Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Land: A Time Bomb Waiting to Explode in Namibia

Land: A time bomb waiting to explode

By Felix Njini 16-07-2010

Windhoek - Namibia's land redistribution programme has progressed at a snail'space, with farms not changing hands as fast as government would have wanted.

White commercial farmers and inflated prices of land have emerged as a bulwark against much vaunted promises for land.

The Namibian government today finds itself in an unenviable position where it is forced to swallow its words as its grand promises to return land into the hands of disenfranchised blacks crumbles like a deck of cards.

Ongoing flare-ups over ancestral land in cases which have been dramatised by direct defiance of court rulings are only a microcosm of a much bigger problem. The plan by government for blacks to own land is flagging, observers and analysts have concluded.

A widening income disparity, bludgeoning poverty and high unemployment are stoking tensions with most Namibians now wishing for a piece of land as a form of salvation from years of grinding poverty.

Stoking the emotions is the failure of the 'willing seller, willing buyer' model, which government has premised its land reform programme on.

The failure of the 'willing seller willing buyer' principle has led to claims by government that commercial farmers are inflating land prices, and counter claims from the farmers that market driven forces are pushing up land values.

Namibia could have read from the failure of the 'willing seller willing buyer' principle in Zimbabwe which resulted in restive landless peasants invading white owned commercial farms.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the 'willing seller willing buyer' principle was insisted upon by the British during Zimbabwe's independence negotiations.

The end result is that the debate over land has recently become an emotive issue, confounding fears that it could easily explode out of control.

Just like in South Africa, Namibia has a similar racially skewed land ownership pattern with black rural population confined to degraded unproductive and overcrowded communal lands.

Desirable as it might be, land reform is not only about asset redistribution.

Ideally land reform should blend in with government policy on poverty eradication, fitting in within the framework of rural development, agricultural experts say.

Even the UN under its Millennium Development Goals (MDG) acknowledges the importance of land ownership and utilisation thereof, anchoring rural development and poverty eradication.

Tempers and impatience over the pace at which the programme has progressed, could soon reach boiling point.

Nama and Damara-speaking people, for instance, have of late openly defied government appeals for patience and calm as they demand what they claim is their ancestral land violently taken by colonisers more than a century ago.

'While we are supporting government in addressing the issue of land and land redistribution, we think that we will fail in our task if we do not bring forth the injustices of land grab during the historical colonial political era,' Nama leaders said recently.

'The ancestral (land) issue is an African issue. It must be debated, it cannot be avoided. If people, whether they are black or white, say their ancestral land issue cannot be debated, they must go back to Europe because then they are not Africans,' said Lewis Awiseb, part of a group of Damara-speaking landless people who had been arrested for contempt of court after they defied a court order and occupied a farm in Ongombo West.

The Ongombo West group has made of mockery of government's land reform programme.

The group has given former colonial power Germany 30 days in which to respond to its demand for 100 farms.

'If not, relocate us to Germany if we are Germans. You robbed us of our rights, dignity, pride and rights of inheritance,' the Ongombo West group, which claims to have been made destitute because of lack of land claimed in a petition handed to the Germany embassy.

Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU), which represents black farmers, claims that government, has only managed to distribute about 5 million hectares against its target of 15 million hectares.

'Land reform has regrettably been very slow and this issue remains very critical. It also means that Vision 2030 will never be realised if people do not have access to the means of production,' NNFU president Pintile Davids told The Southern Times.

Davids claims that about 75 percent of Namibia's population is in need of land. The NNFU president said government should call for a national conference to find a lasting solution to the land issue and address the issue of ancestral land ownership.

He said the 1991 land conference swept aside the issue of ancestral land and warned of consequences should government fail to address the matter in the near future.

'It's long overdue to call for a people's conference on land to discuss the ancestral land claims which were never addressed after independence,' Davids said.

A research by local think tank IPPR urged government to take note of the rising competition for land, both at large scale and small scale.
'Competition for land has increased as a result of population increases and with it land conflicts involving entire communities.

In addition, international investors have shown interest in obtaining large tracts of land for major agricultural investments. In the freehold sector, the declining profitability of commercial livestock farming requires a new look at minimum farm sizes not only for large scale commercial farmers, but also, and importantly, small scale.'

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