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Namibia: Land debate heating up ahead of land conference

August 8, 2018

By Andreas Thomas

President Geingob

President Geingob

Windhoek – Tension is mounting amongst different stakeholders in Namibia over land reform question, with calls to amend the constitution to allow for expropriation of land without compensation and the recognition of ancestral land rights.

A heated debate is raging in the southern African country about how best to resolve the skewed land ownership that still being dominated by white minority, 28 years after independence.

In order to find a lasting solution, the government has scheduled a national land conference in October 2018, a platform for Namibians from to take stock of the post-independence land reform process and chart out a new course.

The second land summit to the held in the capital Windhoek is of most importance, after pronouncements made at the first land dialogue in 1991 failed to resolve the land question.

In preparation for the watershed national dialogue on land, the Ministry of Land Reform held regional consultations in July 2018 to garner inputs that will form part of the agenda for debate at the conference slated for 1-5 October.

And different opinions have emerged from the regional consultations. On side, are communities that are demanding that government expropriate farmlands without compensation from the minority white, who still owns majority of productive agricultural land.

The Ovaherero and Nama speaking communities that reside in southern part are vocal about the restitution of ancestral land that their forbearers were dispossessed of during the subsequent colonization of Namibia by the Germans and South Africans between 1883 up until independence in 1989.

On the other side are communities in northern regions that have never suffered land dispossessions by the colonizers, are not supporting the idea to recognize ancestral land claim.

When Namibia gained independence in 1990, the new country inherited an extremely skewed land ownership in favour of the whites.

At the time, 69.6 million hectares of productive agricultural land, 36.2 million hectares of 52% was in the hands of about 5000 white farmers. Majority of blacks that represent over 90% of the population shared 33,5 million hectares of mostly unproductive land in communal land.

The first land conference skirted around the issues of land expropriation without payment and the ancestral land claims, which is currently haunting the SWAPO-led administration.

 The government instead committed to buy backs some of the land from the white landowners through the willing seller-willing buyer concept in accordance with the Agricultural (Commercial) Land Reform Act of 1995.

However, the willing seller-willing buyer failed to yield the desired result to acquire 5 million hectares of commercial land by 2020.

The Ministry of Land Reform has so far bought managed to buy 513 commercial farms measuring 3, 1 million hectares worth N$1.7 billion ($131 million) since independence. The ministry has earlier said it need a further N$6.1 billion ($470 million) in the next three years to buy average 633,333 hectares per year to meet the 2020 target.

Despite the noble gesture behind the willing seller-willing buyer, the government found it difficult to acquire because of white landowners that have glossily inflated prices.

According to the land reform ministry, landowners were charging government an average N$3200 ($247) per hectares thus N$2billion ($154 million) is required per annum.

Many critics have dismissed the upcoming second national conference on land as a sham, and accusing the administration of lacking clout to take drastic measures to resolve the matter.

President Hage Geingob recent noncommittal comment over the calls to reclaim ancestral land has added fuel to the perception that his government lack clout to take on the land challenge.

“Namibia is our ancestral land, therefore we fought for it and we got our ancestral land back,” President Geingob made the remarks while officiating at 2018 Eenhana Expo in the northern Ohangwena region last week.

These remarks infuriated the Ovaherero Traditional Authority (OTA), whose secretary general Mutjinde Katjiua has accused President Geingob and his administration of playing a ‘very dangerous game’ by trying to engineering a political outcome of the upcoming land summit.

Geingob has in the past been criticized for making contradictory remarks regarding land debate, including that his government has no intention of expropriating land without compensation.

In a leaked official land position paper, the OTA is claiming a bulk of central Namibia as part of its pre-colonial land.

These include areas, in which major cities are located including Windhoek in Khomas region, others in Erongo, Ohaheke and Otjozondjupa regions.

However, Martin Elago, the chief regional officer of the Oshana region has emphasized that the northern regions are against calls for ancestral claims because “all Namibians have the rights to get land whenever they want to settle in the country”.

About half of Namibia is made of Aawambo people that resides in northern part of the country, and a dominant force behind the ruling SWAPO Party.

The Oshiwambo speaking people that made up 49% of the population hold key positions in politics, and government including state-owned entities.

There is a sentiment amongst the Ovaherero (7.5%) and Nama communities that the land resettlement programme is favouring the Oshiwambo speaking people that have never lost any land.

Most black elites including those aligned to the former liberation movement have managed to buy close to 1000 commercial farms through private finances and affirmative-action loans provide by the state Agricultural Bank of Namibia.

Many are beneficiaries of the land resettlement programme that was meant to benefit landless people who cannot afford to buy land.

 Meanwhile, the Namibia Agriculture (NAU), which represents the interests of white commercial farmers, has warned against land expropriation without compensation, that it may trigger economic calamity. NAU’s executive manager, Roelie Venter told media that the union supports land expropriation “with compensation within the confines of the law as provided in the Constitution.

The opposition Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) has also waded into the land debate by cautioning from turning the scheduled land conference into a political gimmick.

The dialogue to be genuine, RDP secretary general Mike Kavekotora said it must resolve the urban land, ancestral land, national resettlement including the ownership of land by absentee foreign landowners.

According to the Ministry of Land Reform, foreign nationals mostly the Germans and South Africans own 281 commercial farms measuring over 1.07 million hectares.

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