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Govt officials accused of confiscating firewood from destitute women

Officials from the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism in the Omusati region last week reportedly confiscated firewood belonging to six destitute single mothers who make a living by selling firewood.

One of the women, Salvi Domigos (42), says the firewood was confiscated last Tuesday at Oshatumbala village in the Etayi constituency.

Domigos says she and five other women collect firewood in Angola and sell it along the Namibia-Angola border.

She estimates the value of the confiscated wood to be approximately N$61 500.

She says she sells the wood to feed her six children and her sister’s six children.

Domigos says she took two bags of maize meal on credit at a nearby mini-market, which she would have paid after selling the firewood. “I am probably going to be arrested because I have not paid for the food I took from the market,” she says.

She also planned to buy jerseys for her children, who were sent home by their teachers due to not having jerseys.

She says her children didn’t receive their reports last term because they did not bring the required reams of paper to the school.

“The officials told us that they are not responsible for our unemployment. They also threatened to arrest us, saying we might not be Namibian citizens,” she says.

Domigos says they are hungry.

“They told us that they have been told by the Angolan government to confiscate our firewood, but we know it’s not true, because the Angolan police don’t stop us from bringing the firewood from Angola to Namibia.”

Domigos says the Angolan government only discourages them from cutting down trees.

“We don’t cut down trees, we collect firewood from dead trees.”

Etayi constituency councillor Hans Haikali says he is aware of the incident, but declined to comment as he is yet to meet with officials and the police tomorrow.

However, at the Omusati state of the region address on Friday, Haikali related that it was “disheartening” to hear of officials confiscating firewood.

The firewood was confiscated by forestry and Namibia Revenue Agency (Namra) officials, as well as the police, according to Haikali. Oshatumbala headman Peter Nenghwanya believes officials acted harshly.

“They were too harsh on the community, but I can’t blame them. Maybe it’s their policy.”

Environment ministry spokesperson Romeo Muyunda says officials are simply doing their jobs by confiscating firewood brought into the country illegally and without relevant permits.

“Bringing items from another country into Namibia, whether it’s issues of livelihood, should be done within the confinement of the law,” says Muyunda.

In his state of the region address, Omusati governor Erginus Endjala noted that 38 tonnes of firewood were confiscated and sold at auction for N$59 670.

“Also, 2 249 droppers, 1 349 poles, and 47 tonnes of firewood were confiscated which resulted in the issuing of 36 fines worth N$27 400,” noted Endjala.