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VOETSPORE DIARY : The red line





5 September 2016


They call it the Red Line, and it runs across Namibia and Botswana. Intended to prevent the spread of diseases like the foot and mouth virus, fridges are inspected and the officials will confiscate meat, biltong, cheese and milk on the spot. This month, Johan writes about the dos and don’ts of the Red Line.

It’s the stuff every overlander’s nightmare is made off – you arrive at a roadblock, somewhere in the north of Namibia. The police officer asks for your driver’s licence. But there are other people in green overalls, also manning the roadblock. They spray the wheels of your vehicle with some kind of chemical. Then they ask you to open your fridge. They confiscate all your meat. The skilpadjies you bought at King’s Deli. The blou bul steaks you marinated for a week. The five cheeses you planned to present as a treat with the best bottle of wine from you cellar. The milk that you were going to have in your coffee tomorrow morning…

This is the Red Line and it runs across Namibia and Botswana. The purpose of the Red Line, or veterinary cordon fence, is to keep the area south of the line free from foot and mouth – and other diseases. Farmers to the south of the line all have fences around their farms. The movement of livestock is controlled. Any outbreak can easily be contained. To the north of the line it’s a different story. This is a communal area with livestock free to roam the land. The Red Line was introduced in 1896 with the outbreak of rinderpest. This disease wiped out half the cattle of the Herero people. The term ‘red line’ stems from the depiction in red ink on a 1911 map, created by the German colonial administration. The Red Line is seriously enforced. Farmers south of the line are allowed to sell meat to European countries, the Far East and the Americas. If the line is not enforced, those countries will put a ban on the import of meat from Namibia. The officers at the roadblocks’ closest allies are the farmers of Namibia. In recent times, the existence of the Red Line has become controversial as the farmers to the north would also like to benefit from the export of meat.

There had been attempts to move the line north to the Angolan border. New outbreaks of foot and mouth disease quickly put a stop to this argument, however. So, what are the rules? It is simple. In Namibia and Botswana, you are not allowed to move raw animal products from north to south or from west to east. There are many permanent control points preventing you from, for example, taking meat from Katima Mulilo to Rundu, from Rundu to Grootfontein, from Palmwag south into Damaraland and also coming out of Etosha, driving south. It is true that these rules, like any other rules at checkpoints and border crossings, allow some form of corruption. Sometimes travellers are prepared to pay a bribe, just to get their meat across the line so that they can have a braai that evening. Other times, officers, by enforcing the rules, gather food for themselves.

I was told about a German tourist, unaware of the rules, who drove past the Red Line, 30 kilometres from Kamanjab, in a northerly direction. A hundred metres past the roadblock, he realised that he was on the wrong road and turned around. He had to pass the Red Line again and was asked if he had any fresh animal products, to which he answered in the affirmative. Everything was confiscated. His meat, his biltong, his cheese, his milk… Everyone knew he had just driven north, and there was zero chance that his animal products could be contaminated. But the rules were enforced.

What do you do when you get to the Red Line and raw animal products are discovered in your fridge by the officers? On the Gansbaai to Gabon trip we travelled from Rundu to Ruacana. The quickest way at that stage was to travel south to Tsumeb, and then north to Oshakati and Ruacana. This meant crossing the Red Line at Mururani. I had just bought boerewors that morning at the supermarket in Rundu. The officers discovered it and were about to confiscate it. That is when we decided to have an early lunch on the roadside. You can cook all the meat in your cooler box and eat and drink all the cheese and milk. But this can be a problem.

The solution is to plan well. Consume all the raw meat products in your possession while north of the line. When you get back to the south, simply buy new products. Both Namibia and Botswana have meat products of high quality to the south of the line, available in butcheries and supermarkets. Perhaps there may be one day when you have to adapt your menu. That is when a Voetspore classic like a bully beef stew comes in handy. To be aware of just where the Red Line runs, get yourself a Tracks4africa map of Namibia and Botswana on which this line is clearly indicated. And plan the use of your fresh products as you would your fuel and water supplies.