ILLEGAL small-time tour operators living in Namibia's national parks have until the end of today to leave or face the full wrath of the law.
Environment minister Pohamba Shifeta told The Namibian yesterday that although Etosha National Park was the most affected, the problem was also rife at the other 17 protected areas.
Shifeta said the growing number of unlawful tenants, especially at Etosha, could lead to cooperation among poaching syndicates.
“I feel some of the poachers move along in these groups. There are quite a number of them [illegal residents]. Some work at nearby areas and others probably just feel it is nice to live there,” Shifeta said.
In January, Shifeta visited the park and found squatters, suspected drug smugglers, shebeens and gambling activities at some park staff members quarters.
“Today everyone should leave. Whoever is still there after today will be dealt with. Staff members who will take them in will be charged for harbouring illegal residents,” he said.
Shifeta said he will return to the parks early April to see whether the illegal residents have complied and the parks are clean.
The Namibian understands that although the decision was taken recently, the sale of alcohol and use of gambling machines have been allowed in some of the country's national parks as far back as 1998.
“Although it has been happening for years, the point is it is illegal. Whether there was a loophole or it was overlooked, that is not the issue,” Shifeta said.
Another concern the minister raised were the illegal dump sites and litter of plastic bags, scattered all over which are an eyesore. He challenged the park management and supervisors to do their jobs.
Shifeta noted that the ministry is in the process of issuing access cards which will be used to identify employees of the ministry and of Namibia Wildlife Resorts as well as people authorised to be in the parks.
“We must appreciate and respect the laws and keep our national parks clean. Visitors need to see the beauty of the place, animals and the environment,” he argued.
Some of those being evicted from the parks have become self-employed by providing services to tourists and travellers such as being fishing guides.
One such person is Simon Nghishoongele who has been residing at Terrace Bay since 2005.
Speaking to The Namibian in a telephone interview, Nghishoongele said although he is aware of the rules, he was a casual employee of the NWR from 2005 to 2008.
When his contract ended he had to earn a living and formed an angling club with 11 others to assist tourists who needed the services.
“There are some old people who come from South Africa who appreciate our services and they are also not happy with the decision taken as they feel they will have no one to assist them. Maybe one person made a mistake but they should have given them a warning,” he said.
Nghishoongele said every year he tries to apply for a permanent job at the resort but he has not been lucky enough to get one.
“We came here for survival and not just for the sake of it. I support three children, my mother and other family members,” he said adding that they charge N$200 per day for their services.
Shifeta advised those in the same predicament as Nghishoongele, to apply for permits to be in the parks and motivate their applications.
Communities neighbouring the parks can apply for concession to do businesses.
Shifeta said government is spending a lot of money on electricity because more people were using the services than those budgeted for.
The director of parks and wildlife in the ministry, Colgar Sikopo, said nobody should conduct business without permission.
“We do not want to create small villages but have the parks in order. They are not meant for human settlement and villages but for conservancy,” Sikopo said.
NWR manager for corporate communications Mufaro Nesongano said this move will not affect the resorts as their role is to provide accommodation facilities.
“We have employees who are well vested in this trade (and would) therefore be able to assist (tourists as well as travellers),” Nesongano said.