A handful of aggrieved game rangers are accusing the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) of forcefully transferring them from their duty station at a park teeming with rhino in an apparent attempt by authorities to reduce poaching.
The aggrieved game rangers say the transfer is being effected without their consent, because their superiors suspect them of collusion in poaching.
Most of the affected rangers are based in the Etosha National Park, where illegal poaching of rhino and elephant has been rampant since the beginning of 2015, with over 70 poached this year alone.
Part of the ministry’s strict measures to curb the escalation of crimes against wildlife involves rotating its employees in national parks, such as Etosha, Bwabwata and Palmwag in Kunene. The transfers are seen as a means to boost law enforcement.
The affected group claims they have been working at their duty stations for several years and have since started raising their children there. They feel the ministry should have consulted them to hear their views as to why they will not be able to relocate to other places before forcefully transferring them, as they feel the abrupt transfers would disrupt the schooling of their children. They say it is difficult to just move and leave their loved ones behind. One ranger said the ministry forced him to move from Etosha to Tsumkwe, which he says negatively affected his family, including his ailing elderly mother.
However, Minister of Environment Pohamba Shifeta says the rangers were given ample time to appeal and to provide reasons why they should not be transferred, but failed to do so on time.
“People should tell the truth. Transferring of staff is normal and is done in terms of the Public Service Act. It is top management that reorganises staff. It’s a normal thing. The permanent secretary has the power to transfer staff with [the aim of] effectiveness and reorganisation.
“There were many of them from the department of regional services and park management, some agreed to be transferred, some not. I don’t know why people are making it political,” he reacted.
Shifeta, however, said, if they have problems they should write to him directly, giving their reasons why they cannot be transferred, instead of running to the unions and the media.
Shifeta also warned those who fail to turn up for work at their new duty stations, saying there will be consequences.
One affected ranger said he joined the ministry in 2002 and was stationed at Waterberg until 2010, when he was transferred to Von Bach Game Reserve outside Okahandja. On September 5, 2013, he was transferred from Von Bach to Etosha at Otjovasandu (Hobatere).
He said his transfer was prompted by the condition of his ailing 80-year-old mother, who lives in the north and needs his care. The ministry agreed to transfer him on that basis, as it is nearer his home.
In addition, he said his wife also lives in Oshakati and being based at Etosha enables him to take better care of his family.
Moreover, he said at the age of 47 he is not getting any younger and his health is also deteriorating, as he developed severe backaches and has difficulty driving long distances. Further he explained that even though he has written to the ministry to raise his concerns for possible review, the ministry allegedly ignored his plight and enforced his transfer anyway.
The rangers also approached the Namibia Public Workers’ Union (Napwu) to air their grievances over the forced transfer, who then wrote to the ministry about their concerns, but apparently to no avail.
A letter, dated November 20, 2015, signed by the ministry’s permanent secretary Dr Malan Lindeque, states that rangers must be informed that their transfers are not for reasons of any suspicion, or accusation of poaching.
“This transfer is simply done in terms of section 23 of the Public Service Act, 1995, as being in the interest of the public service,” the letter reads in part.
It further indicates that the transfer does not only apply to staff members in Etosha, but involves other members in the ministry responsible for wildlife protection and law enforcement.
The letter also said the transfer became effective as of November 25, 2015 and would be done at the cost of the ministry. Some affected rangers said they were transferred though in September already.
The affected rangers include Joseph Shigwedha, Loveness Ndeiweda, Daniel Hamwele, Jeremia Lameck, Asante Namugongo, Immanuel Kapofi, Toivo Ndafediva and Tangeni Iyambo. The other two only identified themselves as Kasebas S and Frekie R.