Tobacco project divides public opinion

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Katima Mulilo

The Chairperson of the Mafwe Youth Forum, Linus Matongo, says the planned tobacco plantation in the Zambezi region should be supported due to the potential economic benefits it holds for the area.

He said this during a recent meeting with the community of Makanga at Mahacana Khuta.

Matongo and the Mafwe Youth Forum have been conducting a series of consultative meetings with local communities in selected Mafwe areas to canvass support and to counter negative public opinion regarding the mooted tobacco plantation that has so far drawn widespread condemnation from critics throughout the country.

The previous meeting was held at Liselo on the north western periphery of Katima Mulilo, where the project is expected to be set up at Katima Farm.

The tobacco plantation is a project of Namibia Oriental Tobacco Company CC of Swapo leader Armas Amukwiyu and has been the subject of much scrutiny.

Concerns over health

The former and incumbent minister of health, Dr Richard Kamwi and Dr Bernard Haufiku, added their voices to those opposed to the project. Dr Haufiku raised concerns over the impact of the planned tobacco farm on public health and compared it to a form of chemical warfare.

According to Matongo the project would improve the living standards of the local inhabitants through the creation of jobs. Public safety would be a priority once the project is set up, he said. He further went on a personal tirade against the former minister of health, accusing him of having failed to improve healthcare in the Zambezi.

“What improvements did former Minister Kamwi bring to the region? Katima does not have enough doctors and medical equipment. How many lives were lost due to referrals to Rundu, because Katima is still a district hospital?” Matongo asked.

Economic benefits

“The tobacco plantation has many economic benefits. Employment will be created and foreign income will come through exports. The workers would be protected by the Labour Act and will have protective clothing, as required by law,” Matongo reportedly told the community.

Matongo noted the high unemployment rate in the region and that this has exacerbated poverty levels; therefore he believes such projects should be welcomed.

“The employment rate of the region especially the youth stands at above 30 percent and poverty has increased. The project will help the Zambezi region fight unemployment and poverty since 3,000 permanent jobs and 5,000 contract jobs will be created. The tobacco will be grown for export,” he said in support of the contentious project.

He noted that the export value of tobacco far exceeds that of other food crops, adding that the envisaged project is likely to boost Namibia’s gross domestic product (GDP) as can be attested by tobacco growing countries, such as Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Robert Linosi was one of youth present at the meeting. He told New Era that nearly everyone at the meeting supported the idea of the tobacco project.

Public opposition

It was not immediately clear how many people were present at the said meeting, but Linosi estimated that around 100 people attended.

The leader of National Democratic Party (NDP), Martin Lukato, a resident of Makanga was present at the meeting and objected to the project because it could be harmful to people’s health. “I don’t support the project. Tobacco is harmful to the health of people. I would have supported it fully if it was a green scheme producing food.

Some of the indunas present also did not support the idea. Even among the youth not everyone supports the idea,” Lukato said.

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