Shifeta in 'tribal' timber storm

28 June 2019 | Agriculture

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Farmers in Kavango East, who have been affected by the ban on timber-harvesting activities, have accused environment minister Pohamba Shifeta of being a tribalist leader.

The accusation against Shifeta was made by Kavango East Regional Farmers Union (KERFU) chairperson Adolf Muremi, who spoke on behalf of the farmers during a meeting with Vice-President Nangolo Mbumba, who is currently in the region on a weeklong visit.

Muremi indicated they have long waited for such an opportunity and he wasted no time laying bare the challenges they face.

He alleged that Shifeta does not have the interest of the farmers at heart, after the minister failed to engage or even visit them to hear their cries regarding the timber issue.

Muremi argued that the farmers did nothing wrong by harvesting timber, as they procured their permits in a transparent manner from the forestry ministry, and therefore they should not be left to suffer if conflicting laws have now resulted to the banning of timber activities.

Muremi asked why Shifeta responds to matters in other regions, such as illegal sand mining, when he met with the affected businesspeople, while he has never visited Kavango East farmers who for months have been aggrieved by the ban on timber activities. Muremi described the minister as a tribalist, adding that Namibia cannot afford to have a leader of his calibre. “For us it's a pity. We look at honourable Pohamba as a racist person (tribalist) person, a leader who is so selective, and a leader who is not there for everyone in Namibia, but for certain people.

“So those type of leaders to me, and to the farmers in Kavango East Region, we don't deserve such kinds of leaders. A leader should be a listener, in order to advise one another,” Muremi said.

Mbumba was surprised by the allegations, saying that many regard Shifeta as one of the “rising stars” in cabinet, who is a committed and hardworking minister.

Mbumba advised the environmental ministry officials who attended Wednesday's meeting to inform the minister about what was said.

“The environment ministry officials are here and you heard what was said. Go and deliver the message, while I also have to write my report,” Mbumba added.



Shifeta reacts

Shifeta said he was never invited by KERFU, saying their issues should be resolved by the forestry ministry, which issued the farmers the timber-harvesting permits.

He said his ministry is simply implementing the Environment Management Act. “Did they invite me? Where is the letter that they invited me? They must not lie. I don't deal with forestry. It is dealt with by the agriculture ministry, so why should I get involved. The only thing that is happening is that if they are damaging the environment, this is definitely dealt with by the ministry of environment. Their permits are issued by the ministry of agriculture and they should correct that.

“It was the agriculture ministry that told them it was wrong to harvest timber without an environmental clearance certificate, it is not us. They must just follow the procedures,” Shifeta said.

On the issue of why he went to Ongwediva and engaged aggrieved northern businesspeople on their sand mining activities, Shifeta said he attended that meeting to adjudicate on an appeal made by the affected group. “They can come to my office; I will tell them which procedures to follow. They can appeal if their clearance certificates are rejected. We cannot engage them if they have not appealed yet,” Shifeta added.