Chiefs in Public Spat

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By Charles Tjatindi

OTJIMBINGWE

Noble efforts by the Erongo Police to curb livestock theft in the Otjimbingwe area appear to have hit a snag, as tribal politics takes its toll on the community here. The apparent division between the two communities took centre stage last week at a meeting organised by the regional police to address stock theft in the area, when the two chiefs representing the area, Chief Gottlieb Kahikopo of the Ovaherero people and Chief Ismael Haraseb, who hails from the Damara-speaking community took on each other.

Tempers between the two flared in full view of a police delegation and members of the community who turned up to contribute to efforts to prevent a further loss of their livestock.

Community members at Otjimbingwe are made up of both the Ovaherero and Damara-speaking people, who have been living here for many years and ruled by both chiefs. The problem, however, started when only one of the chiefs, Haraseb, was officially recognised to preside over the Otjimbingwe area by the Government, New Era reliably learnt.

Ever since, the two chiefs apparently never saw eye to eye, with Kahikopo allegedly bitter that he is not recognised by the Government. At last week’s meeting, Kahikopo hurled verbal accusations at Haraseb, saying that his authority has failed the Otjimbingwe community. Kahikopo accused Haraseb of not doing enough to control livestock theft in the area. While Haraseb mainly remained quiet and reserved throughout the meeting, Kahikopo added that Haraseb is operating in isolation and not cooperating with him and other traditional leaders in the area to eliminate problems experienced in the area, most notably that of stock theft.

Most Ovaherero farmers in the area, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noted that they detest Haraseb’s leadership, more so because he is ‘Damara’.

For that reason, they said farmers do not want to recognise his authority, as they will never accept to be ruled by a ‘Damara’. Some noted that it is mostly Damara people that are guilty of stock theft offences, but many get off the hook because “their leader always bails them out”.

Kahikopo told New Era at the meeting that he also deserves to be recognised by the Government as a chief, as he has a large following in the area – more than that of Haraseb.

“That is why you find that permits to move animals are granted to thieves, because the current chief does not know a lot of people. If he did, he would know who the legitimate owner of the stock is, and not grant permits to thieves. I would know, if I was the one deciding,” he fumed.

Kahikopo also accused Haraseb of unprofessional conduct, citing Haraseb’s alleged refusal to grant him a meeting he had requested the day before.

According to Kahikopo, Haraseb told him that he was not feeling well and could thus not avail himself.

“He said he was sick. Where have you seen a person that gets seriously sick for one day, and turn up at another meeting the next day in top health?” asked Kahikopo.

This appears to have angered Haraseb, who had tried to maintain his calm during the entire meeting:

“You are an old man like me, one day you will also get sick and you will know how it feels to be sick …,” he said.

Although their chief refused to be drawn into commenting on the situation at Otjimbingwe, the Damara-speaking farmers on the other hand expressed concern with the way they are viewed by their Ovaherero neighbours.

“Long ago, we regarded ourselves as equal partners in the interest of indepen-dence and subsequent deve-lopment. But now that we have achieved independence, we all of a sudden see each other as Damaras and Hereros … it shouldn’t be that way,” said one.

Another Damara-speaking farmer dismissed allegations that they are solely the ones that are guilty of committing stock theft in the area.

“That is utter rubbish … nonsense, all people steal. We know of some Hereros that have been made to pay for stealing other people’s livestock time and again … we all steal, there are no exceptions,” he said.

The current apparent division at Otjimbingwe is set to affect forthco-ming community developmental projects. To date, a community gardening project that was initiated at Otjimbingwe turned into a white elephant and slowly died a natural death as fen-cing and structures eventually got stolen.

Numerous other projects that were aimed at uplifting the living standards of the communities allegedly met the same fate.

Otjimbingwe is located some 70 km south of Karibib in the Erongo region.

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