Sand mining at Okahandja

Residents complain of "illegal" sand extraction
A petition issued at the end of April seeks to stop alleged illegal sand mining activities in the Swakop River near Okahandja. However, the operator of the open-cast sand mine defends himself against the allegations and explains how one can recognise real illegal overexploitation of sand.
Augetto Graig
Complaints from residents of Okahandja have been levelled against the operators of a sand mine not far from Okahandja.
In a petition from the end of April, residents expressed their concern about “suspected illegal sand extraction in the Swakop riverbed”.
They said that the mining of stones, sand and gravel causes “irreparable damage to nature, wildlife and surrounding communities”.
The mining site is operated by Super Sand and its subsidiary JT Freighting. In their petition, the signatories called on the Environment and Agriculture ministries, among others, to “take immediate and decisive action to stop all illegal sand mining activities.”
Hakkies Husselmann, who lives on his farm near the sand mine, confirmed these allegations. At first, the sand extraction didn't bother him. Over time, however, the activities continued to expand. They now operate a stone crusher and a brick-making machine there, in the middle of a rural residential area. “What’s next, an oil drilling rig?”
The noise and the dust pose a health hazard for the residents, Husselmann said. In addition, sand mining threatens the important ecosystem of the dry river: the sand banks could erode and the flora could be affected. As the sand is removed, the groundwater level also drops, because the river water can no longer seep away as well on stony ground. Husselmann mentioned other problems, including consequences for the course of the dry river.
However, when asked, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MEFT) stated that JT Freighting had a valid environmental impact certificate for sand extraction in Swakop.
“We have been communicating with the authorities since 2016,” says Quzette Bosman, the company’s environmental consultant. “We have always applied for the necessary licences. The rezoning process is still ongoing.” There can therefore be no question of illegality. There are also dozens of sand pits along the entire Swakop River as well as an undetermined number of actually illegal mining sites.
Bosman refuted the allegations of negative impacts on the environment. When extracting sand, the banks of the river and the surrounding vegetation are avoided, she said. Also, they never remove the sand from the river bed. Gerhard van der Merwe, owner of Super Sand, also denies that the sand mining activities alone have caused the decrease in groundwater in the area. “We are in the midst of a drought!” he replied.
According to Bosman, harmful or illegal sand extraction can generally be recognised through circular puddles of water in the river or the adjacent traffic infrastructure, in contrast to the sand pit near Okahandja.