OSHIKANGO – Angolan fuel smugglers at Oshikango are hell-bent on continuing with their illegal operations, maintaining that illegal trade sustains their families’ livelihood and it has taken many of them off the streets.
Operators are so determined that they threaten with violence whoever tries to hamper their operations.
Police officers are often attacked or threatened with machetes, knives and stones when they try to put a stop to the illegal trade.
The smugglers even attacked journalists, who were in the presence of a uniformed police officer, by throwing stones and rocks at the journalists’ branded vehicle.
They calmed down only after a lengthy negotiation – and some were then allowed to be interviewed.
Ngungula is derived from the word, okungungula, which is an Oshiwambo term that means trotting or running steadily.
This is in reference to the actual activity that takes place during the fuel transaction between Angolans and their Namibian customers.
Sellers emerge trotting from specific points in the bush with their containers of fuel when they spot potential customers.
They claim their daily customers are Namibian taxi drivers and certain individuals who buy from them to resell the smuggled fuel for profit within Oshikango or in further areas outside Oshikango.
A five-litre container of petrol or diesel is sold at N$80, whilst the 25-litre container goes for as little as N$280.
Those who buy for profit then resell the 25-litre container at N$380 to N$430, making N$100 to N$150 profit.
With the latest fuel decrease, the same quantity of fuel (25 litres) sells at N$527 for petrol and N$553 for diesel at legal fuel stations in Namibia.
Angolans who spoke to New Era on anonymity said they will not budge, because, unlike the petty thieving activities that most of them were involved in, Ngungula is lucrative and “less risky”.
But their customers who are Namibians are more at a receiving end, as some of them return with smashed windows or robbed of their belonging.
The sellers claim they mainly attack people who refuse to pay them full amounts or those who ‘pose danger’ to their operations.
But some Namibians claim to have been robbed of their money and cell phones while fuelling up at Ngungula.
Gazetted entry points alongside the Namibian/Angolan borders at Oshikango have police presence on a daily basis; however, Ngungula operators have outnumbered the police officers; plus, they are constantly on high alert.
When pursued by the Namibian police, they retreat to a strip, marked as the ‘no man’s land’ between Namibia and Angola.
One of the women who also sells fuel said their livelihoods have improved ever since they ventured into the illegal trade.
“Life in Angola is very tough; people are inflicted by poverty and hunger. But for us, this is a great opportunity; we can feed our families – and at the same time keep our Namibian customers happy,” she said.
“Morning hours are always busy – and that is when we make the most money. Taxi drivers come to fill up from us before they start their business.”
She added sometimes they run out of fuel and they then refer the motorists to some Namibians, who resell fuel after buying from them.
Another Angolan fuel smuggler vows not to stop, and he is “ready to risk it all”.
“We are just trying to make a living – just like other people who sell Whiskey and cigarettes in Oshikango,” he said.
“Namibian police should stop chasing us away because we are also carrying out business just like other people at Oshikango. Life is very difficult in our country – and if we stop selling fuel, we may just as well go back to grabbing people’s properties – and it is not good. We don’t want that anymore,” he said.
A Namibian taxi driver who spoke to New Era said fuel is very expensive in Namibia, and one constantly operates at a loss when fuelling up at local fuel stations.
“Angolan fuel is affordable, and it lasts longer in a vehicle. We will continue to support them because they are saving our businesses; we are able to continue operating. Sometimes, they even give us discounts. If it was not for them, some of us would simply park our cars because the taxi business would be of no use,” he said.
Police officers who spoke to New Era said it is not easy to control Ngungula, as Angolan smugglers keep increasing on a daily basis.
“When you are this side (alongside the border), Namibian vehicles are filling up on the other side,” said one of the police officers who were on duty at the time.
According to police officers, one can easily find up to 40 Namibian vehicles filling up at Ngungula spots at a specific time of the day.
He added that at times, they (police officers) are even attacked by the smugglers with pangas, knives and stones.
Approached for comment, police chief Joseph Shikongo urged the police to apply the law when dealing with smugglers.
He said there is a policy under the ministry of mines and energy that prevents fuel from being sold without necessary permits in Namibia.
“Police officers should not listen to Angolan nationals. They should continue to monitor those who are smuggling fuel at Oshikango,” he said.