CATTLE dying in droves a mere 100 meters from the waters of the mighty Kunene River, is telling the story of the drought of 2019 in all its devastating cruelness.
Herds of cows and calves under the sparse shade of trees near the river forming the border with Angola are all but decimated. The area around Otjinungwa, Rooidam and Otjivero is the killing fields of the Kaokoland.
Cows, lying around after having been watered, are simply waiting for death to come fetch them. Their herders endure the stench, knowing there is nothing to be done, but wait for the inevitable end.
They don’t, and very likely, cannot, count the losses, although back at their kraals around the home fires, they can relate the horror stories of how they saw the riches of the proud Herero disappear before their very eyes.
Charley Uatavi Hianja, a brave and “woke” young Agricultural Extension Officer in die North West Kunene Region, observed the slaughter every day and since July, when things really got bad, has been fighting endlessly to get intervention from the side of government.
He wrote his superiors a report on the situation prevailing in the area, and followed it up with regular communications and updates. He lost the battle, and is now losing faith in the very system that should intervene to save the very basics of the once mighty herds that roamed the grassy plains beyond the end of the known world only hemmed in by the flowing waters of the Kunene cutting its way to the Atlantic.
It is a drive along a 400km stretch of winding roads and tracks to his working area, along which the view is one of utter devastation and death.
Says the young Charley: “What we see here, is how climate, distance, policy, infrastructure and capacity colluded to rob hundreds of people of their very being.”
He explained that the killing fields of the far off Kunene has an impact on the social fibre of the people that is unlikely to ever change for the better…. ever again.
“People left for Opuwa and Epupa because they have no animals left. There they just drink. The elderly was left at home to fend for themselves. The last of the animals were simply abandoned. The problem started when criteria for drought aid was determined by government. Cattle owners do not qualify. They are uneducated and cannot argue their case against the rules and they are too poor to travel to go fetch aid.”
Government are stretched beyond their means to cover the basic needs and endless rules from above, prevent officials to attend where help is most needed.
Charley explained that a farmer must produce a stock brand certificate and Meatco registration to qualify for aid. In the Etanga area, only nine out of more than a thousand farmers are so registered. Only they qualify for aid on a small fraction of their animals.
The offer of transporting cattle to leased grazing on a subsidised basis is not an option in the northern part of Kunene Region, there are none within reach.
No markets exist for the lean animals, so there is zero income for hundreds of families. They are on a starvation ration of government hand outs for their very survival.
Then, the influence of culture is also still playing a role. Households headed by women suffer most under cultural taboos, as only men are allowed to register stock brands and basically be the owners of cattle.
“There are simply too many restrictions and to little effort in this scheme of things. Councillors and the Governors should have reached out to the farmers in the Otjinungwa, Rooidam, Otjivero and other areas.”
But, he said, it is too late now. There is nothing left to save and the people of the land are moving away.
“There are only some few elderly inhabitants left in those far off places. And they too might perish soon!”