The special advisor to the Governor of Omaheke Region, Pius Nganate, yesterday compared the battle between Witvlei Meat and Agribank for ownership of the Witvlei abattoir to elephants fighting, while the grass is dying as it gets trampled underfoot.
Nganate says neither of the contending entities are the rightful owners of the meat processing plant that provided work for some 200 people up to a year ago.
In an interview with New Era, Nganata poured cold water on Agribank and Witvlei Meat’s most recent respective claims of owning the abattoir, saying the record books – dating back to 1998 – prove that the lucrative plant rightfully belongs to the Witvlei Village Council and therefore to the people of Omaheke.
He called the ownership battle between Agribank and Witvlei Meat a “cat and mouse game” and an insult to President Hage Geingob’s war on poverty and unemployment.
“Omaheke Region has established a consortium, represented by both commercial and communal farmers, and we have already informed both bickering parties (Witvlei Meat and Agribank) that we stand ready to buy the plant tomorrow, if needed, in order to bring back normality to the impoverished Witvlei community, which has lost its dignity after the closure of the plant exactly a year ago and who are now subjected to an even higher crime-rate and rife livestock theft,” he revealed.
According to Nganate, Witvlei Meat chairperson Sidney Martin and the CEO of Agribank, Ambassador Leonard Iipumbu, have been informed of the consortium’s offer to buy the plant for N$25 million (the estimated worth).
In mid-2006, Witvlei Meat started operations at the abattoir by renting it from Agribank, with an option to buy the plant for N$15 million.
This, however, never happened and both parties have since been entangled in bitter disputes and legal battles in the highest courts of the country.
As of last week Agribank accused Witvlei Meat of not providing credible bank guaranteed cheques to buy the plant within the specified time-frame, while Witvlei Meat has denied it, providing ostensible proof of such guarantees at a media briefing last Friday.
In August the dispute resulted in Agribank removing Witvlei Meat from the property entirely, but the move is now the subject of a ‘spoliation application’ before the High Court, Martin revealed last week.
According to the original title deed Agribank is the owner of the plant, although the High Court ruled last year that Witvlei Meat is the owner.
Nganate says neither is correct, as the history of the abattoir shows that the original owner of the plant was Witvlei Village Council that initiated the !Uri!Khubis Abattoir, but the company went into liquidation in 2004.
“The original idea of such an abattoir was the brainchild of the youth leaders of Omaheke to create wealth and progress for the people of the region. The elephants now trampling the grass, while the grass is dying should be ashamed of themselves, as they know the property belongs to the people of the region.
“Omaheke has no diamonds, no minerals and no other riches. Our cattle are our diamonds: that’s why we are known as ‘Cattle Country’. Give us the opportunity to buy the abattoir and we will operate the plant to the benefit of all Omaheke inhabitants, not just to enrich two parties, as has been the case over the years.
“Witvlei Abattoir should not be the subject of court case after court case. It is a social case, and a desperate one, as some 800 people have been left devastated and without dignity. There is no light at the end of the tunnel while this ownership battle rages on.
“Court cases to decide the outcome could take up to seven years and by then there will be nothing left of the community. All this is happening while Agribank and Witvlei Meat applaud President Geingob for his war on poverty and unemployment. It’s a joke, but unfortunately, a sick joke,” Nganate fumed.
He says Agribank and Witvlei Meat’s tug-of-war over ownership of the abbatoir is in direct contrast to President Geingob’s strategy to promote growth at home, eradicate poverty, create employment and add value to Namibian products.
“Our beef exports, especially weaner exports, are under threat from new South African import regulations and we are experiencing yet another drought, while the prospects for good rains this season are bleak.
“ The Omaheke Consortium is prepared to take this urgent issue all the way to the President’s Office, if role players like Agribank and Witvlei Meat do not pay heed to our call to re-open the plant for the benefit of the suffering people.
“These people must not be dragged into the ownership fight between two parties – obviously with their own agendas. Opportunities must be created to empower these unemployed people via jobs and our consortium is able to do just that,” he concluded.