Communication failure threatens rock art

15 February 2021 | Environment

Windhoek • [email protected]

The environment ministry denies any knowledge of a resolution to withdraw the environmental clearance certificates (ECC) issued to mining companies accused of the annihilation of prehistoric rock art in the Erongo region.
“The ministry is not aware of the decision. Maybe that is the intention of the National Heritage Council of Namibia,” ministry spokesperson Romeo Muyunda said on Friday. He said that an ECC can only be withdrawn “if all the impact cannot be mitigated. This process must be initiated by the concerned party to the environment commissioner who will assess whether or not the concerns warrant a withdrawal.”
During a stakeholders meeting with the Otjohorongo community this past weekend, the National Heritage Council (NHC) confirmed that a joint stakeholders meeting held in November 2020 resolved for the “ministry of environment, tourism and forestry [to] withdraw all ECCs at both sites and thereafter engage the affected parties in those areas”.
The sites include the Otjohorongo granite hills and Farm Gross Okandjou.
Moreover, that these archaeological sites “should be classified and demarcated as a ‘withdrawn areas’ from prospecting and mining licenses”.
The NHC said the resolutions included the decision that all mining activities should “cease in conjunction with the commencement of the rehabilitation process at both sites”.

A team that investigated the impact of mining at Otjohorongo granite hills and Farm Gross Okandjou last year found that archaeological resources in these areas had “already been destroyed in the course of mining. Such damage is irreversible, which translates to permanent loss of archaeological resources.”
The basis for the withdrawal of the ECCs is centred not only on the destruction of archaeological heritage resources, but also on incomplete environmental impact assessments.
The team found that the ECCs were issued on assessments that failed to assess the potential impact of mining on heritage components, as required by law.
In response, Muyunda confirmed that “this in one area that requires to be strengthened in the overall process of issuing EIAs”. He added however that the withdrawal of an ECC “is usually the last resort. For now, companies are required to comply to the conditions imposed by the National Heritage Council of Namibia in regards to the protection of these sites.”

The assessment on the impact of large-scale granite and marble mining activities found that there had already been cases of “outright destruction” of the prehistoric art in the areas. Both sites were deemed important archaeological sites with local, regional and global importance.
Muyunda last week confirmed that “where ECC’s were issued, any malicious observations must be reported to the office of the environmental commissioner or relevant stakeholder”.
The NHC last year confirmed that the environment ministry, the mines and energy ministry and the council held joint meetings to discuss the destruction of prehistoric art by mining activities in February and November.

Community activist Abiud Karongee expressed concern about the contradicting information given by authorities, while praising the NHC for their proactive stance to assist the community in having the area declared a no-go zone for mining, and to designate them as protected areas.
The community however say the battle is not yet won.
Karongee said reports have been made that mining is ongoing at some sites. “Trucks are going in and out, they are at full steam. No one has really been officially informed. Only the environment ministry can act.”
He said the community is waiting for an official document declaring the area a no-go zone. “We are waiting for the area to be put under protection officially. So, while we wait for the environment ministry to act, we can assist to help monitor and stop any unethical and illegal activities within these protected areas. We need documents however, otherwise, we can’t do anything.”

Karongee said the community meeting was an important opportunity to broaden awareness of the benefits of preserving the heritage resources. “The NHC highlighted the significance of all those paintings. They are of national and global importance. This will help people recognise that they are sitting on this valuable heritage resource, that has long-term benefits for all of us. The community is becoming enthusiastic, and realise there are other types of activities that can result from preserving these sites.”
He added that the community activists will work together with the NHC towards having the granite hills declared a national heritage site. “We are saying let this place be protected. Let the mining operations be stopped right away.”
There are hopes that the Otjohorongo granite hills could equal the important prehistoric rock art at Twyfelfontein and Brandberg, both under protection and recognised globally of significant archaeological importance.