I welcome the move by President Hage Geingob to call for serious deliberations on the redline [veterinary cordon fence] that separates Namibia into north and south. His call echoes a suggestion I voiced in my op-ed “A different approach to fixing Namibia’s structural inequalities is needed”, that is to move the redline to the Angola border. The redline or veterinary cordon fence was originally created in 1896 by the imperial German administration to contain a rinderpest outbreak. Since the 1960s it served to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) from north to south. It is important however that I maintain that the redline should be moved to our border with Angola, not removed completely. I am sure the President follows a similar chain of thought.
I was surprised to find that the President’s call for serious deliberations on the redline sparked panic on social media and doomsday prophecies for the Namibian meat market. Farmers and industrialists in the south painted a dark picture of collapsing meat prices, exclusion from international markets and plagues befalling the south. They did not seem to realise that moving the redline to the border with Angola is necessary to truly unite Namibians and overcome this long-lasting inheritance of South African imposed apartheid, that the redline presents.
The fear that competition with northern farmers would cause the collapse of meat prices very much proves this point. After all, excluding northern farmers from the lucrative southern market was an apartheid policy goal, to increase profits for southern elites, at the same time providing them with cheap labour from the north. It is necessary we realise and start working on overcoming this legacy. Only when the redline is moved to the Angola border, will we as Namibians truly be united.
The fear of southern elites that competition with the northern farmers would cause prices to collapse, as far as I can assess, is uncalled for. Global demand for meat is ever increasing, especially with Chinese consumers becoming wealthier. The demand for meat seems insatiable and even competition by northern farmers should not cause the smallest dent in meat prices. To tap global demand, of course we need secure access to global markets. This means that a redline at our Angola border would have to be enforced scrupulously, that the northern farmers respect and support it and that Zambezi Region could not be included in the unified market at this point in time, as FMD is prevalent there.
It is certain that if northern farmers want access to southern Namibia, and as a result the lucrative global market, they need to commit and carry a well-enforced redline at the Angola border and the border to the Zambezi Region. If there is no will by the northern population to commit and implement such a policy, it would be unwise to move the redline.
It is unbearable that the majority of Namibians, most of them living in the Oshana, Omusati, Ohangwena and Oshikoto regions, are still separated from the rest of us by the redline. Only when we find a viable solution to move the redline to the Angola border will most Namibians have access to the common market and we be able to fight entrenched poverty. This step would also open up the vast potential of the northern market and result in much needed economic growth.
Rather than fighting this policy, we need to work together to improve it and make sure that all Namibians stand to benefit. Northern farmers won’t win anything, if as a consequence of access to the southern Namibian market, they lose access to global markets. We all stand to benefit from moving the redline to the Angola border, so why not actively participate in developing a viable solution that works for all of us?
* Karl Lichtenberg, from Gobabis, is a Namibian citizen and this is his response to President Hage Geingob’s statement that serious deliberations must take place to remove the redline, and the ensuing panic on social media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.