Fed up with illegal sand mining
30 May 2018 | Local News
Sand mining is a lucrative business in northern Namibia, where companies mine sand in rural areas for free, or after paying a small fee to traditional authorities, and then make huge profits from sales to building contractors in towns.
Some local authorities such as the Oniipa and Okahao town councils have confirmed that they also mine sand without mining licences.
This has angered community members, who say the government must prosecute the guilty parties.
This month Namibian Sun ran a series of articles on illegal sand mining in areas where the local communities were not consulted by the authorities and do not receive a share of the proceeds.
Ewi lyaNooli also visited a number of villagers this month and saw how the natural environment has been destroyed by illegal sand miners who left behind huge pits that pose a danger to people and animals.
Areas like Iiheke ya Nakele in the Oshana Region, which falls under the Uukwambi Traditional Authority, have been destroyed by sand mining conducted by companies that do not have mining licences but only permission from the traditional authority.
Before the Environmental Management Act of 2007, traditional authorities as the custodians of communal land had the right to give permission to companies to mine sand, but that right was taken away when the Act came into force.
The Act clearly states that all government institutions, companies, other organisations and individuals that are involved in the planning or undertaking of listed activities, including sand mining, must apply the principles outlined in the Act.
This means that anyone who wants to mine sand must be in possession of an environmental clearance certificate, which is issued after an environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been completed successfully.
For an EIA to be successful the majority of the affected community must not object to the proposal, or else the environmental commissioner will not issue a clearance certificate.
At a press conference held at Uukwangula this month, the Uukwambi Traditional Authority maintained that the office of the environmental commissioner still had to consult them on the Act.
“We know of the Act but they did not yet come to us. We are waiting for them to discuss the matter with us,” said Reinholdt Iita, the spokesperson for the Uukwambi Traditional Authority.
Ewi lyaNooli visited Okanenge village at Oniipa where the Oniipa town council is accused of destroying the environment with its illegal mining activities.
Apart from mining without a licence, the Oniipa town council is also accused of destroying roads in the area with its sand trucks that are constantly on the move.
This has forced motorists to make use of longer alternative routes to places such as the Onandjokwe hospital.
In a deep sand pit at Okanenge village, groundwater has filled up the bottom - something that would not have happened if environmental inspectors had been involved in granting permission for the mining.
Furthermore, a culvert along the railway line has been damaged, making the rail crossing impassable to smaller vehicles - and the community blames the council's sand trucks.
A resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he wanted the council to immediately stop mining sand in the area, as the pits are a danger to society.
He said the community was not consulted about the mining.
The source further claimed that unexploded bombs dating back to the war years remained in the area, making the mining hazardous.
“First of all, what the Oniipa town council is doing is illegal because they do not have a mining licence. We were never consulted in the community as required by the Environmental Management Act therefore they do not have the right to mine.
“Secondly, they are destroying the environment and as we all know uncontrolled activities such as sand mining pose a great threat to the environment,” the source said.
When contacted for comment, the council's chief executive officer, Junias Jacob, confirmed that the council was mining sand without a licence for commercial purposes and for its own projects such as road maintenance.
Jacob said the council was aware that the Act required an environmental clearance certificate for sand mining, but went ahead with the mining before obtaining a clearance certificate.
“It is true we are mining illegally. Everyone mining here, whether it's the town council or private companies, they are doing it illegally,” Jacob said.
Jacob said those people making fuss about the council's sand mining were doing it out of jealousy because the council charged lower prices for sand and they did not want the competition.
Private companies charged as much as N$1 500 per load of sand while the council charged only N$800 per load, he said.
“Everyone mining here is doing it illegally; most of them have now become jealous of us entering the market as our price is lower than theirs,” Jacob said.
He said all local authorities received a directive from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism last year that they should take charge of the mining of sand within town boundaries.
Okahao council CEO Timoteus Namwandi said the council only mined sand outside the town boundaries with the consent of the Ongandjera Traditional Authority.
“Yes, we mine sand, but not in town lands. We were given an area by the Ongandjera Traditional Authority and we understand that they are in the process of getting their sand mining licence,” Namwandi said.
Namwandi said the council charged N$800 per load.
Namibian Sun also asked other northern local authorities whether they sold sand. Many said they outsourced their building projects and paid the contractors.
As for who is responsible for filling up the flooded sand pits, the local authorities said they bought sand from private individuals.
The environment ministry has been accused of not taking action to prevent the environmental damage, destruction of grazing areas and pollution of groundwater.
When contacted for comment, the ministry's conservation scientist, Ipeinge Mundjulu, said they did not condone illegal sand mining and anyone contravening the Environmental Management Act could be prosecuted.
Mundjulu said the ministry planned to visit the regions to educate people on the issue of sand mining.