Conservancy wants illegal campsite removed

30 October 2019 | Local News

The Epupa Communal Conservancy has approached the High Court to stop the development of a campsite which it claims will prevent tourists from reaching Epupa Falls via an established route.

The land reform minister, environment minister, Kunene Communal Land Board and the Okapika Traditional Authority are cited as the first four respondents.

Marian Kandiimuini from Epupa Falls village in the Kunene Region, who according to court documents is at the centre of the lawsuit, is the fifth respondent and Gabathuler Building Contractors is the sixth respondent.

According to the founding affidavit of Motjinduika Mutambo Kapika, the chairperson of the Epupa Conservancy Committee, Gabathuler Building Contractors has a five-year agreement with Kandiimuini to build a tourism facility at Epupa.

Kapika says Epupa Falls has become an increasingly popular destination for tourists since Namibia's independence.

“As Epupa Falls has become a growing popular tourist destination, several tourism operators established lodges in the area. These include Epupa Falls Lodge and Campsite, Epupa Camp, Omarunga Lodge and Campsite and Kapika Lodge.”

Kapika said the community welcomes these tourism ventures as they provide employment to people who otherwise do not have any formal income opportunities.

However, he said that over the years they realised that in order to preserve the Epupa Falls area and at the same time negotiate benefits with tourism ventures that are in the best interest of the community they required a legal entity that could fulfil these aims.

The Epupa Conservancy was therefore gazetted in 2012.

According to Kapika the conservancy and Epupa Falls Lodge and Campsite signed a memorandum of understanding on 1 April 2015. In terms of the agreement the conservancy has an obligation towards Epupa Falls Lodge and Campsite not to allow new settlements to be established close to the river and near tourism operators.

In addition, the conservancy is not to enter into any further agreements for tourism accommodation at Epupa with any other operations.

“This condition is subject to the outcome of a formal tourism development scoping study to be commissioned by the conservancy or the environment ministry, subject to the availability of funds.”

Kapika however said during the first week of June this year Kandiimuini and Gabathuler Building Contractors unlawfully occupied land and illegally started building near Epupa Falls Lodge and Campsite.

“As a result of the unlawful activities the community and tourists cannot access Epupa Falls through an established route across the site.”

According to Kapika a cease and desist order was written to Kandiimuini on 26 June to stop with construction. However, she replied that consent had been given by the Okapika Traditional Authority to develop the site.

The conservancy argues that for the purpose of constructing a tourism facility an application for a right of leasehold is required in terms of the Communal Land Reform Act, which only a communal land board can grant.

Kapika said this could only be granted if a traditional authority of the community in whose communal area the land is situated consents.

He said due regard must also be given by the board to any management and utilisation plan framed by the conservancy committee.

The conservancy therefore seeks an order declaring Kandiimuini and Gabathuler Building Contractors unlawful occupants.

It wants the court to order them to stop the construction and remove all building materials.

Willem Odendaal of the Legal Assistance Centre is representing the conservancy.

Kandiimuini has indicated that she will oppose the matter and the building contractors have given notice to defend.

ELLANIE SMIT

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