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Caprivi Strip proclaimed park

Friday, November 23, 2007
Brigitte Weidlich
The Namibian

GOVERNMENT has officially proclaimed the former Caprivi Game Reserve as the Bwabwata National Park, also incorporating the Mahango Game Park in the west and the existing Mamili Game Park south of Sangwali along the Linyanti River.

Announcing the decision yesterday, Environment and Tourism Minister Willem Konjore said the new park would cover 572 000 hectares and stretch 190m kilometres from west to east with approximately 30 to 40 kilometres in width.

"The three core areas Kwando, Buffalo and Mahango will be zoned for special protection and controlled tourism.

The central area of the Bwabwata National Park will be zoned to provide for a multiple-use area of community-based tourism, like trophy hunting, human settlement and development," Konjore said at a press briefing.

"Cattle movement will be controlled to prevent the spread of diseases such as bovine lung sickness, anthrax and foot and mouth disease, as this is of extreme importance to Namibia's agricultural industry."

Communities living in or around Bwabwata will be given conditional tourism rights in the park, such as that they can establish, either on their own or through a joint venture, tourism facilities in the park, according to Konjore.

The Ministry will also invite tenders for developing a tourism lodge in the Buffalo area - a former South African army base.

The tender will be granted on the basis of the development plan and design, community involvement and environmental vision.

"The Ministry will introduce the tender conditions and process to ensure visions are achieved for the purpose of the socio-economic advancement of the local communities."

He said further that "extensive consultations" were held with all groups involved, including park residents and neighbours.

"In light of the improved opportunities available to communities, further consultation must now take place regarding the best approach to zone, manage and develop the park, in the national interest and for the benefit of local residents," Konjore said.

"During these consultations, all options in these areas will be explored with park residents and neighbours, as well as other line ministries and partner organisations."

A park management plan would be worked out in due course.

The two military bases at Divundu and near Kongola will fall in the proclaimed national park and it appears they will not be removed.

"All plans and strategies will be discussed in partnership with park residents, neighbours and other stakeholders," was all Minister Konjore wanted to say when asked about the army bases.

The new park has now removed the land of the Khwe, a San tribe living there for centuries.

Ten years ago, the Khwe under the late Chief Kipi George sued Government for taking away their land in the Divundu area.

Government established a prison farm on the Khwe ancestral land just a few metres away from a prime tourism spot, the Popa Falls on the Okavango River, without asking the Khwe's permission.

Government later settled out of court and occupied a somewhat smaller portion of Khwe land and the San people got their community campsite back, which they had set up close to the Falls.

Anther problem is that the Government has so far not recognised Chief George's successor.

Mbukushu Chief Erwin Mbambo sees the Khwe not as a separate tribe, but as his subjects and regards himself as their chief.

According to a report published by the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) in February this year, land rights in communal areas come with official recognition of a traditional chief, since the chief has certain duties to allocate land.

In the report with the title 'Our land they took, San land rights under treat in Namibia', the authors write that "the Namibian Government has proceeded as though it holds title to all the lands in West Caprivi and can use them at will, with no compensation nor regard for the land rights of the Khwe...The result is that the Khwe face very real possibilities of dispossession from their lands."

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