A tale of sand, logs, and poaching

12 April 2019
Author   Jackie Wilson Asheeke
In times of economic depression when cash is low and desire is high, selfishness prevails.  People look out for themselves first, at the expense of everyone else. Those living at the top have no problem putting their feet on the heads of those below. 
Those with someone’s feet on their head must not remain passive while their environment and community birth right is being sold off for 30 pieces of silver.  Rather than selling off irreplaceable natural resources for a once-off quick buck, people need to plan for a better tomorrow by learning how to accept delayed gratification, and finding cheaper ways to enjoy life. 
The ongoing struggle over sand mining in the North is a prime example of this problem of a few older men selling off something to benefit themselves. But in fact, they are jeopardising every single person in their communities to varying degrees.  Without full information (or comprehension) about the downside of mining sand without planning and mitigation of negative impacts, these old men are chasing money with blindfolds on. 
These rural men want to have more cattle in spite of the drought, build brick structures on their homesteads, have a cell phone, have a nice hat to wear at cultural events, drink (and buy everyone else a drink) at the local shebeen, magnanimously give money or cattle for cultural/traditional events and be the ‘tate kulu’ for all and sundry.  Don’t get me wrong - there is nothing wrong with wanting that!  But, it is a bad decision to live a life you cannot afford and sell off your family or community’s birth right to finance a pipe dream.
These men-in-charge who may have little exposure and education, and who have little savvy at negotiating with profit-focused Chinese building contractors and their slick local middle men, are easily wooed with cash or cattle.  They arrogantly sign away more than what they know. 
In some cases, these men give up their currently dry mahangu fields or parched communal grazing lands because they feel their usual way of living and earning (due to drought) is under threat.  Rather than adjust their lives to fit what they actually earn, or think about other ways they can earn income while keeping what they have, they agree to dead-end, once-off schemes. 
These men make these choices and pocket the money, yet the entire community will pay the endless price for their folly.
Consider this:  When rains finally come, the huge sand-excavated holes will fill with water and kids will drown while attempting to ‘swim’ there.  Goodness knows what mosquitos and bacteria will live in the standing water before it totally evaporates.  Top soil is eroded in the area all around these make-shift mining ventures, and the holes will expand as the land around becomes unstable.  And when others who didn’t sell their sand start successfully cultivating and harvesting as usual, the chastened sand sellers will come crying to government for a solution.
Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta is brave and I commend him for waging war to curtail sand mining. 
However, what is happening with sand is also happening with trees.
Again, the profiteering foreign interests and their clever local middle-men are waving money in the faces of the aging men-in-charge, convincing them to sell their environmental birth rights for a pittance. 
Ironically, the needy in those communities, women and children won’t see a cent of the ridiculously low amounts these ‘leaders’ accept for valuable resources and yet, all will suffer the consequences.
Very soon, with no trees to hold the soil together, everyone who lives in those chopped-up areas will feel the inevitable sledgehammer of nature as their farming soil is blown away in the hot winds or washed away in the thundering rains.  Trees are also the home to insects and fauna that make those lands thrive.  No trees means a change in everything that used to exist there.  Those people will also come crying to government for a solution when nature gets its revenge.
When all the booty to be earned is gone (Google Dr. Seuss’s book The Lorax [1971] and watch the video made from that story), the irreplaceable loss of trees that take decades to grow (with no sustainable wood industry development plan) will hit home, but it will be too late.
The poaching plague is another chapter in the sand and tree story.
Selfish and ignorant local guys sell their souls for pennies to find and kill high-value wildlife, while the foreign mafia that runs the illegal network, makes tens of millions. 
These poachers’ assistants don’t recognise that killing animals that belong to the nation is larceny.  The entire tourism, conservation and wildlife industry (along with tens of thousands direct and indirect jobs) that relies on the country’s animals as a draw card, will be destroyed if poaching continues.  Sadly, the lives of the majestic animals that these selfish poachers snuff-out is animal cruelty on steroids. 
Hard economic times brings out this destructive selfishness in a lot of people.  
People looking to line their pockets today in sand mining, logging and poaching are selling us all down the river.  The exploitation of national resources means that the entire community and the country, will get slammed right alongside those few who took the easy money.      


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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