ONGWEDIVA – In 1896, in a bid to contain the spread of a Rinderpest outbreak in Namibia, Imperial Germany built Fort Namutoni as a police station to control north-south travel of the indigenous population and their livestock.
The line went further to Okaukuejo in the west and Otjituuo in the east. Despite these attempts, the epidemic reached Windhoek in 1897, wiping out half of the cattle population of the OvaHerero people.
Historians say the name, the red line (or redline as some linguists would spell it), and stems from the depiction in red ink on a 1911 map created by the German colonial administration.
Now, 122 years after such demarcation – and 28 years after the country secured its independence and self-determination – this Veterinary Cordon Fence still stands tall.
In 1915, during World War I, South Africa, being a member of the British Commonwealth and a former British colony, occupied Namibia and she too maintained the German colony legacy of keeping this fence intact.
Also maintaining this legacy was the Namibian government, which according to critics has been flip-flopping on the question of whether to remove the fence or not.
Various agriculture ministers in post-war Namibia have pronounced themselves in favour of removing the fence but nothing substantive has come out of such announcements.
The bone of contention is the perceived ‘discrimination’ against farmers living north of the fence who, due to their geographic location, have been barred from exporting their animals and meat products to prime markets such as Europe, China and the USA.
This is because it is believed that their animals are exposed to high risks of particularly the foot and mouth disease – the infectious and sometimes fatal viral ailment that affects cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle.
The disease is prevalent in Angola, which neighbours Namibia in the north and therefore exposes northern animals to risks of infection.
Many farmers south of the red line, and who have been able to rake in millions of dollars from meat and animals exports, rejoice in the status quo.
They skip a heartbeat at every mention of removing the fence, a situation they say would lead to Namibian exports been barred from entering the prime markets of the world.
The European Union (EU) is particularly prescriptive when it comes to meat products, especially those coming from 3rd world countries such as Namibia.
The Mangetti Farmers Association says that while there is an urgent need to remove the so-called red line, issues surrounding the very existence of this fence cannot be solved overnight.
This is according to the association’s secretary for finance Tomas Ndiwakalunga.
According to Ndiwakalunga, the removal of the red line should be preceded by deliberations to extend the red line further north and lastly to close the border between Namibia and Angola.
The association proposes that the deliberations be done in two phases.
The first phase of deliberations should be to move the red line from the current Oshivelo to Cassablanca, covering other areas such as Elavi and Tsintsabis.
“The first deliberations are urgent to allow us to trade like other farmers because our current market [north of the fence] is suppressed,” said Ndiwakalunga.
Another viable proposal which the association suggests would be costly and long to finalise, which is negotiations between the Namibian and Angolan government to fence off the borderline between the two countries.
The fencing off would allow travellers to use gazetted points of entry between the two countries.
The move will also prevent further outbreaks of diseases.
“It is perhaps costly and difficult to sustain because people are already used to crossing at un-gazetted entry points however, the people should be prepared for such changes,” Ndiwakalunga said.
Besides the people crossing the borders daily for various means, there are also Namibians who are currently grazing their livestock in Angola because there is insufficient grazing land at the Mangetti area.
The chairperson of Mangetti Association Ismael Shailemo said the issue of insufficient space is exasperated by individuals who keep flocking to the area to set up homesteads.
Although villages and homesteads were previously forbidden in the Omangetti area, more villages were created and homesteads were set up in the last 10 years by the traditional leadership of Onalusheshete where Omangetti is located.
“These things were forbidden because already 10 years ago it was foreseen that setting up homesteads will suppress the grazing land and that is the predicament at hand,” Shailemo said.
Although there is already insufficient grazing land, illegal fencing off land is still rife.
While the issue of the red line remains unsolved, northern communal farmers are forced to sell their livestock for peanuts.
Shailemo said there is currently no adequate trading space and as such, farmers are left to sell their livestock to individuals and vendors at the open market at give-away prices.
“This is sad, because the livestock is not sold at its market value, we simply agree upon a price with a seller and people are taking advantage of the situation because they know we have no space to sell,” said Shailemo.
In addition, Ndiwakulunga added that like other farmers on the southern side of the red line, they equally want to add value to the livestock products such as milk, milk fat and even meat.
“The products are available, but what can we do if a market has not been provided,” said Ndiwakalunga.
Despite the problems at hand, Ndiwakalunga said farmers continuously need training on rangeland management.
“We need our grazing land taken care off so that it can in turn take care of our livestock and in return take care of us, the farmers,” Ndiwakalunga said.
According to Ndiwakalunga, the aforementioned circle will in the long run also aid government to fight poverty and create food insecurity.
Another farmer, Shali Kamati who spoke at a recent Ondonga meeting said it was unfair for government to hide behind the notion that the red line was put there to curb diseases and called for the line to be removed.
With that being the case, the farmers have also called for the establishment of operational abattoirs in the northern regions.
Currently, only the Outapi abattoir that was opened recently is operational.
At the same time, the farmers also appeal to the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry to ensure that it buys the farmers livestock at a market price.
The abattoirs now push farmers to sell below the market price, forcing farmers to continue selling at informal set ups.
President Hage Geingob also recently hinted that the red line be moved in order to facilitate Namibia’s beef export to the rest of the continent.
But according to the President, the dream can only be realised if the issue of the red line is resolved.
New Era Reporter
2018-07-25 09:34:25 | 2 years ago