Access to Namibia’s second largest protected area, the Sperrgebiet National Park (SNP) has, for the past 10 years, been monopolised and controlled by Coastway Tours; a company owned by Lewis Druker.
As a result, tour businesses in the Karas Region are up in arms over Druker’s monopoly, which they claim is short-changing locals.
Druker was given the concessional right to ‘own’ the park from Namdeb in the 1990s.
‘Sperrgebiet’ is a German term, which means ‘Forbidden Land’ and for decades, not any ordinary person can travel to this majestic piece of earth in Namibia, once a mining area.
More than 20 years after independence, few locals have toured or at best know about the over 26 000 square kilometres of succulent karoo, the Namib Desert and the savannah vegetation, because access is restricted by Druker.
Holding the said concession right means Druker’s four-wheel-drive vehicles are the only ones allowed to take clients into Sperrgebiet ever since it was declared a national park four years ago.
It costs more than N$2 000 per person to tour Pomona and Bogenfels in the Sperrgebiet National Park per day and most tour guides say this keeps away locals who can’t afford.
Samson Mulonga, coordinator for the Strengthening the Protected Area Network (SPAN) Project, said no concessions will be awarded in the national park until restrictions to access the protected area have been lifted.
“The issuing of concessions has been put on hold until the access issue has been resolved.
At this point in time, it takes up to six months to obtain police clearance. But once the access issue is resolved, tourism operators will not need such clearance,” said Mulonga.
Mulonga said Druker is still relying on the Namdeb agreement and is not yet operating under the ‘present circumstances’.
In terms of Section 52 of the Diamond Act, only members of the Namibian Police, mine and diamond inspectors, the diamond commissioner, labour inspectors, fisheries inspectors and government employees with the authorisation of the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, may access Sperrgebiet, or if authorised by Druker.
Section 27 of the Act states that people may access the area provided that they give detailed information about themselves and receive police clearance.
But Namdeb only mines 30% of the national park, along the coast and the Orange River, leaving the remaining 70% of the 26 000 square kilometres, unexploited for tourism.
“He (Druker) has no formal agreement with MET.
It was a verbal agreement. Since 1908, SNP has never been opened because the German government had closed it down as it is a mining town.
It was only opened in 2008, and tourists can now access the area, but we understand the concerns of the people, especially business people who wrongly feel that MET gave Druker the deal.
He will have to reapply like everybody else once the ministry is done with the de-proclamation of the diamond mining area.
”SNP is unique because it is one of the world’s top global biodiversity hotspots.
Some 1 050 plants grow in the park, about 25% of the entire flora of Namibia on less than 3% of the land area of the country, but remains a mystery to locals.
The area also boasts some 80 terrestrial and 38 marine mammal species, some 35 coastal and marine birds, almost 60 wetland birds and 120 terrestrial bird species.
“A national park means tourism and we need to make money from this park.
We already have a lot of ghost towns in the area; therefore tourism activities in the park should inject money into Oranjemund, Lüderitz, Aus and Noordoewer.
We do not need other ghost towns,” Mulonga said.
Another tour operator, Nita Luus who runs Shepherds Lodge in Orangemund, also accused Druker of unfair practice.
“Only Coastway Tours has the concession and only their vehicles can take tourists to the ‘forbidden land’.
We feel that this arrangement leaves us out with our clients, especially when it comes to local clients who cannot afford the prices charged for his 4x4 trips.
It would be beneficial to our local clients with their own 4x4 cars to be able to use them,” she complained.
A park advisory committee chaired by MET Permanent Secretary Dr. Kalumbi Shangula, officials from the ministries of Lands, Fisheries, Mines and Namdeb was set up to address the access issue and consultations were done in 2010 to determine a legal solution, Mulonga confirmed.
The committee has since recommended that in areas where there are no active mining licenses, unrestricted tourism should be allowed, allowing other players to get concessions.
Although the committee undertook a number of planning exercises for the park’s development including a Habitat Management Plan approved by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), development is likely to remain stagnant because of restricted access.
Tourism development in the park will be based on responsible and sustainable planning so as to have little impact on the environment, Mulonga added.
Detailed environmental impact assessments and management plans will also be conducted for all developments.
Druker said people who are complaining do not understand his position and he intended to re-apply for the concession when it expires.
“I have the concession awarded to me in 2002. However, it is about to expire and I intend to reapply.
I was the only one who applied for the concession then.
My advantage was that I had the required necessities, which are infrastructure and employees,” Druker confirmed adding that he also had the necessary monetary muscles to run the concession successfully.
“One of the requirements for me to hold the concession involves the fact that every time we have a participant for a game drive, I have to pay N$450, where N$250 goes to Namdeb and N$200 is given to MET.
So, if I had to go lower, then I would lose out on my business,” Druker emphasises.
Colgar Sikopo, the deputy director of Parks and Wildlife Management in the MET backed Druker’s business strategy.
“He is the sole holder of the concession and he must do something that will not kill his business,” he said.
Communities are normally awarded 20-year long concessions while private investors get a renewable 10-year period, he told The Villager.
Sikopo concedes that at the moment, it is still cumbersome for visitors to access the SNP as it has only been recently declared a national park but stresses that the ministry is in the process of putting measures in place to make it more readily accessible.
Concessions provide opportunities for business development in the conservancies and national park areas.
They allow visitors to Namibia’s parks access to locations that are ordinarily inaccessible.
The ministry can avail concessions, which can be awarded to the communities through conservancies but in the event that the communities cannot run it, then it is made available through tenders and can then be purchased by private investors.
Concessions also diversify the range of opportunities on offer and generate additional revenue from the conservation and sensible use of the country’s indigenous plant and wildlife resources.
MET wants 70% of SNP to be used for tourism, while the Ministry of Fisheries will have their share on the offshore marine protected areas and Ministry of Lands gets to handle the endemic species in the park.
No timeline has been set on when the deproclamation will be done, but in the meantime, Druker continues to cash in on the monopoly.
“The whole park is not yet all concessionaries, with seven concessions to be issued. We are waiting on the process, which is taking quite long.
This has impacted on our businesses as we fail to service our clients.
It is our wish that the Ministry of Mines and MET deals with the issue so we can start applying,” Fanie Smit, Op My Stoep Lodge and Restaurant owner in Oranjemund says.