Omakange chief David Tjimuhiva is sick and tired of the continued rhetoric surrounding the removal of the veterinary cordon fence (VCF), also known as the red line.
The traditional leader castigated successive governments for their failure to remove the red line, despite promising to do so.
If Namibia could return Walvis Bay following years of refusal by South Africa after independence in 1990, he does not see why the country is still divided into two halves by the controversial VCF.
Tjimuhiva made the remarks during a townhall meeting arranged by Deputy Prime Minister and Swapo vice president Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah in Opuwo on Sunday.
The assembly was attended by traditional leaders, Meat Corporation of Namibia (Meatco) CEO Mwilima Mushokabanji, the agriculture ministry and farmers to discuss the thorny cordon fence, and how markets can be created for beef in the northern communal areas (NCAs).
Nandi-Ndaitwah, who on Saturday welcomed new members to the Swapo fold at Otjomatemba, a village some 100 kilometres south of Opuwo, did not attend this meeting.
Mathew Ndjodhi, the chief agro-business analyst in the ministry of agriculture, stood in for her.
The discussion was held under the theme ‘Creation of Lucrative Livestock Markets for Farmers in Northern Communal Areas’.
At the heart of the debate, at least from Tjimuhiva’s vantage point, is the red line.
“Today, you called us to a meeting again on the red line and Meatco, promising that the next government which will come in two years will resolve the issue. But what assurance do you have, apart from another promise? We are tired of campaigns.
“Who is blocking the removal of the red line? Why can’t our government remove it, as per its promise? A border is supposed to be between two countries, not within the same country”, Tjimuhiva vented.
He continued: “For the last 60 years or so, not a single foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) case has been recorded in the Kunene or Omusati regions. So, why are we still cordoned off by the red line if it seeks to prevent the disease? How do you prevent something that is not there?”
There are also calls by commercial farmers south of the VCF for Meatco to completely shut its operations in the NCAs.
The soft-spoken traditional leader was not done. He then shifted his focus to Meatco, which according to him serves no purpose in the NCAs, particularly in the Kunene and Omusati regions, where there are no functioning abattoirs or markets.
“We also find it strange that Meatco saw fit to open abattoirs in Zambezi and Kavango, regions where the African buffalo – the main carrier of FMD – is found, while there are no abattoirs in Kunene or Omusati. What criteria did you use?”
Tjimuhiva’s comments come at a time when a group of previously advantaged commercial farmers – south of the red line - approached authorities in Ghana to stop buying Namibian beef from the NCAs, as it is allegedly contaminated with FMD.
At the moment, NCAs’ producers are locked out of the mainstay beef economy that is only accessible to commercial and communal farmers south of the red line.
“Even before independence, we have been saying Meatco does not benefit us. We have cattle as we speak, but have nowhere to sell,” he charged, as the high table looked on.
To his fellow traditional leaders, Tjimuhiva said it was time they stood up and be counted.
“As traditional leaders, we have been gazetted, and are told that we are the advisors to the government and the head of state. But when we speak, no one listens to us. We are just told to sit down,” he added.
At the moment, Affirmative Repositioning movement leader Job Amupanda is up against land reform minister Calle Schlettwein, the government of the Republic of Namibia, Attorney General Festus Mbandeka, an official from the directorate of veterinary services Hango Nambinga and the Meat Board of Namibia, who have enlisted instructed counsel in addition to two instructing firms in the fight to remove the red line.
On his part, Mushokabanji said he was alive to the challenges faced by farmers in Kunene and the rest of the NCAs.
He recalled Meatco closing its doors in the NCAs completely in 2015.
At the time, he was a unionist.
This is why one of the first things he did as Meatco CEO was to resuscitate operations in the NCAs. Mushokabanji joined the corporation in 2020.
“In the 20th century, production does not pull markets, but markets pull production, meaning that as farmers, you cannot get into production unless you’re assured that you have got access to the market and you'll be able to fetch a better price,” the executive explained.
“South of the veterinary cordon fence, we have done very well. We are exporting to the United States on a daily basis. We are exporting to the UK, the rest of Europe and China. We are the only country currently in Africa that can export into these markets,” he stated confidently.
“We received directives from our government, the Cabinet, that we must operate the Katima Mulilo abattoir and the Rundu abattoir. I told the government to give us six months because opening an abattoir without a market doesn’t make sense. We should first create markets for you,” he observed.
This approach, he said, is why Meatco embarked on a mission to find markets for NCAs’ beef in Angola, DRC and Ghana.
Meatco is now also at the culminating stages of securing a market for their meat in the Middle East.
“The more you discover the markets, the more you are able to pay farmers a better price,” he continued.
Adding his voice to the discourse was former Opuwo mayor and Otjindjerese conservancy chairperson Albert Tjiuma, who said the wildlife population in the region has increased to unmanageable proportions.
This has meant that wildlife and livestock are now competing for the scarce rangeland.
He wants conservancy quotas to sell wildlife products for income-generation. These funds will also be used to renovate infrastructure destroyed by wildlife.