By Mbatjiua Ngavirue
A row has broken out between the Ongombe Farmers Association of Okamatapati and its members over the association’s decision to join the mainly white Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU).
Disgruntled members of Ongombe accuse the association’s Executive Committee of taking a decision of major importance without first obtaining a mandate from the members.
The Ongombe Farmers Association apparently took the final decision to join the NAU at a meeting held over the weekend of July 14-15.
Most recently, the farmers’ body was affiliated to the Otjozondjupa Regional Farmers Union.
Affiliation to the Otjozondjupa Farmers Union also made it a member of the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU) – representing mainly black emerging farmers.
Approached for comment, Executive Director of the NNFU, Vehaka Tjimune, was reluctant to comment, saying the Otjozondjupa Union had not officially notified the NNFU.
The decision by Ongombe to join the NAU has its roots in a dispute last year about where to hold the annual Otjozondjupa Regional Show.
The majority of the associations affiliated to the Otjozondjupa Region favoured Okakarara, on the grounds that the town is the capital of the constituency.
However, Okamatapati, Otjituuo and Okondjatu opposed this, arguing that the livestock infrastructure at Okakarara is under-developed compared to their areas.
The associations from around the Okakarara area felt their poor infrastructure and relative “poverty” should be no obstacle to their hosting the regional show.
Sources say they in fact felt that holding the show there would highlight their plight and perhaps move donors to come to their assistance.
People who attended say there were a number of clashes at the meeting held some time last September to decide the matter.
The majority, however, felt that since Okakarara is the capital of the constituency it would be in the interest of all stakeholders, and the town, to hold the regional show there.
The strongest opposition to the idea of holding the show in Okakarara came from the Ongombe Farmers Association.
Okamatapati was the first to establish an association in the constituency – probably also the most organized and most prosperous.
Sources present at the meeting say that when it became clear that the majority opinion favoured Okakarara, the Okamatapati representatives felt isolated and not part of the decision-making process.
Because of the unhappiness among Okamatapati delegates and the desire to please all affiliate unions, the meeting took the decision to cancel the 2006 regional show altogether.
The Ongombe Farmers Association, however, is accused of then secretly going ahead with plans to hold its own show in Okamatapati, without consulting the Otjozondjupa Union.
When the Otjozondjupa Farmers Union got wind of this, they decided to proceed with their own show in collaboration with the NNFU.
Concerned farmer, Ujama Kaahangoro, who farms in an area adjacent to Okamatapati, describes this as the turning point that led to the current crisis.
“It was just a case of various bodies trying to flex their muscles, with one wanting to show it is stronger than the other, but it doesn’t serve the interests of the community,” he said.
In his view, the conflict is mainly between the managements of the Ongombe Association and the Otjozondjupa Union and does not emanate from the constituencies of either organization.
“The decision is of national interest and should have been endorsed by congress, which is the highest decision-making body of the association in terms of the constitution.
“The Executive Committee is only there to execute what has been endorsed by congress,” he said.
Chairman of the Ongombe Farmers Association, Vaja Zatjirua, disputed the claim that the Executive Committee never sought the mandate of its members.
He says they received the mandate at a general meeting attended by many ordinary members, Executive Committee members and traditional leaders.
He saw nothing unusual about the move since the Ongombe Farmers Association was previously a member of the NAU, and had therefore merely rejoined the union.
“We want people who are professional and have correct information in farming. The most professionally researched work that goes to government comes from the NAU,” Zatjirua said.
The Ongombe Farmers Association further objected to the situation where the Otjozondjupa Farmers Association acted as an intermediary between it and the NNFU.
“Government wants one national agricultural union by 2010, and there will no longer be whites on one side and blacks on the other. The NAU will play a significant role in the new union because it is a union of experts,” he said.