The origins of the cordon fence and its main objectives

15 September 2021 | Opinion


The colonial German authority intended to proclaim the entire Namibia including the far northern part, surprisingly they faced a fierce resistance from the northern leaders such as king Nehale lyampingana and others. In order to secure their security and interests they decided to erect a cordon fence and military garrison with the intentions to curb and control the movement of the people from the northern part into the southern part of the country.

These military garrisons are now seen in Grootfontein, Outjo, Namutoni and Okaukuejo. Amidst this construction there was a countrywide breakout of Rinderpest amongst the cattle (1896-1897).

Due to the pandemic these military garrison were turned into quarantine facilities especially the Namutoni at the centre was used as a control and human checkpoint for northern people who wish to travel to the southern part. In this light the initial fencing was never meant to control livestock movement into the southern part, however currently the cordon fence is now used as a pretext to curb livestock movement.

In 1904 the same fence was set up alongside the Kalahari Desert after the Ohamakali Herero genocide. After the genocide the Hereros fled into Botswana, therefore this fence was intended to stop them from returning to Namibia.

The initial objective of this fence was to separate the northern people from their mother country and the rest of Namibia.

The Germans found a political motivation to punish the northern people due to their resistance that led to the failure of successfully proclaiming the area.

The origins of the Red Line

The Red Line fence was a rebirth from the cordon fence, subsequently the result of the revolt of the northern people and their leaders, in 1911 the Germans made a significant mark on the Namibian map with a red ink that denoted danger and this was deliberately made to bring about fear and scare the rest of the world. This red ink marking on the map is now what we know as the Red Line cordon fence. This fence was to control the northern people and their livestock and products, to prohibit development within the area such as investments, financial markets, banish them from being industrialised.

In the same light due to the Red Line the northern people could only work as contract labours (cheap labour) as they could only get what their masters wish to give and no questioning.

Effects of the Red Line

Currently there are obstructions and threatening Namibian laws that disadvantage people from the northern part, such as:

1. Marriages (community out of property);

2. Property rights;

3. No land title deeds;

4. Credits unworthiness (bank);

5. The prohibition of the livestock and its products from entering the southern part;

6. The regional animal lockdown due to animal disease outbreak, causes loss of income and hugely affects livelihoods. This also affects the local livestock auctions, because only the southern farmers can bring their livestock for auctioning, which result in an unfair competition;

7. Currently there is an estimate of around 1.5 million livestock in the northern part, however these livestock have never contributed towards the country’s GDP.

8. Foreign investors and partnering are affected. One cannot partner with a foreigner in a dairy farming business in the north.

Way forward after abolishing the Red Line

1. Strict and regular livestock vaccinations.

2. Introduction of regular and proper livestock tagging (traceability purposes).

3. Introduction of satellite system (movement especially between Namibia and Angola border).

4. Diversification of the cordon fence concept into the new tech and appropriate tech.

5. The Namibian government should promote the importance of animal medicine and pharmaceutical studies as is the case in Botswana who produce their own animal vaccines. This fence was and is not beneficial to the northern indigenous people

* W.S. Kamati is a northern farmer.

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