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Erindi screamers: do your homework!

07 June 2019
Author   Jackie Wilson Asheeke
Am I missing something in all of the screaming about the sale of Erindi Private Game Reserve?  Erindi is majority owned by Gert Joubert, a South African who has been living between SA and Namibia since 1960. 
I don’t get all the noise about, “Foreigners buying land in Namibia” or linking the sale of Erindi to landless Namibian citizens.  A foreigner already owns the land, so what is the difference for indigenous Namibians when another foreigner buys it?  People are screaming for the wrong things because they lack the commitment to read, learn and devise a reasonable list of relevant demands that actually make sense.
It is a fact that government tried to buy that land but, the coffers are bare.  The law says when government takes a pass on the sale, the land seller can then accept whatever price he can get for it.  We cannot break the law for some and apply it to others just because it is election year or different groups of people who have not done their homework on an issue, are screaming about it.
I took 20 minutes to Google Erindi and Gert Joubert and scan some background.  I suggest those screaming about the land sale do the same thing.  From what I read (under correction), the land was purchased in 1986, from the Imperial Cold Storage and Supply Company (ICS) by Gert and the late Chris Joubert (d. 2016).
At first, they were determined to turn it into a profitable cattle farm, so they invested in that project.  Some reports say the Erindi is 70,000 hectares, some say 79,000.  I am a city girl and know little about cattle, but I do know they cannot graze on rocks and sandstone which is supposedly the geology make-up of huge swaths of Erindi.  The articles say that cattle cannot thrive on the wild flora on that land.  The Jouberts decided that profitable cattle farming was not going to work out, so they switched to game farming and invested heavily over the years. 
Since 2013, Erindi has been listed for sale at US$110 million or N$1.59 billion.  Seemingly, 88 year-old Mexican billionaire Alberto Baillères (Forbes says he is worth US$8.3 billion) has bought Erindi, though the full regulatory process remains incomplete.  Several government officials have already stated that there is nothing illegal about the sale, though the Prime Minister recently made the strange statement offering some false glimmer of hope to the screamers saying the deal could still be cancelled.  However, the loudest protestors continue to do their own thing.  Some scream to win political populist brownie points while others have sincere nationalist concerns about how much local land is being sold to foreigners (I respect this latter group). 
Here is my blunt point:  Just as it was insane to let precious olive trees die out on other resettlement farms in the past that were sub-divided into non-sustainable, unprofitable patches, Erindi going that way would be one of the most uninformed things that this government could ever do. 
That land can earn income as a hunting/conservation or tourism concern – this is clear.  There is no land there for cattle farming (as the Jouberts already found out decades ago).  So, are the screamers proposing that the land be theoretically ‘divided’ into smaller plots to assuage the demands of a few families?  At what cost to the economy and conservation for the entire country would those few people ‘get land’ they cannot afford to develop?  There are over 20,000 wild animals on that land.  What shall we do, kill them all to make grazing room for cattle, goats and pigs? 
I am glad government did not buy that land.  Whether locals, South Africans or Mexicans or Martians, I want private owners of that land who are committed to conservation, with the capital to develop and protect the land, and with the vision to build something profitable.  We all know that if government had bought that land, it would lay fallow for many years while the snail’s pace process of resettlement went forward. During that period, the fixed assets would degrade, the poachers would have a field day, and the land value would collapse. 
Let us all put on our big boy and girl britches and get real. Not a single soul on the resettlement list has the tens of millions it will take to keep that tourism/hunting going concern afloat and provide security for the high value wildlife currently thriving at Erindi.  
The thing to scream about is setting terms for the sale that help Namibia grow.  Affirmative Repositioning (AR) put forth some demands that included asking the buyer to service a number of plots for future home owners.  I suggest that there be a sales codicil that obliges the new owners of Erindi to be in partnership with the Hotel School at NUST or any other tourism/hospitality training school and annually, take on paid apprentices. 
Why not offer tax break incentives to the buyer only if a percentage of decision-making management posts are filled with qualified previously disadvantaged Namibians?  Why not negotiate for a fund to provide college scholarships each year to worthy Namibians? 
MET must monitor (and give feedback to the public) the buyer’s work on the land and make sure that the new owners are investing in training, paying living wages to workers, maintaining the wildlife properly and protecting the high value species on the land, and paying its fair share of taxes, NTB levies, VAT and employer portion of social security fees. 
Protestors and screamers!  Do your homework and raise a ruckus for the right things.