KATIMA MULILO – The debate over who should settle in the Bwabwata National Park has reached boiling point, with Zambezi residents now threatening to take matters into their own hands.
They feel that their neighbours from the Kavango East continue to invade the park without following due procedures.
In fact, Zambezi residents threatened to invade the park if the alleged illegal occupation by their Kavango East counterparts continues unabated by 15 September.
Katima Mulilo Urban constituency councillor Warden Simushi threatened in an exclusive interview with New Era on Friday that they will mobilise their communities to invade the park if the status quo remains. “The residents of Kavango East are invading the park.
They are coming into a gazetted national park, which is called Bwabwata, without authorisation. You cannot go and reside in the national park. It is gazetted specifically for wild animals,” he stated.
The outspoken councillor said he approached environment minister Pohamba Shifeta on the issue during a conference on human-wildlife conflict in Windhoek in May.
He then agreed with Shifeta that those occupying the park illegally or without authorisation will be removed.
“I told him that I am giving you honourable minister until 15 September 2023 to remove these people. If we reach 15 September and nothing changes, we will mobilise our community to invade the park as well. Our community is respecting the rule of law, but others are not. That was the former Caprivi game reserve. So, it is a park, and nobody is allowed to reside in the park. I don’t know who is giving them the authority to construct houses in the park. If the ministry of environment is not doing anything, we will mobilise our people to do the same,” Simushi continued.
The threats fly in the face of a 1999 Cabinet decision prohibiting communities in the Bwabwata area from owning cattle. Communities are also prohibited from residing and constructing houses in the national park.
This directive has either fallen on deaf ears, or the environment ministry has failed to execute it.
If not handled with care, many fear the situation could create conflicts between the two bordering regions.
This was evident when the Hambukushu Traditional Authority’s leaders last year petitioned lawmakers to revisit the Cabinet decision.
The traditional authority accused the government of prioritising wildlife at their expense.
New Era likewise spoke to Mukwe constituency councillor Damian Maghambayi, who said those who have settled in the park have been settled there by the traditional authority.
As a constituency office, he said, they only provide services to those inhabitants.
“I don’t know which part of Bwabwata he [Simushi] is referring to because as I am speaking, in Mukwe constituency, the last place I am aware of that people settled in is at N/uingu where there are less than 10 people, all from the San community. And then from there, there is another village called Mafuta, which is also dominated by the San community. There is also a government school, and there are people from Zambezi there,” he stated.
“We have a diversity of people in the Bwabwata National Park. We have people from Zambezi, we have the Khwe community (the Barakwena, Barakwengo) and the Hambukushu. But the majority of people they are referring to are coming from the side of Kongola. They are coming from that part of their region [Zambezi], and come and settle there. He [Simushi] must also read to acquaint himself, as there is a policy which allows human settlement within the park. But then again, there are some restricted places, and human settlement is allowed,’’ Maghambayi noted.
On the part of the Mukwe constituency, people have also settled at Omega 1 village, and several villages like Muitjiku have been within the park for decades, even before independence.
Singing from the same hymn book as Simushi was Kyaramacan Association chairperson Jomo Anton.
“The councillor is right. We are the community found in the park. We are hunters and gatherers. Bwabwata is derived from us, but what is happening today is unbelievable. People are invading the park. The cattle are now more than the people. Chief Erwin Munika Mbambo is instructing people to come and build houses in the park. These people are extending their farms. They are cutting down the forest like nobody’s business. Some are even settling in livestock corridors,” Anton charged.
The association only comprises Khwe-speaking people, who have lived in the park since time immemorial.
He said whenever the association asks how the settlers ended up in the park, they are informed that “their Fumu (chief) told them there is no national park, so they can just settle”.
“They want to settle until Kongola while we, as San people, are not allowed to settle in the park and own livestock. Our San women went to ask for land to settle in the park, but were refused. We carry the name of discrimination everywhere in this country. We created this association to protect our wild animals and wild fruits. Our association is becoming weak. There is no longer a park on the eastern side of Bwabwata as people from Kavango invaded [it] and are constructing houses. We are not against anybody. We are against the activities they are doing,” Anton said.
On the Zambezi side, Bwabwata falls under the Mafwe Traditional Authority’s jurisdiction.
Asked for comment on the purported invasion, traditional Ngambela [prime minister] Albius Kamwi refused to be drawn into the brouhaha. “Those are politicians talking. I fall under the Mwafe Traditional Authority, and I cannot comment without the authorisation from our chief”, he responded.