Jul 20

Paranoid Government Pounces on Seal Decoy

As many of you may know, we have been deploying incognito volunteer teams to Namibia to document the collapse of the seal colony at Cape Cross.

Our intention is to show the world that the barbaric massacre of Cape fur seals by the Namibian government is unsustainable and violates not only the country’s constitution, but all wildlife conservation protocols.

Last week, we decided to change our tactics somewhat.  We decided to become highly visible and chose an unmistakable car,  branded with stickers of seals.  This ancient 1100 Fiat Uno, a seal rescue buggy belonging to Seal Alert, was to become a decoy while our next two teams flew into the country via Windhoek.

We knew this was a risky move on our part and that we would face possible arrest.  Rather than compromise the safety of our volunteers, I (Pat Dickens), decided to tackle this part of the Beach Masters campaign on my own.

We chose the “Seal Mobile” on purpose.  It would be unmistakable and would allow the Namibian government the opportunity to monitor our perfectly legal actions.  This part of the campaign was also a test of the Namibian government’s commitment to transparency, a measure to gauge how worried they are with regards to us proving unsustainability, and how they treat foreign tourists who wish to visit their largest tourist attraction after Etosha.  We knew that if they ignored us, they had nothing to hide.

I left Cape Town on a rainy Monday morning and travelled up to the mining town of Springbok.  The journey was pretty much uneventful.  Rolling green farmlands gradually turned to scrub, and then from scrub to desert.  Around 100km from Springbok, I noticed the brakes were not working and so reduced my speed to around 60km/h.

I booked in to the Springbok hotel.  This two star place was very reasonably priced at R282 per night.  Other bed and breakfast places are charging R1,500 or more.

The following morning, I took the car in to have the brakes repaired.  It turned out there was a leak in one of the pipes and the front discs had to be replaced.  While waiting for the job to be done, I decided to let the Namibian government know I was on my way and went to an internet cafe to update our Facebook status.

Job done, back on the road to Namibia!  The desert is NOT a place you want to break down in.  You may see another car every half an hour.  It is stark and barren.  I pulled over to listen… it is so quiet you can hear a bird fart.

Eventually, I arrived at the border.  The South African customs officials were amazed that I had travelled from Cape Town in the rusty old Seal Mobile.  They were exceptionally friendly and were horrified when I told them of the slaughter of the seals.  My passport was stamped, the vehicle was cleared and I proceeded over the river to the Namibian customs control.

My first point of contact was with a chap who examined the paper work for the car.  He was satisfied that all documentation was in order.  The required “ZA” sticker was in place, the licence papers were up to date, I had the letter of permission to drive the vehicle, it is insured, etc.  I then proceeded to have my passport stamped.  Here is where the fun and games began….

I filled in the form and handed it to a very sullen and rude woman.  Her colleague was on the phone.  I heard him say “so any persons who are in that car must be denied entry irrespective of the interview?”.

The rude woman asked me “What colour is this car you are driving?”.  I said “It’s black with stickers of seals all over it.”  Her colleague hung up the phone.  He turned to the rude woman and said “There is a black car coming in from South Africa.  It has pictures of seals on it.  It must be denied entry.”

I said “Oh wow! That sounds just like my car!”.  I was then grabbed by a security guard and taken into an office.  Nicholas (the chap who had been speaking on the phone) then took me outside to examine the car.  He demanded to know where the rest of my party was.  I showed him there is only a driver’s seat in the Seal Mobile and that it was packed to capacity with camping equipment, supplies, etc.

I was hauled back into the office and detained after which a process of interrogation began.  Who was I with?  What was I doing in the country?  Who am I working with? Etc, etc.  I explained I was headed for Cape Cross as a tourist.  I had booked accommodation at the Cape Cross camp site.  I was alone and my intentions were legal, and that I wished to take a series of sequential shots each day of the seal colony as part of a study.  All true.  I was called a liar and Nicholas told me he had orders from someone from very high-up in the government that any person or persons in the car were to be refused entry into Namibia.  He refused to give me the name of this person.  He refused to give me any reason for denying me entry into the country.

I kicked up a fuss and demanded to speak to the Chief Immigrations Officer.  I was taken to see a Mister Caroulus.  He explained that the police had been calling frantically since Monday, demanding to know the second that the Seal Mobile was at the border.  He told me he was very surprised that it turned out to be a Fiat Uno driven by a pint sized, skinny, bespectacled lone individual; as the way the police were carrying on you would have thought a team of mercenaries in a Sherman Tank were on their way.  I asked him what was the meaning of the Refusal of Entry Notice.  He explained that this was on instructions from his government and these are issued to people who are considered to be a threat to the safety and security of the country.

Now picture this…  One man in a battered rusty Fiat Uno seal rescue buggy, armed with a cheap camera that does not even have a zoom lens, is a THREAT to a country that has the might of an army, a navy, an air-force, a police force AND a secret service.  Laughable.  Basically the political mumbo-jumbo boils down to the fact that the Namibian government considers me to be a terrorist.  I now face a $20,000 fine and/or 5 years imprisonment if I attempt to re-enter the country.

After much argument, I was told to get back in my car and go back to South Africa.  I was escorted back to the parking lot by a soldier carrying an AK-47 where another two government thugs were waiting for me.  They wanted to search the Seal Mobile.  I told them they need not worry, I was not going into Namibia, I was headed back to South Africa.  I was told that I would be detained until such stage as the vehicle had been searched so I had best open up.

The two began ransacking my vehicle.  Every single package was opened and examined.  Door panels were removed.  They went over it as if they were expecting to find weapons of mass destruction.  So I took a few photos.  The one guy then grabbed my camera and forcibly took it away.  He told me the camera was being confiscated and would only be returned if I deleted all images I had taken.  What could I do?  I deleted them.  He went through the photos remaining until he was satisfied and then went back to ransacking the car.  I decided to risk one last shot while they were repacking the stuff back.

So what has the Namibian government achieved out of this colossal faux par?  Absolutely nothing other than having lost a tourist and embarrassed themselves internationally.  They have not stopped our Beach Master campaign.

What have we achieved?  We have proven that the Namibian government is absolutely terrified of us.  They are desperate to keep hiding their barbaric and unsustainable massacre from the eyes of the world.  They lack transparency and cannot or will not provide population statistics from an aerial survey that was supposedly undertaken in December of 2011, because they know it will screw them completely.  We have successfully deployed an additional two teams into the country and we have caused the government to treat every single foreign tourist with suspicion.  Beach Masters 2012 is proving itself to be a phenomenal success!

If anyone else wishes to volunteer as a Beach Master, please feel free to contact us at info@thesealsofnam.org We guarantee your anonymity and may be able to assist financially.