Illegal grazers deny charges brought by Ukwangali
NANKUDU – Twenty-five of the 29 people accused of grazing their cattle illegally in the Ukwangali Traditional Authority area pleaded not guilty to the charges against them at the start of their trial on Monday.
The accused appeared in the Kahenge District Court.
The group of farmers from the Ohangwena and Oshikoto Regions had allegedly been grazing their cattle on Ukwangali land in western Kavango since 1992 without authorisation from Ukwangali leader Chief Sitentu Mpasi.
Chief Mpasi opened a case against the group in 2006, and the accused farmers made their first court appearance on December 3 2006.
Four of the accused were not present in court on Monday as they were allegedly ill, and a separate trial date (August 23 2012) was set aside for them to appear in court.
Prosecutor General Martha Imalwa last week declined to prosecute seven other accused persons because they are of Ukwangali origin, making them eligible to utilise the land. They are Erastus Sakaria, Emilia Nghilundilwa, Metumo Nghilundilwa, Eli Shinwalulu, Aktoffel Sakaria, Seth Kaukungwa, and Juniors Hamana.
One of the accused, Petrus Mutilifa, has since died.
The first State witness to take the stand, Detective Warrant Officer Thomas Kautondokwa, said he and seven other police officers were on April 27 2006 instructed by Namibian Police Force (NamPol) Inspector-General, Lieutenant Sebastian Ndeitunga to investigate a case of illegal grazing lodged by Mpasi.
He said they visited the villages of Sazi, Okolo and Ongali, where they found cattle kraals, traditional huts and mahangu fields which allegedly belonged to Oshiwambo-speaking people who were also the cattle owners.
Kautondokwa explained that the owners of the structures, whom he took sworn statements from, said they settled there legally and were paying annual fees to the Ukwangali Traditional Authority.
The accused’s defence counsel, Norman Tjombe, denied this, telling the investigating officer during cross-examination on Monday that the accused never grazed their cattle illegally in the Ukwangali area.
He stated that his clients have been prosecuted for six years based on sworn statements, and said the investigating officer failed to observe branding on the cattle in order to investigate the illegal grazing.
Tjombe further revealed that his clients have documents stating that Mpasi and then Ukwangali Chief Council member Rudolph Ngondo had granted land to the Ovambo cattle owners to let their cattle graze in the Ukwangali Traditional Authority area.
“The Chief of the Ukwangali Traditional Authority granted land to the size of 60 kilometres by 100 km to enable them to graze their cattle,” he stated.
The case, which has been on the court roll for five years, was struck off the roll early last year in order for the case docket to be traced by a different investigating officer.
The original investigator in the case, Kalistus Mudumbi, resigned from NamPol in 2011.
The accused persons are out on bail of N$500 each.
The case continues in front of Magistrate Victor Nyazo. Public Prosecutor Clara Mwilima represented the State during the proceedings.