By Shinovene Immanuel, Ndapewoshali Shapwanale | 22 June 2018
The land, surrounding the Oanob Dam outside Rehoboth, is the site of more than 30 luxury homes, many belonging to Namibias business and political elite.
The houses overlook Lake Oanob, a popular location for canoeing, aqua-cycling and boat parties, and an upmarket Lake Oanob Resort. The land is the subject of a bitter ownership dispute between Acasia Resorts and the Rehoboth Town Council, which is currently before the High Court.
At the heart of the battle is the agreement signed by Mbumba (representing the government) and Acasia Resorts in November 1994, which the Rehoboth Town Council is now rejecting.
Mbumba, as the agriculture minister at the time, agreed to lease out over 4 300 hectares (equal to around 4 300 football fields) for 50 years, with an option to renew for another 50 years at N$12 000 a year, and an annual increase pegged to the inflation rate.
Besides building a resort, Acasia divided the area into plots, and leased them out to individuals for millions of dollars for decades.
Acasia was registered two years before Mbumba signed the deal. Its largest shareholders were Swapo supporters and businessman Christie Benade, and Sandra Tjitendero, the deceased wife of Namibias first parliamentary Speaker, Mose Tjitendero.
The Namibian understands that NamWater has been concerned about the sewage from the houses built near the dam, while there are also concerns that town planning procedures were not followed.
None of the lessees The Namibian interviewed disclosed how much they are paying in rent, but an expert valuator said the lands proximity to the lake increases its value.
Acasia refused to say what it is currently paying in rent, and to who.
However, using official inflation statistics, The Namibian estimates that it could now be paying a maximum of just N$54 300 a year.
Benade, currently the majority shareholder, refused to answer The Namibians questions, saying the newspaper must ask the judge of the High Court what lessees are paying.
The deal was propelled into the public eye after the Rehoboth Town Council sold part of the land to a private company, Oanob Dax Investment CC, for a housing project.
Acasia reacted by suing the company, Oanob Dax Investment CC, the council, the Rehoboth deeds office, the registrar of deeds and the government, among others.
The deeds authorities have been drawn into the dispute because they refused to register Acasias lease.
Details of the 1994 lease ‚Äì including its length and the modest rental ‚Äì are revealed in Cabinet papers and other documents tabled in court.
Mbumba responded to detailed questions with a ‚Äúno comment‚Äù.
Acasia wants the High Court to block Oanob Daxs plans to construct a township of 167 housing units on Farm 1127, which Acasia says falls within its lease area.
Responding to Acasias court application, the Rehoboth council says there is no legal relationship between itself ‚Äì as the owner of the land ‚Äì and Acasia.
‚ÄúThe purported agreement being relied upon by [the] plaintiff was signed with a third party not authorised by the first defendant [the council],‚Äù it says in its court papers. Acasia, therefore, has no legal standing to bring the application.
The council added that it owned the land in 1994, and still does.
‚ÄúThe minister [Mbumba] and Cabinet had no right or authority in law to have signed and/or to have taken the decision referred to in the purported agreement,‚Äù the council said.
It added that the lease agreement should have been signed in terms of the Local Authorities Act to be legally binding. The council also objects to the fact that since 1994, Acasia had been sub-letting plots to third parties without the right to do so.
The company which wants to develop the disputed area is also linked to other Swapo politicians.
Alfred Stephanus Dax, the owner of Oanob Dax and also a Swapo politician, said the company bought the land from the Rehoboth Town Council, and that the purchase took three to four years to complete.
He said the development has already cost N$9 million, including N$5 million for the purchase of the land, and that the losses incurred since August this year when construction was due to start run into millions.
Acasia was formed in October 1993, with hotel dealer Ivan Drotsky as the sole director, but more names were later added to the directors.
In 2004, the directors were listed as Benade, pharmacist Nico Dunn, business consultant Eric Knouwds, and printing entrepreneur the late Dimitrio Metzler, who drowned in a boating accident on Lake Oanob in 2006.
Trade ministry documents show that Benade was the majority shareholder, with 338 900 shares via Capricorn Investment, and Tjitendero the second with 281 000 shares via her company, Vajoroka International.
Mbumba told The Namibian in 2016 that Sandra Tjitendero was his close friend. Asked whether he had declared his friendship when he leased the Rehoboth land to Acasia, he declined to comment. This is not the first time the legality of the Acasia lease has been raised.
Court papers reveal that in 2001, the agriculture ministry under Helmut Angula at the time asked Cabinet ‚Äúhow to resolve certain issues regarding the legality‚Äù of the agreement, and for guidance on how to deal with the ownership conflict.
The agriculture ministry proposed that the lease with Acasia should be renegotiated as ‚Äúthe best way out ‚Ä¶ of the current morass‚Äù.
Cabinet then resolved to terminate the lease, and to appoint a committee chaired by the agriculture minister to renegotiate and amend the 1994 agreement.
The Namibian was unable to establish whether this was done.
Asked if the Cabinet decision had been acted on, Mbumba refused to comment.
The agriculture ministrys spokesperson, Jona Musheko, said Acasia had an agreement with the ministry only until 1997, after which it entered a lease with NamWater.
Acasia sublets to well-off individuals, including public enterprises minister Leon Jooste, who said he is unaware of any illegality regarding Acasias rights, other than the allegations in the media.
‚ÄúI secured my plot in good faith,‚Äù he said. His plot is one of the many that are not registered with the land reform ministry, but bought by him.
Herman Eckwert and his wife Briget, owners of Windhoek Schlachterei, are in limbo over what will happen to their house after discovering that the land is in dispute.
‚ÄúMy parents thought that they are leasing the land for 99 years,‚Äù said Eckwerts son Klaus Eckwert, speaking on his parents behalf. ‚ÄúNow, there is this court case.‚Äù
He added that his pa¬≠rents want to buy, but do not know from whom.
The Rehoboth council was suspended in March this year by urban and rural development minister Peya Mushelenga because of alleged maladministration.
The ministers re¬≠presentative, Natalia‚Ä®/Goagoses, said the land at Lake Oanob belongs to the Rehoboth council in line with the decentralisation policy which came along with the establishment of local authorities after independence.
The land reform mi¬≠nistrys spokesperson Crispin Matongela said under the Local Authorities Act, the land belongs to the local authority with jurisdiction over it.
*This article was produced by The Namibians investigative unit, with additional research by Tutaleni Pinehas. Send us story tips via your secure email to [email protected]
‚Äì Ndapewoshali Shapwanale is currently an intern at the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism in South Africa.