South border dispute
Thursday, October 30, 2014 - 08:00
After 20 years of South Africa’s democratisation the two sister parties, Swapo and the ANC, have not yet settled the border between the two countries.
An oversight by the Namibian government to finalise the country’s southern border with South Africa 20 years ago has turned into an embarrassing state of affairs to secure the constitutionality of the country’s national territory.
The bone of contention is a dispute between Namibia and neighbouring South Africa with regard to the 2 200km Orange River as southern boundary, which could have been solved before the ANC government took over in South Africa towards the end of April 1994.
However, an assumption by the Namibian government that an agreement with the apartheid South African government regarding the Orange River was on the table, even before finality had been reached on the handing over of Walvis Bay, came to naught and the issue disappeared in the mist.
Foreign Affairs Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah confirmed to Informanté that the dispute is still dragging on and that a work group between the two countries had been established to find an amicable solution.
In terms of the Namibian constitution “The national territory of Namibia shall consist of the whole of the territory recognised by the international community through the organs of the United Nations as Namibia, including the enclave, harbour and port of Walvis Bay, as well as the off-shore islands of Namibia, and its southern boundary shall extend to the middle of the Orange River.”
“Officials of the Surveyor-General of both countries were involved with the demarcation and the then South African regime agreed that the border between the two countries run through the middle of the river. Both countries have minutes to this affect. It was assumed that this initial arrangement on the Orange River was finalized, but unfortunately no agreement was signed at that stage,” Swapo’s Secretary-General Nangolo Mbumba told Informanté. However, the ANC government has a different view on the river, arguing that its northern bank constitutes the border between the two countries. This would mean that Namibia would not have any access to the river or its water.
According to Mbumba, who jointly with a South African representative, Carl Von Hirschberg, administered Walvis Bay in terms of a Joint Administrative Authority (JAA) established in 1992, the issue of the Orange River was dealt with before negotiations on the handing-over of the coastal town started. The coastal town was finally handed over to Namibia on 28 February 1994, merely two months before South Africa held its first multiracial elections.
The vice chancellor of the University of Namibia (Unam), Lazarus Hangula, wrote in his paper titled “The Constitutionality of Namibia’s Territorial Integrity” in 2010, when South Africa gained independence in 1994, the then incumbent presidents of Namibia and South Africa (Sam Nujoma and Nelson Mandela) reached a gentlemen’s agreement that the people living on both sides of the border would have access to the water resources in tandem with the current stand in international law, which requires that communities of riparian states have access to common water sources.
However, what complicated the situation was the joining of Lesotho in the dispute as the Orange River originates in the Drakensberg Mountains of that country, flowing westwards through South Africa to the Atlantic Ocean. The river, known as the Senqu River in Lesotho, also forms part of the international border with South Africa. Namibia’s Foreign Minister also seems to be not very optimistic that this thorny issue would be solved soon.