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SOS Rhino : In the News : Uproar over new lodge

Uproar over new lodge

  A LUXURY lodge is being built in Damaraland on a spot intended for the development of a rhino sanctuary, unleashing a storm of controversy.

onday, February 21,2005 - Web posted at 9:56:11 GMT

Despite the Kunene Land Board rejecting an application for a leasehold for the area, Nicolas Pienaar and his partners are pressing ahead with their plans.

Building started last year already on about 20 hectares of the farm Probeer near the Doros Crater - an area falling within both the Doro Nawas and Sorris Sorris conservancies.

The conservancies say neither of them was ever approached to discuss the development.

They had entered into an agreement with each other to develop a rhino sanctuary in that area.

'NOT THEIR PRIVILEGE' But Pienaar, who applied for the leasehold to the land board on behalf of him and his partners, is adamant that he acquired the necessary permission to build from a traditional chief in the area.

He maintains that on this basis, the land board could not reject his application.

"It is not their [the land board's] privilege to deny me or not to deny me [the right to build there].

I did my homework," he told The Namibian.

Leonard Hoaeb, Chairperson of the Doro Nawas Conservancy, told The Namibian that he was still waiting for the lodge developers to discuss the development with them.

"The building of that lodge started without our knowledge.

We were not consulted," he maintains.

Hoaeb said he learned about the building from others in the area and then travelled there to see for himself.

A waterhole used to pump water for the lodge falls within the Doro Nawas Conservancy.

Hoaeb has approached the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to put a stop to the building so that the matter can be discussed first.

OUT IN THE COLD Bruce Howaseb, Co-ordinator of the Sorris Sorris Conservancy, has expressed similar sentiments.

"The conservancy doesn't know about what is going on there," he told The Namibian.

He has not seen the development himself, but has heard from others about the building.

He says he believes the developers might have discussed the matter with traditional leaders, but it was never brought to the attention of the conservancy committee.

Besides the land board not giving consent for the development, environmentalists working in the area are also irked that no environmental impact study has been done.

The Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) says it, too, was never consulted by the developers about the sensitivity of the area and its rhino population.

According to the SRT, rhino numbers in the area have decreased over the years because of the increase in the movement of vehicles, low-flying aircraft, hunting and other tourist activities.

"It's a very sensitive area.

In the past the rhino hasn't been particularly successful there.

Slowly there are signs of recovery in the area," said Bernd Brell, the SRT's project manager of the Ugab Base Camp.

"Our worries [concerning the lodge development] are the major destruction of the area and pollution."

In a submission to the land board, the SRT also raised concerns about the amount of water that will be used in an area where natural sources are scarce.

LAND BOARD The Directorate of Environmental Affairs confirmed to The Namibian that no EIA had been received for the development.

Innocent Tjipepa, secretary of the Kunene Land Board, said Pienaar's application had been rejected for two major reasons.

"Firstly, the headman who consented to the development is not recognised by Government and, secondly, the board was convinced that building the lodge would defeat the management plan of the conservancies," Tjipepa said when approached by The Namibian.

Tjipepa said while traditional leaders had the permission to grant land rights, they still had to be ratified by the land board.

So far, Pienaar and his partners have built a road leading to the area and at least one building has already been erected.

Work has also begun on the supply of basic services, such as the laying of water pipes.

Pienaar admits that he started building the road in July last year, around the time the application was submitted to the land board.

He blames the land board for taking too long to consider his application and hence, he says, he started building towards the end of last year, having, according to him, been given the blessing of the headman.

RHINO, WHAT RHINO? The land board is expected to discuss this week what steps to take to ensure the development is stopped.

About 12 men from the area are being employed to build the luxury lodge, which will consist of 12 chalets.

It is expected to be completed by next year.

Pienaar has shot down allegations that his building activities were disturbing the rhino population in the area, maintaining that the building was out of the path of rhinos.

According to Pienaar, he had discussed the establishment of a trust with the traditional authority of the ward in which the lodge falls, and said an arrangement had been reached whereby the community would get a percentage of the proceeds.

He claimed the uproar has been sparked by neighbouring wards that also want to benefit from the development.

"These people all want to have a finger in the pie," an irate Pienaar told The Namibian.

"This has got nothing to do with the conservancies."

He said if the development was stopped, he intended to challenge the decision in court.

Tjipepa said Pienaar could appeal against their decision to the Lands Minister.

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