Community interests must come first

25 February 2019 | Columns

The dust clearly refuses to settle in the ongoing standoff pitting various communities against traditional authorities over illegal sand mining activities. The issue has been simmering for many years now and government has been forced to intervene in the ongoing disputes, especially in northern Namibia where once pristine grazing areas have been destroyed and damaged, thanks to the illegal mining of sand for commercial purposes. According to the Environmental Management Act of 2007, a person cannot undertake sand mining without obtaining an environmental clearance certificate from the authorities. It seems this has not been the standard in the past, considering the dozens of complaints against traditional authorities. They are being accused of fuelling illegal sand mining by reportedly not consulting their respective communities before allowing businesspeople to extract sand from pit burrows. Some community members have even complained of not benefitting at all from the proceeds of such activities. It is so sad that hapless community members have had to endure the sight of dozens of trucks carrying tons of sand, ready to supply the construction markets, while at the same time destroying the livelihoods of thousands of communal farmers who use the land for grazing, among others. Interestingly, the traditional authorities are aggressively defending the notion that they are selling off land against the wishes of their communities. Surprisingly, the very same authorities seem to find no fault with sand mining practices which have ruined the natural beauty of many environments. While environment minister Pohamba Shifeta must be applauded for presiding over sand mining hearings, which are clearly in the public interest, the ministry must carry out comprehensive investigations to determine whether the traditional authorities are indeed serving the interests of their communities. Surely the interest of communities must come first, ahead of the interests of businesspeople, who absolutely have no consideration for the environment and are simply there to make a quick buck.

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