Smoking Zambezians to Death [column]

The expression “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” fits like a hand to glove to recent revelations and denials about plans – approved plans we are told – to develop a 10 000-hectare fertile piece of land at Liselo, in the Zambezi region into a tobacco farm. Hunger and malnutrition are made worse when governments use scarce land for tobacco production rather than for growing food, housing the poor and building facilities that will add value to the nation.

All across the world, from the poorest to the richest countries, indigenous peoples have always endured hardships, coupled with man-made chronic diseases, all in the name of making some tycoons and bourgeoisie richer. They endure the worst diseases that accompany poverty and, simultaneously, many suffer from ‘diseases of affluence’. The suicide rate among the Pikangikum Indians of Ontario, for example, is 40 times the national Canadian average, and is higher than of any other country. Research shows that the reason for this is substance abuse, which was introduced to them in the name of development. One may wish to sit down and interrogate why diabetes alone threatens survival of many indigenous communities in rich countries. Capitalists have long used sugar-coated hand-outs to usurp natural resources and acres of land.

Addressing some European bourgeoisie who wanted to acquire hectares of land for “development”, Brazilian David Kopenawa said in 2007: “What kind of development is it when the people live shorter lives than before? You napepe (whites) talk about what you call development and you tell us to become the same as you. But we know that this brings only disease and death. The forest is our life and we need it to fish, grow food, hunt, sing and dance and have feasts. Without forest, there is only sickness.”

By the 1930s colonization, through its capitalist expansionist policies, had reduced the Aboriginal population by 90%, not through massacres as we witnessed in Namibia, but through exposing them to harzardous substances such as tobacco production and other chemicals.

Let us juxtapose this to the ill-aised or deliberate plans to turn the Zambezi region into a suicidal tobacco experimental laboratory. While doing so we must bear in mind the Tobacco Products Control Act No. 1 of 2010 which bans people in Namibia from smoking tobacco in public places. Oh yes, before we forget, we must also remember the law on customary land which states that only the minister has authority to grant land that exceeds 50 hectares. We also ought to be mindful of the fact that the staple food for Zambezians is pap and fresh water fish. Researchers have found that one used cigarette butt placed into a litre of water will kill half of all exposed freshwater fish or marine fish. Additionally, sixteen un-smoked filters placed into a litre of water contain enough toxins to kill all the fish therein. Not just fish are affected by the toxicity, but both children and pets become ill or potentially die from ingesting cigarette butts. Yes, this is what government wants in the Zambezi region.

Researchers agree that the life cycle of a cigarette takes a heavy toll on the environment, from growing the tobacco plant to the disposal of butts and packaging. Although the ecological impacts of tobacco are overshadowed by its devastating effects on human health, they are nevertheless considerable and a cause for concern. Among others, this is what tobacco plantation in the Zambezi will bring: tobacco cultivation is responsible for biodiversity losses, land pollution through the use of pesticides, as well as soil degradation, deforestation and water pollution tobacco plants consume nutrients at a higher rate than most crops cigarette manufacturing machines use up to seven kilometres of paper an hour to roll and package cigarettes and cigarette butts are washed into rivers, lakes and oceans where they are eaten by fish, birds and animals, (no more fish for Zambezians!!!).

Not only are tobacco growers at risk from exposure during the application and storing of the pesticides but the chemicals often leach into soil, find their way into streams and rivers and contaminate drinking supplies and food chains. These substances may also indirectly cause the genetic selection of pesticide-resistant mosquitoes or flies, making the control of diseases such as malaria more difficult.

With its fertile soil, the Zambezi region is potentially the bread basket of Namibia, capable of producing many kinds of food. Boasting amazing scenery, spectacular birdlife and big game, the region is one of Africa’s greatest wilderness areas, with huge ecotourism potential. Why not invest in food production, agriculture, tourism or family leisure ventures to develop the region?

– Dr Charles Mubita holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California.

Source : New Era