Sandpits swallow 10 children in five years

Early last year Theofilus Nghishidibwa (12) and his cousins left home to collect firewood one Thursday afternoon.

But Nghishidibwa did not return.

His family and neighbours started looking for him, and found his footprints at a sandpit not far from his home.

The next day, the boy’s body was discovered in one of the oldest sandpits at Ondando in the Oniipa constituency in the Oshikoto region.

The village has been left reeling in shock.

Nghishidibwa’s death is one of several in the area that triggered pastor Elifas Haighumbi and community members to petition minister of environment, forestry and tourism Pohamba Shifeta in February to ban sand mining activities.

Sand miners, especially at Oniipa, have been insisting that their business causes no harm, saying those who are complaining about the trade are disrespecting the leadership of the Ondonga Traditional Authority.

But this type of business comes at a price – the lives of children.

Theofilus Nghishidibwa and Maria Shikongo


Theophelus’ aunt, Aina Immanuel (27), remembers how his body was discovered on 31 March last year.

Months later, another resident of the village, Maria Shikongo (20), lost her life in the pit.

Immanuel says Theophelus was a bright Grade 6 pupil at Oniipa Primary School.

“His future was brimming with plans. He would tell us he wanted to be a pilot, but this dream would not come true,” she says.

Immanuel says the pit that claimed her nephew’s life almost took the life of another person, but he was lucky enough to be rescued.
She says the survivor has stopped talking after the incident.

“As a community, we have been asking for the sandpit to be fenced off with barbed wire, or to be rehabilitated, but nothing has been done,” she says.

“It’s not only people drowning there, even animals,” she says.

Community activist Jesaya Nambundunga yesterday confirmed that this specific sandpit at Oniipa was cutting short the lives of people and animals.


In February this year, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia Oniipa parish pastor Elifas Hainghumbi wrote to Shifeta, expressing his concern over the dangerous sandpits in the Oniipa area.

In his letter dated 13 February this year, Hainghumbi said 10 schoolchildren died in these pits between 2018 and 2023.

Hainghumbi described sand mining activities as life-threatening and requested that the ministry rehabilitate the abandoned pits.

“Since 2018, we have lost more than 10 lives of young people and children who fell and drowned in those unprotected, unrehabilitated excavations,” he said.

The pastor said additionally, grazing areas and the natural environment are being degraded.

He urged the ministry to ensure that sand miners adhere to safety regulations and that permits are not issued without thorough consideration of the risks to the community and the environment.

“As a pastor, I am distressed by this situation. Every year I attended several funerals of pupils who died in these pits,” he said.

“Your support for this project to rehabilitate our area will not only receive our highest appreciation, but will equally save the lives of our future leaders,” he wrote. Community members have echoed these concerns.

In a joint letter to the minister on 19 February, Kaushiwetu Angala, Reinhold Kamati, Nambundunga and Oscar Shikongo claim that three people died in Oniipa’s sandpits last year, and more than eight died in the past decade.


“We are sad and regret to inform you that sand-mined pits in the Oniipa constituency, specifically those at the Iiyale, Oniihandi and Ondando villages, have taken three lives. More than eight lives were lost in the past 10 years,” they wrote.

The group proposed a collaborative approach to resolving the issue, suggesting that the environment ministry collaborate with the affected communities to rehabilitate the dangerous pits and provide education and resources to prevent further illegal sand mining.

“We respectfully request that you, honourable minister, grant us an audience to discuss this issue and explore ways to amicably eliminate the danger of legal or illegal sand pits in our communities,” they wrote.

Romeo Myunda


Ministry spokesperson Romeo Muyunda yesterday said the ministry has received a number of reports of unrehabilitated sandpits, and has learnt about the deaths in the Oniipa area through the media.

He said the ministry has visited a number of unrehabilitated pits and has issued legal compliance orders to most, ordering a halt to mining activities, as well as rehabilitation of the pits.

“For some pits, rehabilitation work has already started, and some are even completed. We have also learnt through the media about the related deaths or fatalities,” Muyunda said.

He said the ministry has stopped activities at most pits.

“We have also ordered the known culprits to rehabilitate those pits. Even though a number of pits have been rehabilitated, there are still many unrehabilitated pits, especially the historical pits and those where operators or minors are not known,” he said.

Muyunda said the biggest challenge in rehabilitating pits is the availability of funds.

He said the government is approaching different entities to solicit funds to rehabilitate critical pits.

“We are also in the process of taking legal action, including registering criminal charges with the Namibian Police so that culprits are arrested, charged and punished.

“The ministry is also working very closely with other competent authorities, such as traditional and local authorities, and is supporting them to better manage and control these activities,” he said.

Frans Enkali


Ondonga Traditional Authority secretary Frans Enkali yesterday questioned the sandpits’ death toll and accused the community of fabricating stories for political gain.

“They are cooking up stories. Why was it not reported in the media? They are doing that for a political campaign, and we are not politicians. If there is anything that needs to be rectified, they should come to us,” he said.

Oniipa constituency councillor Vilho Nuunyango yesterday said his community has no concerns as no incidents have been reported.
Activist Nambudunga in January said apart from Nghishidimbwa, Jesaya Wanailonga died in a sandpit four years ago.

Andreas Andreas and Absalom Ampweya died in 2008, while one ‘John’ from Okapaya village died in a sandpit last year.

He said some community members were fortunate enough to be rescued from the pits. They include Antonio Mathews, Kandiwapa Xhuabeb, a certain ‘Shalongo’ and Sakaria Philemon.


The residents of Ondando village have a history of conflict with sand miners, some of whom are prominent businessmen from nearby Ondangwa.

In 2021, Nambundunga was allegedly assaulted by businessman Petrus Shambo, who claimed to be acting in self-defence.
Shambo (63) later said he acted “like a father disciplining his son”.

He is also a headman within the Ondonga Traditional Authority.

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