poverty, but with only partial success,” said Boois, who referred specifically to a rural development conference held in 2004. According to Governor Boois, the twinning agreement needs to be strengthened for the two peoples of the Karas Region and the Northern Cape Province to rediscover their lost roots through cultural exchanges and capacity-building in different fields of education. “We would therefore like to believe that the promotion of the Nama language in the Northern Cape Province is a first step in that direction. Through the agreement, we would like to have the arrangement of Namibian teachers teaching Nama in the Northern Cape Province to be formalized under the agreement.” Boois also mentioned a number of educational needs his region faces: “The Karas Region is in dire need of an Institution for Higher Learning, something that is presently lacking. Yet our students in Grades 10 and 12 have an excellent annual pass rate. Unfortunately, those who cannot be absorbed in academic institutions in the capital do not have other places to go to. There is therefore a need for either a college or a vocational training institute in our region as soon as possible,” said Boois, who intimated that the Embassy of Iceland had shown interest in financially supporting the idea of a vocational training centre for the Karas Region. He said a number of community tourism and agricultural projects need to be developed as sources of employment, especially among the region’s youth. “Our two regions have communities around the Orange River. They should both benefit from irrigation and agricultural projects such as the Green Scheme Project undertaken there. Both communities could become involved in grape- and date-production as well as other agricultural produce. The Permanent Water Commission and the proposed new dam on the Orange River should also hold tangible agricultural projects for our peoples on both sides,” the governor said. He also alluded to the World Cup of 2010 in South Africa as an opportunity for the people of the Karas Region to tap into, by creating infrastructure and facilities for tourists coming to attend the Games. The Prime Minister of the Northern Cape, Elizabeth Peters, urged the two parties to transform the twinning agreement into more practical terms for the people to benefit. “We are quite keen to engage the Karas Region on the all-important question of tourism and the potential this growing sector has for all our people. Tourism in all its facets can contribute to fostering a common African identity and nationhood. The challenge remains to ensure that the benefits of tourism are equally spread and that our people become entrepreneurs in the sector,” PM Peters said. She also emphasized the fact that education and training need to be prioritized in the two regions. “The Northern Cape Province remains ready to strengthen our engagement and interactions with the Great Karas Region,” she said.