New Era Newspaper

New Era Epaper
Icon Collap
Home / Canadian mining giant exhumes ancestral graves

Canadian mining giant exhumes ancestral graves

2024-01-24  Eveline de Klerk

Canadian mining giant exhumes ancestral graves

A Karibib family found itself reeling and grieving again after a contentious dispute with Osino Resources as the latter exhumed ancestral graves to pave the way for business. 

The exhumation by the mining company is to make way for gold explorations as part of the Twin Hills project.

Osino Resources, a Canadian gold exploration and development company, is focused on the expedited development of the wholly- owned Twin Hills Gold Project in central Namibia.

The mine last week exhumed four graves that are over 50 years old, and the remains are currently stored at Nambob in Swakopmund. These graves belong to GodFriendine and Johannes Auchab, along with their two children, who were buried approximately 10km outside the mining town of Karibib on Okawayo Farm.

The distraught grandson of the couple, Helmut Auchab, told New Era that the remains of his ancestors were exhumed without any prior consultation, and no traditional rites were performed. They were also not invited to witness the process. 

“We just heard rumours that the graves were being removed, and when we got to the site, we found people busy with the process. We could also not enter as the gates were initially locked,” he stated.

Auchab expressed disappointment that they, especially the couple’s only surviving daughter, Thusnelde Owoses, were not allowed to witness the exhumation. 

He raised concern that their feelings and emotional well-being were disregarded, accusing the company of selfishly manipulating the family.

“We want to know who gave them approval and why we, as direct descendants, were not informed during the process,” he questioned, noting that they have enlisted legal representation for clarity on the issue.

Speaking on NBC’s Omurari FM popular talk show Keetute, another family member indicated that their dignity as a family and that of their forebears was trampled upon, with wanton disregard. 

“Is this the independent Namibia we have to live in, where our dignity and rights are disregarded by those with money and power? We have no land in an independent country while alive and even in death we face evictions,” the descendant complained. 

The family had been living on the contested farm for years, but were evicted, and the farm was later sold to Osino Resources.

Hans Stramis, another family member, emphasised that despite not owning the farm anymore, they should have been acknowledged during the process. He highlighted that the Auchab family had lived on the farm for years before being evicted and settling in Karibib.

“We were only notified that the remains are kept at Nambob in Swakopmund, and that we need to decide when we will rebury the remains in Karibib. We are currently also forced to choose a date that is suitable for the company and not for the family,” he continued.

Osino Resources reportedly offered the family N$800 000, an amount allegedly rejected, as the family demanded N$30 million.


Above board

Osino Resources’ community liaison officer Laschandre Coetzee asserted that the company has been following legal procedures. 

She acknowledged the distress experienced by descendants and the public, but pointed out a historical precedent of grave relocation in Namibia and elsewhere.

“As part of the company’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and permitting process, four historical graves were discovered during an archaeological specialist study. These graves, older than 50 years, fall under the National Heritage Council’s (NHC) mandate, justifying their exhumation and reburial in accordance with Namibian heritage legislation and the Burials and Ordinance Act of 1966,” Coetzee said.

She emphasised that the process was conducted with utmost care and professionalism by a specialist team, and that they indeed have been in consultation with the direct descendants of the deceased over the last year or so, to get their unanimous input and guidance.

“We hope to receive unanimous guidance soon to proceed with the reburial, as directed by the archaeologist supervising the process, or we will proceed with the reburial in line with Namibian legislation and the requirements of the NHC,” she added. 

The company has engaged extensively with regulatory authorities, including the Presidency, the urban and rural development ministry, and the environment ministry over the past 12 months, she noted. They have thus done everything within the confines of the law.


Exorbitant demands

Coetzee said the two main family groupings made separate, exorbitant financial demands earlier in the process, which put their good faith in question and complicated the discussions substantially. 

“In return, Osino has consistently offered to pay for all costs associated with a dignified reburial in line with reasonable family requirements, including limited financial compensation to the direct descendants. Unfortunately, a major stumbling block has been disunity among the family,” she observed.

 The company’s focus is thus currently on providing the family the necessary time and space to make a unanimous decision regarding their wishes, be it cultural or otherwise, for the interning of the graves within the legislative timeframe.


Ancestral land 

With over 70% of Namibia’s productive land still in the hands of previously advantaged Namibians (whites), the land question remains a hot potato in many respects. 

Back in 2018, President Hage Geingob convened the second national land conference, which resulted in 169 resolutions. 

According to the latest statistics, only a paltry 25 of the 169 resolutions taken at that indaba have been fully implemented, a draft progress report on the second national land conference reveals.

The resolutions emanated from five thematic areas.

Now, the implementation of at least 133 resolutions are said to be ongoing, while one is pending.

Ironically, 16 resolutions were already in place before the 2018 assembly, meaning they were adopted at the maiden land conference in 1992.

Among the five thematic areas was the issue of ancestral land claims and restitution, which resulted in the establishment of a commission on ancestral land. This commission submitted its findings to Geingob a few years ago.

Of the 18 resolutions under this thematic area, only one is done, while the implementation of the rest is ongoing.

The 2018 conference recommended that the government, “explicitly acknowledge and accept the principles of restitution, redistribution and security of tenure as key pillars of a revamped land reform framework that will be more responsive to the needs of landless communities.”

It was also recommended that under-utilised agricultural (commercial) land owned by absent foreign nationals (absentee landlords) must, in accordance with existing legal provisions, be expropriated.

To this, the progress report retorts: “Expropriation regulations are in place. Insufficient funding may be a challenge in the implementation of this recommendation.”

There are also interesting, proposed definitions around ancestral land.

For instance, ancestral land is defined as land which was occupied and utilised by the forebears of indigenous communities.

Meanwhile, ancestral land losses refer to: “ancestral land that was lost through colonial land dispossession or other forms of contested alienation in both the pre- and post-colonial dispensations. These are working definitions. However, a critical analysis of Article 1 (1) and (4), read together with Article 23, should be made to assess whether colonial dispossession falls under the above-mentioned Articles.”

“Whereas ancestral land rights [are] rights to the land that was occupied and utilised by the forebears of indigenous communities, Article 16 negates the rights to ancestral land. Article 140 recognises laws that predate the Constitution, until such laws are otherwise repealed or declared unconstitutional. It is, therefore, required to assess whether the ancestral land rights pass the test of constitutionality, given the above Articles.”



2024-01-24  Eveline de Klerk

Share on social media