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Battle for Mangetti ranch lingers

2024-04-15  Maria Sheya

Battle for Mangetti ranch lingers

More than 100 farmers in dire need of land and eyeing to obtain customary land rights to 48 farming units on the Mangetti-Kavango Cattle Ranch, are in limbo.

This is because the Ukwangali Traditional Authority and government entities are embroiled in a tussle over land rights. In a suit filed in the Windhoek High Court, the authority claims it cannot perform its functions as outlined by the Communal Land Reform Act when the Namibia Industrial Development Agency (NIDA), Agro-Tour Development Initiative, August 26 Holdings Company, the Defence and Veterans Affairs Ministry, Sirton Agricultural Projects as well as Gal Sirton continue to occupy the land illegally.

The traditional authority claims the Mangetti-Kavango Cattle Ranch, measuring 259 000 hectares (ha), falls within the boundaries of its communal land; thus, it has jurisdiction over it by law.

The disputed land is situated between the Kavango-Owambo border and the Grootfontein/Rundu road. 

Detailing the history of the land, the traditional authority in court documents says on or about 23 October 1985, the then-Kavango administration signed a lease agreement with First National Development Corporation of South-West Africa Limited (FNDCSWAL) for cattle farming.

As per the rental agreement, the development corporation would lease the land for a period of 10 years and would pay R45 000 or N$44 792.09, based on the current exchange rate.

Despite the lease agreement being terminated on 31 July 1995, the corporation continued to occupy the land without paying any royalties or occupational rent to the-then Kavango government or its successor, the Kavango Regional Council.

The National Development Corporation (NDC) later occupied the land and allegedly continued doing the same as FNDCSWAL.

In 2002, the Communal Land Reform Act was enacted, giving such communal land rights to the traditional authority.

In 2016, NIDA took over the farming area – and like its predecessors, it failed to apply for occupational land rights from the traditional authority, and it occupied the land illegally, it is argued.

The traditional authority further claims that on 28 May 2022, it sent a delegation to the farm area and discovered the land was occupied not only by NIDA but also by Agro-Tour Development Initiative, August 26 Holdings Company, Defence and Veterans Affairs Ministry, Sirton Agricultural Projects, as well as Gal Sirton.

NIDA has since awarded a tender for the harvesting of encroacher bushes for charcoal and related products on the land.

On 28 August 2023, the traditional authority sent a letter to the defence ministry, notifying them of the unlawful occupation of the Agro-Tour Development Initiative and August 26 Holding Company, and further demanded they vacate the land.

The authority is now seeking a court order declaring that the occupation of Manghetti-Kavango Cattle Ranch by NIDA and the company is unlawful.

It also seeks an order declaring that any lease agreement that was entered into by NIDA and Agro-Tour Development Initiative, August 26 Holdings Company, as well as the defence ministry, is unlawful.

The traditional authority further wants the court to stop the charcoal and firewood harvesting activities by Sirton Agricultural Projects and Gal Sirton, currently underway at the Manghetti-Kavango Cattle Ranch.

They also want all the farmers and their animals to vacate the farm.

In their plea, NIDA and the trade ministry claim the land does not belong to the Ukwangali Traditional Authority. 

The traditional authority, as a consequence, does not have any legal ground to institute the suit, the duo argues.

“The defendants plea the occupation is lawful, as there is a valid lease agreement concluded between NDC and the agriculture ministry, acting on behalf of the government,” said the entities.

They further state that the lease was signed in 1985, and an addendum to that agreement was signed in May 2010, extending the lease for 20 years.

The entities further said extensive discussions were had with the traditional authority and resolutions were adopted.

The Agro-Tour Development Initiative and August 26 Holding Company agree that the traditional authority does not have legal standing. They, however, elected not to say anything on other allegations.

Sirton Agricultural Projects and Gal Sirton, on the other hand, acknowledged they have a contract with NIDA, and that they are currently on the land.

“The first defendant [NIDA] indicated that they are the owners of the land – but in the event that this court finds that the first defendant’s occupation is unlawful, we will vacate the land on a three-month notice by the plaintiff [traditional authority],” said the companies.

Judge Shafima Ueitele referred the parties for mediation. 

Their return date to court is 30 April. 

The parties are represented by Gert Appolus, Sisa Namandje and Jolanda Hinda, respectively.



2024-04-15  Maria Sheya

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