In a bizarre case, due to be heard in the Namibian courts next week, the country’s defence force is alleged to have taken over the premises of a private shooting club outside the town of Rehoboth just before Christmas. The club says the army changed the locks and warned that the site is now off limits to the public as it is a “military zone” – all of this without notice or warning. The club is fighting back against this military might, by making an application for a spoliation order. Members say unless the dispute is heard urgently, their charitable work in the local community will be decimated and their other club activities will also be halted. The club’s officials claim that the defence force has taken the law into its own hands and that the club’s rights are being violated.

Not all Namibians received the presents they wanted this past Christmas. Members of the Rehoboth Shooters Club, for example, found an extremely unwanted and unexpected “gift” delivered to their local club just days before Christmas. That gift, courtesy of the country’s defence force, was a substantial new chain and padlock on the club’s gate. This replaced the club’s own lock, cut off and removed by the army.

Since 2004, the club has been using a site outside Rehoboth, about 90 km south of the capital Windhoek, for its activities. The local town council approved the site for the use of the club that year, and it has been in constant use by members since then.

But on 18 December 2018, John Eiman, who chairs the club, heard that members of the Namibian Defence Force had entered the grounds, removed the club’s sign and replaced it with a sign saying this was the grounds of the defence force and that entry to anyone else was barred.

A flurry of activity followed, as the club members first tried to establish what was going on, then to contact the defence force for an explanation and finally, when they had no joy with the army, to find a lawyer to help them – all of this during the last days before the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Finally, however, they were able to put together an urgent application for a spoliation order, asking that the defence force be made to return the grounds and all the facilities on the grounds that had been donated or erected by the club.

It’s an unusual case for a number of reasons, not least because of the contrast in fire-power between the local shooting club and the might of the Namibian defence force, which gives the matter a strong David and Goliath flavour. And while the club says that the defence force has in the past approached it informally about using the site for “training purposes”, Eiman says there was no notice from the defence force about a take-over, nor were the proper processes, as laid down in the Defence Act, observed before the club was evicted.

In Eiman’s founding affidavit on behalf of the club he says the members used part of the land as a shooting range, and for this reason they fenced in the five-hectare premises and secured access to the grounds via a gate which they erected and which they kept locked with a padlock. They also installed a tank holding 2 500 litres of water, putting it on a five metre steel stand. They moved a shipping container onto the grounds to house the club’s movable assets – chairs, table, gun rests and targets for example – and roofed in part of the premises.

All this was done by the club’s members, using their own funds and their own hands. Members use the range for competitive or recreational target shooting and it has been the scene of competitions between its own members or between its members and people from other clubs. It is used almost every day, except over the year-end holiday period when many members are away.

On 18 December, as soon as Eiman was tipped off that the defence force had occupied the range, he set out with his deputy to see for himself. They found the club’s own padlock was broken off and that it had been replaced. The club’s sign was also taken down and replaced. He said that when he had been there nine days before all was in order.

The two club officials then went to the military base outside Rehoboth where they spoke to a senior officer who said he could answer none of their questions and gave them the phone number of another officer. That number however, was never answered.

They also tried to get answers from the town council but all the officials they needed to speak to were away on holiday. The acting CEO, however, said he was not aware of the “occupation of the premises” by the defence force. Next day, after the police were even less helpful when the club officials tried to ask for help, so Eiman and his colleagues immediately set about looking for a lawyer to advise them – but all the firms they tried were already closed for the holidays.

Eiman said eventually he found someone to take on the case. He advised them to start by making a formal complaint to the police. That in turn resulted in a statement that Eiman attached to his founding affidavit, though nothing has come of his complaint as the relevant police officer is on leave.

The club’s lawyer has since written to the Ministry of Defence putting on record that legal action would follow if the defence force did not quit the club’s premises by 4 January – but there has been no response.

The club is anxious to get the grounds back so that members’ activities can resume. There is also concern about the safety of the club’s assets and Eiman said that if members, fed up with the continuing presence of the defence force, were to try to get into the grounds to check on their property they could face arrest, according to the notice put up by the army.

And then there is the question of the community work that the club does: its members raise considerable sums for donations to local youngsters in particular, but Eiman says if they can’t get back to normal as soon as possible, via urgent court action, their work would seriously affected and that for all these reasons they should be allowed to bring their court action on an urgent basis.

Eiman’s view is that the defence force has taken the law into its own hands and, without any court order, simply evicted the club.

LATEST: The club’s legal representative, Norman Tjombe, says that after they filed papers this week relating to their spoliation order, the defence force gave notice that they would oppose the application. At this stage the case is due to be called in court on Monday 14 January.

  • Newsletter, Judicial Institute for Africa, 10 January 2019