Windhoek-Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana has confirmed that Cabinet has approved the draft border pass, which will allow Namibians living on Impalila Island to move freely to Botswana.
Some aggrieved residents of Impalila Island in the Zambezi Region have lamented the fact that the Namibian government failed them 27 years after independence to finalise negotiations with their Botswana counterparts to allow them to use a border pass between the two countries.
Currently, residents living on the island have to travel via Botswana to reach other villages in Namibia, a cumbersome process that requires extensive documentation and has dire economic consequences for them.
Contacted for comment, the home affairs minister said she visited the island last year to assess the situation herself on how residents are living before she had a joint meeting with the political leadership of Botswana.
“We went further at official level. We designed what is called a border pass card. This border pass was approved by a technical committee consisting of the two sides – the Botswana officials and our officials,” she stated.
Thereafter, she said, she took the draft border pass to Cabinet, where it was approved. However, she said Namibia is still waiting on their Botswana counterparts to approve the same draft.
“Once they approve, then the border pass can become operational. We have progressed very far. It’s also good that you are raising the issue, so that we can follow up with Botswana why they are taking so long,” she noted.
Impalila is an island at the far eastern periphery of Zambezi Region, surrounded by the waters of both the Zambezi and Chobe rivers and separating the four countries of Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The island is located some 70km from Katima Mulilo, where essential services are offered, but its residents usually have to travel to nearby Botswana and Zambia to access such essential medicals and to obtain other essentials, such as groceries.
The residents complain that since independence, the government has been promising to address their plight and enable them to use border passes instead of passports, which is a very expensive exercise for them.
They claim they cross into neighbouring Botswana at Kasane – a mere stone’s throw away – to get supplies to meet their daily needs, as the island has no shops or markets. In so doing, they say, their passports only last between two to three months before they are full.
“We don’t have shops here. We go shopping at Kasane in Botswana. We go shopping on a daily basis to buy bread, because Katima Mulilo is very far, so we need border passes. We have been fighting since independence, but to no avail. They just tell us they are negotiating all these years, but they don’t finish,” a resident who refused to be named remarked.
Residents said they couldn’t understand why the two governments are taking so long to finalise the issue if the Batswanas already use border passes to cross into Namibia and Zambia.
Namibians already use border passes when crossing into Zambia through the Wenela border post with Zambia. A pass is a flexible document allowing easy entry to another country for a few days without needing a passport.
Further, the islanders complain that their island faces major transport challenges, despite the government having bought a ferry – christened Kapelwa Kabajani – to ease the transport woes of people living in the most flood-prone areas.
They want the government to construct an inland road from Kasika, Kabuta to Ngoma to ease their transport woes, given the lack of passports and urgent situations such as medical emergencies when people need to be transported to the nearest hospital.
They also complained that they still do not get Namibian radio and television reception. Governor of Zambezi Lawrence Sampofu also confirmed that Impalila Island residents have not obtained border passes yet.
“Since independence they have just been using their passports. We raised this issue with the Ministry of Home Affairs and it was taken to higher authorities through the Botswana-Namibia security commission. We don’t know what is happening there. We did not receive any feedback yet. The matter is still receiving their attention,” Sampofu said.