‘We don’t want that sandpit in our community’

Marriane Penda is overcome with grief and anger.

Last week she watched as police officers removed the remains of her daughter from a sandpit.

Maria Shikongo (20) from Iiyale village suffocated in one of the sandpits at Ondando B in Oshioto’s Oniipa area.

Residents have called on sand miners and the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism to rehabilitate the sandpits at their village.

Penda says Shikongo died in the borrow pit on 30 December.

She says her daughter, who had an intellectual disability, left home that day and was later found dead in the sandpit.

Penda says this is not the first time the pit claims a life, as a boy (11) lost his life in the same sandpit earlier last year.

“We don’t want that sandpit in our community, because it claims human and animal lives,” she says.
The police’s response came late, Penda says.

“Is it because I am poor that they took time to arrive at the sandpit to remove my child from the pit? I am astounded by the silence of the ministry and the Ondonga Traditional Authority.

“We are losing so many lives in that sandpit. I am very angry. The ministry and the authority should intervene,” she says.

Penda’s brother, Ananias Uugwanga, says some survivors of the pit have in the past been rescued by Angolan nationals who work as domestic workers at the village.

“The sandpit should be rehabilitated as a lot of people have been rescued there, and two, including my sister, have died. We don’t know who is next,” he says.

Community activist Jesaya Nambudunga, however, says 10 people have already died in the sandpit.

He says Teofelius Nghishidimbwa (11) died on 30 March, while two boys have been rescued. Antonio Mathews have also in the past been rescued from the pit and was rushed to Onandjokwe Hospital, where he spent more than a month in the intensive care unit, Nambudunga says.

He says other survivors include Kandiwapa Xhuabeb, Shalongo and Sakaria Philemon.

Nambudunga says Jesaya Wanailonga died in a different pit near Oniipa four years ago.

Andreas Andreas and Absalom Ampweya died in 2008, while a certain ‘John’ from Okapaya died in a sandpit last year, he says.

Oniipa councillor Vilho Nuunyango on Thursday said he has met with officials from the environment ministry, the police, and the Ondonga Traditional Authority, and they are in the process of rehabilitating the pits.

Environment ministry spokesperson Romeo Muyunda says community members should write to the ministry airing their grievances.

“We can’t act without a complaint from the community,” he says.

Muyunda says sand miners are responsible for rehabilitating pits, not the ministry.

He says the ministry has stopped sand mining activities at Ondando.

“Only the pits that need to be rehabilitated,” he says.

Ondando C residents in 2021 petitioned environment minister Pohamba Shifeta to revoke the Ondonga Traditional Authority’s environmental clearance certificate approving sand mining at the village.

About 30 villagers signed this petition.

They fear that if the ministry allows sand mining to continue, it would lead to a number of open pits, a lack of pasture for their livestock and a lack of crop fields.

Residents also fear children would drown in the sandpits.

Petrus Shambo, however, a village headman and sand miner at Ondonga at the time claimed that sand mining promotes Oniipa’s development.

He said opposing this is disrespectful to Ondonga King Fillemon Nangolo.

“Sand mining has been there since the colonial dispensation. The dust they are complaining about . . . they coexisted with it. Why are they not complaining about a sewage dam built by the Finnish missionaries?” Shambo asked at the time.

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