Several lawmakers have criticised the agriculture ministry for its “heartless” decision to extend the veterinary cordon fence 40 kilometres eastwards, leaving inhabitants of Mu’ciku without any market for their livestock and to technically “fend for themselves”.
According to them, the ministry should have repaired the original fence, which was erected by the colonial regime instead of establishing a new one, leaving farmers with little to no grazing land.
The MPs vented their frustrations during a public hearing by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs with the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform on
Tensions could be observed on Thursday, as members of parliament (MPs) pulled no punches over treatment of farmers and inhabitants clearly saying they are being treated like second-class citizens.
The hearing stems from a 2021 petition by the Hambukushu Traditional Authority to the National Assembly, in which it demands lawmakers to revisit a Cabinet decision taken in 1999.
The decision prohibits communities in the Bwabwata National Park area from owning cattle.
The traditional leaders also accuse the government of dividing the Hambukushu and Khwe communities, whose ties in the park date back to time immemorial.
At present, communities in the in the Bwabwata area and Mu’ciku in particular cannot freely sell their cattle beyond the Zambezi and parts of the Kavango West regions due to the fact that this area is categorised as a Food and Mouth Disease (FMD) Infected Zone.
According to Swapo’s Elifas Dingara, the extension of the redline is heartless and unjustified.
The situation has pushed farmers in the area to sell their cattle for as little as N$1 000, because there is no market for their livestock.
The nearest abattoir is in Rundu where their livestock is prohibited while the second closest is in Katima Mulilo “which is very far”.
To add insult to injury, the abattoir in Katima Mululo has not been functional for over eight years now, Dingara lamented.
“The government is heartless,” Dingara said, adding that no empirical evidence was provided when the fence was moved.
“Don’t waste our time,” a fuming Tjekero Tweya said, as the ministry’s officials dilly-dallied with answering direct questions.
For the ministry’s newly appointed executive director Ndiyakupi Nghituwamata, it was a baptism of fire as she struggled to answer questions directly.
“We cannot agree more,” she constantly repeated, while at the same time diverting questions to the environment ministry, which was not there to give its version.
She, however, conceded that farmers north of the VCF, which is infamously known as the redline, “are suffering” as their beef has no market.
To address this, she said, the ministry has embarked on renovating its abattoirs and quarantine facilities.
The Rundu abattoir will become operational during the current financial year.
“It will be run by Meatco,” she said.
The traditional authority had asked lawmakers to revisit a Cabinet decision taken in 1999, prohibiting communities in the Bwabwata National Park area from owning cattle.
It has also been proposed that those with cattle in the Bwabwata National Park will have to sell them to government, as there is no other market.
The government will then slaughter and sell the beef through its abattoir, it was heard during the public hearing.
Ultimately, the cattle will have to leave the park.
Talks to that effect are in the pipeline.
However, the MPs wanted to know if those farmers will be incentivised and if such incentives would be commensurate.
Landless People’s Movement lawmaker Edson Isaaks took particular issue with the proposal.
“How will the ministry then determine that these people are going to get the true value for their animals in terms of pricing? Many a times, how government determines the value of livestock leaves a lot to be desired,” he said.
Over the years, government has been accused of attaching more importance on the value of wildlife to the detriment of human lives and livelihoods.
To this, the ED said they were going to compensate at market-related prices.
“Whatever the compensation, we must not leave them poorer,” Nghituwamata said.