Namibia Mayor Faces Illegal Sand Mining Charges

Onesmus Immanuel’s homestead is on the verge of being swallowed by a sandpit

The environment ministry has asked Oshikoto police to charge Ondangwa mayor Paavo Amwele and businessman Otto Niimboto Shikomba for mining sand illegally at the Ondando village in the Oniipa constituency.

Environmental commissioner Teofilus Nghitila asked Oshikoto police commissioner Armas Shivute to charge the two through their companies Huhu City for Amwele and Niimboto Trading for Shikomba.

Two companies have been mining sand in an area the size of about 10 hectares.

In his letter dated 5 November 2018 to Shivute, Nghitila instructed the two to stop mining sand illegally until a court of law had resolved the matter.

Nghitila also recommended that the state must impound the sand the duo had mined illegally and stockpiled.

Shivute said he had not yet received the environmental commissioner’s letter.

So dire is the situation that when The Namibian visited Ondando, the people who live in the area could not move around freely because of the deep pits left by sand miners. Small cars are also unable to drive on the road which has been destroyed because of the sand miners.

One homestead belonging to Onesmus Immanuel is on the verge of collapsing, and now appears to be an island as it is surrounded by degraded land.

Immanuel was not at home during the time of the visit, but his wife, Linda Petrus, said they had given permission to the two business people to mine sand from their field.

Petrus also said the business people promised to relocate her family to the Onanke village so that they can mine the remaining area where the house currently stands. She refused to give any further details.

Conservation scientist Ipeinge Mundjulu said the grace period of awareness had lapsed, and the ministry will not issue operators with a compliance certificate anymore.

Mundjulu said business people took the law into their own hands, despite the ministry having engaged the communities on how to go about obtaining a clearance certificate.

“Illegal sand mining leaves behind deep pits, which are dangerous for both livestock and people. The activity destroys the landscape, mahangu fields and grazing land. We will come back tomorrow (today) to see if the activities have stopped,” he stressed.

Amwele admitted that he was mining the land without an environmental clearance certificate.

He, however, denied that he was doing it illegally, and told The Namibian that he got permission from the traditional authorities. He added that he bought the land for just over N$500 000 from the inhabitants.

“The pit has already been there, and when they said people should comply, we applied for an environmental clearance certificate last year December, but I did not get any feedback. They want to charge us to stop our work,” he stated.

Amwele said he will not accept a fine, but would gladly go to court as he maintains that he is not doing anything wrong.

“If we stop, how will people get sand to build houses? If they give us another option, we will move,” he asserted.

However, in a letter seen by The Namibian, dated 30 August, Nghitila told Amwele that his application for a clearance certificate to extract land was declined because the extraction site is not suitable for commercial purposes as it is in the proximity of built-up areas and human settlements.

“The activity may result in health hazards to local communities due to pollution, structure instability, and reduction in productive agricultural land due to possible land use change,” the letter said.

Epale district’s senior head person Anneli Sakaria Mbumba yesterday denied that she had given permission for sand mining in the area. She had informed the homestead owner that the land was for her livelihood, she added.

Mbumba said Petrus has a son who had approached her office to stop his mother from selling off their mahangu field.

“The son was also worried that when people come from the cuca shops at night, it is not safe to navigate their way past the pits. I felt defeated when the owners of the house said they had permitted the business people. They seem to be selling to everyone, as long as you have a truck,” she continued.

Illegal sand mining is a lucrative business, with construction companies and individuals making millions of dollars from selling sand that they mine without permission.

The Environmental Management Act of 2007 states that a person cannot undertake the activity of sand mining without obtaining an environmental clearance certificate, which is issued after an environmental impact assessment (EIA). For a clearance certificate to be issued, the majority of the affected community members must not object to it.

If found guilty of the offence, Amwele and Shikomba face 25 years’ imprisonment, or a fine of N$500 000, or both.

An application for an environmental clearance certificate, which is valid for three years, takes less than a month to be processed. –