AN application by Canadian oil and gas company Reconnaissance Africa (ReconAfrica) for occupational land rights in two areas of the Kavango East region has been met with criticism by local communities and environmental activists, who have been given a week to lodge their objections.
Local groups say the objection period is too short for stakeholders to give fruitful feedback.
Stakeholders have already taken issue with ReconAfrica’s occupation of land in the Kawe and Mbambi villages during public meetings earlier this year.
The land in question falls under the jurisdiction of the Shambyu Traditional Authority.
According to an announcement published in New Era last Friday by the Kavango East Regional Council, ReconAfrica applied for occupational land rights – 3,2 hectares at Kawe and 2,93 hectares at Mbambi – for five years each to do oil exploration.
An image shared by environmental group Friday’s for Future Windhoek illustrates that ReconAfrica has already dug a large pit at Mbambi.
Jonas Kalenga says this land is ancestral land, belonging to his family, which was never consulted.
According to Kalenga, village headwoman Eveline Ngila was approached and informed about an oil discovery, but she denies authorising the use of the land.
“She said it came from the traditional authority, and that’s when we found out about Recon,” he says.
In later correspondence from the family to ReconAfrica, the oil company confirmed that the Shambyu Traditional Authority gave it the authorisation, which was signed off by the traditional authority’s chairperson, Edward Sikerete.
Sikerete could not be reached for comment.
Kalenga says the family has since sought the assistance of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC).
They are suing the Namibian branch of the oil company (Reconnaissance Energy Namibia) in the High Court of Namibia, claiming they have been squatting on the family’s land since December 2020.
The family also currently has a spoliation application pending before the High Court of Namibia.
The LAC on Tuesday sent a letter to the Kavango East Communal Land Board to officially file the family’s objections.
“ … This application was issued and served on 19 April and is now opposed by Recon while it in the meantime seeks to legitimise its unlawful occupation,” the letter, prepared by legal practitioner CJ van Wyk, detailed.
Furthermore, the LAC argued that ReconAfrica’s application for occupational land rights is not lawful.
“In the circumstances where there is already a dispute pending in the High Court, the faulty application also constitutes a denial of the legal processes due to our client.
“As a result, we respectfully urge the board to consider the qualifying criteria for any occupational right to be granted on communal land in terms of the act, and additionally to take further steps … to evict the applicant, Recon, from the land,” the letter reads.
Kalenga says the family will also submit an objection to ReconAfrica’s application.
“It is clear that Recon Energy Namibia’s application suffers from defects, which causes the application to be non-compliant with the requirements set out in the regulations … The law is clear in its intent. Communal land is not to be turned over to private companies for the sake of profit-seeking,” said the family in a objection letter shared with The Namibian.
“We already had land rights and were in occupation of that piece of land by the time Recon came and started drilling for oil and gas extraction. We were forcefully and unlawfully evicted from our land,” the objection states.
Frack Free Namibia has asked the communal land board to extend the window for objections to allow local stakeholders an opportunity to prepare and submit their objections.
Rinaani Musutua, a community activist and trustee of the Economic and Social Justice Trust, says there are suspicions that ReconAfrica did not apply for land rights when they should have.
“The traditional authority is allowed to give land rights to whoever, but that decision must be discussed with a communal landlord,” she says.
ReconAfrica asked for questions to be sent, which would be reviewed and answered by their legal representative.