Sardarov feels the heat
The dust refuses to settle on the Namibian government's dealings with Russian billionaire Rashid Sardarov.
18 December 2018 | Agriculture
A group protested at the entrance to Sardarov's game lodge on Saturday, voicing their disapproval over land being allocated to foreigners and the fact that they no longer have access to their ancestral graves.
Residents of the informal Stinkwater area, also known as Gubagub, gathered for a demonstration at the entrance to the game ranch's guesthouse near Dordabis.
The main organisers were Reverend Lazarus /Awaseb and activist Immanuel Karukuao, who acted as representatives of the local population but work in Windhoek during the week.
During an emotional conversation, it quickly became clear that the original dissatisfaction over land being sold to the Russian has been exacerbated by the government's recent decision to lease a further four farms in the area to him for 99 years.
This was after Sardarov had paid for the farms.
Sardarov paid N$2 500 per hectare for four farms totalling around N$43.5 million.
Farm Rainhoff, Kameelboom and Smaldeel, totalling 11 402 hectares, were sold as a unit for N$28.5 million while Farm Wolfsgrund was sold for N$14.9 million and is 5 989 hectares in size.
Under the lease agreement, concluded with land reform minister Utoni Nujoma, Sardarov pays N$160 168 in rent for the first quarter of each year in 2018/19 and thereafter the land tax paid by owners of commercial farms must be paid. Sardarov now has in his control slightly more than 45 000 hectares of land in Namibia.
He already owns a 28 000-hectare Dordabis property on which Marula Game Lodge is built and he previously announced his intentions to acquire a further 18 000 hectares of neighbouring farms.
Landless communities living along the Skaap River in central Namibia had previously threatened to move onto the four farms leased to the Russian on 10 December to coincide with International Human Rights Day.
At the protest over the weekend, disgruntled locals honed in on the issue of foreigners being given land.
“We, the local Damara and Nama people, have been waiting for land since 2006. At the same time, we should be constantly patient while farms are constantly being given to people who are not from the area.
“And now the Russian, who already owns so much land, has been given farms without consulting us once again. As descendants of those who lost land during colonialism, should we not be the first to own land (in the area)?” Karukuao asked.
/Awaseb spoke about the ancestral graves, which have become a thorny issue.
“The farmworkers all come from the immediate area and we are all related or at least friends - everyone knows each other here.
“Thus, the graves of our parents and ancestors are situated on these farms. They are now tearing down all of the fences and leave the graves unprotected. But more importantly, we are denied access to these graves.
“Look at this game fence, which is secured with an additional electric fence. We are expected to contact the farm manager, Johan Kotze, but he is simply never available to us. This is not like the old days,” he said.
Both claimed that Kotze was trying to stop the hiring of locals - allegedly at the behest of his Russian boss. In addition, they said only a few of the current local employees were entitled to accommodation on the game ranch, “contrary to what is customary on all other farms”.
They said Kotze also wanted to hire 15 so-called struggle kids. However, game ranch employee Lizette Hochobes said she knew nothing about that. “No, there are currently no struggle kids here.”
She added, however, that employees were not being treated fairly. Hochobes said they were sent on early retirement and didn't have a say.
“Our bank accounts remain empty because the promised money is not paid and our pension funds expire. Ask Paul Snyders, he was employed here for years as a driver of a frontend loader and is back with his family, because he had been on sick leave, after which Kotze simply sent him on early retirement. And now the man is destitute and unemployed,” Hochobes said.
“He [Kotze] also sells us bad meat and rations at exorbitant prices.”
Since the responsible regional official could not be reached, an official petition will be submitted in Windhoek.
Playground for the rich
During a visit to the game ranch last year, Kotze told Namibian Sun that the five-star Marula Game Lodge mostly served as a residence for Sardarov, his family and friends.
Hunters pay US$3 000 per night to stay at Marula Lodge. At the other two lodges it costs US$450 per night.
Kotze said the ranch boasted with 7 500 species including antelope, giraffe, zebra, crocodiles, hippos, cheetah and other protected species. Elephants were also bought and in the future they want to include lions and buffalo.
Sardarov is the chairman and founder of Comsar Energy Group and South-Ural Industrial Company (SUIC), both of which are large private companies in Russia, with a presence in several countries in Eastern Europe. The assets of the companies amount to US$2.2 billion, according to the SUIC website.
He is described as a flamboyant Russian oligarch with an interest in energy businesses, property, aviation, hospitality and hunting wildlife for fun.
He is among the high-profile business people who were exposed in the so-called Panama Papers leak, which revealed how the rich create offshore shell companies in tax havens to avoid paying taxes and conceal their riches.