Villagers threaten poll boycott over land

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Mbambi villagers pictured yesterday.

… want property to be returned

 

MBAMBI VILLAGE – With next year’s polls just over a year away, Mbambi villagers in Kavango West have threatened to boycott the election over their dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Ukwangali Traditional Authority (UTA) allocates land without consulting them.

Villagers are critical of their traditional leaders whom they accuse of abusing their power, and as a result, they have threatened to boycott next year’s polls if the traditional authority does not reverse its decision in which it allocated three massive plots of land to a Tsumeb businessman in 2009.

Documents in New Era’s possession indicate that Mamma Africa Investments Managing Director, Kallie Grunschloss, was granted the three plots by the UTA.

To the dismay of the villagers, the application letters are dated September 15 2011, but the 99-year leasehold certificate by the Kavango Communal Land Board was already granted on February 25 2010, while the consent letter by the UTA was also granted even before the application date of September 7, 2009.

In an application letter addressed to the Ukwangali Traditional Authority, Grunschloss said: “The main reason for the request is for control and development and to protect the indigenous trees in the area. People are chopping down trees at an alarming rate and the best way to protect the trees is by fencing and controlling.”

Mbambi village is situated some 160 kilometers west of Rundu, and upon a visit to the area yesterday morning, villagers narrated their discontent to New Era.

One of the plots is currently being fenced off, something which the villagers bemoan because they do not have access to the area which they claim is a source of food and other forest products which they use to sustain themselves.

The Village Development Committee’s (VDC) disenchantment with the way the authority conducts its activities has eroded its trust in the traditional authority.

New Era is in possession of a consent letter which the traditional authority – signed by Daniel Sitentu Mpasi – granted to Mamma Africa Investments for a period of 99 years, dated September 21 2009.

“The Ukwangali Traditional Authority recognizes and approves the request for land in the Ukwangali traditional area of jurisdiction,” reads the consent letter.

The document states the huge plots will be used for business specifications, but it does not specify which type of businesses would be established on them.

VDC officials last week said they approached the UTA to consult on the matter, but the traditional authority allegedly denied allocating the disputed plots.

The VDC laid a complaint with the UTA and also demanded answers regarding the fencing-off activities in the area.

“The owner of the land is unaware of what is happening. The people of Mbambi are not happy with what is happening. The law is saying no fencing on communal land but it is happening here at Mbambi village. We want them to follow the law. We do not want this to continue,” said the VDC chairperson Siranda Abraham in a letter forwarded to the UTA.

When contacted for comment yesterday, UTA chief council member, Joseph Kandjimi, declined to comment.

“I do not want to comment on that matter,” said Kandjimi abruptly before he hung up the phone.

Villagers say the land allocated to the applicant is a known crop field for people as well as grazing land for livestock.

“We are pleading to all our leaders in Kavango to resolve the issue of selling land of our people in return for anything they offer and provide you without the consent of the community,” said the VDC secretary Lahia Kosta.

“Now that they started clearing the area, we do not have access to the area. We normally get our poles and grass there which we sell to make an income, now we cannot access the area,” said Kosta.

Kosta also said that one of the plots belongs to her, and was given away without her consent.

Recently, President President Hifikepunye Pohamba urged traditional leaders to ensure the allocation of communal land is done in such a way that the poor are not deprived of their ancestral land.

He raised concern over the increasing reports of illegal fencing of communal land in some parts of the country and said some traditional leaders allow illegal fencing in areas under their jurisdiction that causes unnecessary tension among people.

He pointed out that the government would not tolerate such practices as it deprives the poor of their livelihood.

Referring to the main culprits, the president said not all Namibians can afford to buy even a single pole, let alone fence off land. “Those who do have money are making themselves guilty of illegal fencing in communal land. This practice is of serious concern for the government as it  deprives the poor of access to communal land for grazing and other essentials. Therefore they are the ones who need protection from their traditional leaders,” he had stressed.


By Mathias Haufiku

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