Animal activists want Namibia boycott!

By Fabian Simvula
June 2011
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Afresh campaign against the clubbing of seals in Namibia is sparking calls for an international boycott of the country’s tourism industry and products - including the famous Windhoek Lager this June.

Two international organisations, Fur Free South Africa and Beauty Without Cruelty have found new ways of pressuring the Namibian Government to “stop the massacre” of seals by leading international campaigns against popular Namibian products.

They have intensified their campaign by distributing leaflets to South African bottle stores specifically targeting internationally recognised, Namibian Breweries Limited (NBL) products.

The leaflets are graphical and have a list of all NBL products including winners of prestigious international brewing awards such as Tafel Lager, Windhoek Draught and Windhoek Lager, Heineken, Kilkenny, Smirnoff, Foundry, Premium Cider and Club Shandy.

NBL’s distribution partner in South Africa, Brand-house is also likely to be affected as Patrick Hashingola, NBL’s Corporate Communication Manager warns of the wide ranging effects of this campaign.

“Our business is certainly concerned by the call to boycott Namibia and its products. The consequence of such campaigns may have wide ranging, negative repercussions on our economy and our people’s livelihoods,” Hashingola said.

“However, I don’t think that there is much we can do as a business but hope that the campaign sponsors are not missing an opportunity here to meaningfully engage with our Government directly instead of calling for an outright boycott of Namibian products. We believe that our country can derive long term benefits from its natural resources when they are exploited through sustainable methods,” he added.

The Namibian seal population is outdated to say the least and it is difficult to get the exact figures as to how many seals there are.

The last survey done in South Africa was in 2004, and the last in Namibia was done in 2006.

Then, the seal population was similar to the peak in 1993 of 320, 000 pups (both countries), with Namibia having 70 percent of this.

However, 99 percent of all the former seal islands (their original habitat) still lies extinct.

Anti seal culling campaigners are arguing that 70 percent of the seal population is disturbed and that seals are continually fleeing to safer habitats. Seal colonies are now forming in Angola as a result.

Said Fur Free SA chairman Anneke Brits: “We are calling on people to boycott the Namibian tourism industry. We can’t support Namibia, even though it is a neighbouring country when it allows this horrific practice to continue. Let us hope that this pressure will make the leaders of Namibia realise the folly of what they are doing.”

Brits said the campaign would hold protests in June outside the Namibian Embassy in Pretoria and outside the offices of the Namibian Tourism Board (NTB) in Cape Town.

Bite Back in Belgium is expected to join in the protests outside the Namibian embassy in Brussels also this month (June).

The practice, which Namibian authorities maintain is aimed at managing and protecting the country’s fish stocks, takes place around July each year. Up to 100 000 seal pups and bulls are killed at Cape Cross Seal Reserve, north of Henties Bay, a popular tourist area in the Erongo region.

The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is expected to announce the 2011 Seal Total Allowable Catch soon. The seal harvest takes place during the period of 1 July and 15 November annually.

Namibia has never allowed any filming by anyone ever since the culling began some years back. Ninety percent of the sealing quota is based purely on sealers being required to beat to death nursing baby seals.

Much of the world has since stopped this practice after the US import ban in 1972 and the more recent EU import ban.

Namibia has arguably become the largest slaughter of the marine mammals in the world, even though the rights given to sealers of a million seal pups until 2019 exceed the number of the entire seal population.

Anna Erastus, Director of Policy, Planning and Economics in the line ministry last month told Prime Focus that the sector employs 81 people during the culling season and that Government generates about N$1 million in fees every year.

Erastus also disclosed that negotiations regarding the setting up of a value adding seal processessing factory by a Turkish company are ongoing.

“The factory will be in a position to employ an additional 100 to 150 people. Possible surgical implants from seal tissue have been on the table from an international scientific point of view and this will also have a positive impact on human health globally and in Namibia. Use of seal heart valves for human heart surgery has of late shown promise,” she suggested.

“Namibia as a country has an obligation to make sure that laws are adhered to. Equally, we have a responsibility towards our citizens, utilising resources in the best way that Namibians can maximise benefits and also produce products that will display the Namibian image,” she added.

Namibia has a contract with an Australian company, which buys the pelts and sells them to those who manufacture, among other things, fur coats.

In 2006, Stephen Lussier CEO of De Beers Diamonds, the world’s largest diamond producer, sent out a public statement condemning the seal cull in Namibia, half of which occurs within the diamond restricted area.

De Beers is Namibia’s single biggest employer and largest contributor to GDP. It also supported Seal Alert-SA’s bid to have Cape fur seal imports banned throughout the EU.

In 2009, the seal industry in Namibia offered, as a way to end the seal cull, that their 2019 sealing rights of killing a million seals, be bought out and factories closed and workers re-employed with the consent of the Namibian Government.

Animal activists rejected their offer of US$14 per seal in the buy-out.

The last remaining fur buyer, businessman Hatem Yavuz, a Turkish national living in Australia whose contract runs until 2019, has since increased his investments in the seal culling and fur buying industry in Namibia, and has added more value to local production to counter the arguement that seal viewing tourism generates more revenue and creates more full-time year round jobs.

In an interview with a Turkish news agency in 2009, Yavuz defended his company saying:

“Seal skins are especially popular in the Far East, and millions of seals living on Namibia’s coastline are harming the environment there.”

He said, while adult male seals were killed with shotguns, the cubs are clubbed.

“In order for them to feel less pain, they need to be killed with a club that has a nail on it,” he pointed out.

The Government is now under intense pressure to forge a plan that will resolve the conflict. PF