“They (commissions of inquiry) have different status and take various forms but, in common with Royal Commissions (United Kingdom), seek to broaden the basis of public policy-making beyond government, Parliament and interest groups, through engaging a wider range of participants in a more public arena to generate new ideas, develop consensus or to confer legitimacy upon controversial government policy plans.”
Yours truly is deliberately borrowing this excerpt speaking to the commissions of inquiry in general in the United Kingdom given the glaring total lack of understanding among Namibians of all intellectual backgrounds about the functions and role of particularly the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Ancestral Land Claims as announced last Thursday by President Hage Geingob
Already criticism has been flying thick and thin since the announcement, and certainly given the contagious lack knowledge that the President and the commissioners must and should expect more criticisms, reservations, misapprehensions.
So far the criticisms that have been filtering through leans towards representation rather than the competence, integrity, ability and aptitude of the commissioners. At a first cursory glance one could not but come to the conclusion that more consideration or weight was given to representation, than anything else.
The nomination and selection and/or appointment of the president of the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU), who is known to be an ardent if not diehard champion of the interests of commercial farmers, was questioned.
It is hard to understand what value he is likely to add to the commission, and its essence and purpose, which is foremost to investigate ancestral land claims, than to protect if not shield and buttress the interests of commercial farmers against die swart gevaar van voorvaderlike land eise?
In the prevailing ancestral land deficit and disequilibrium in Namibia, there are two interest groups that matter most; the land barons (commercial farmers or owners of land) and the land dispossessed.
Commercial landowners, needless to say, are represented by Van der Merwe.
But who are the land dispossessed represented by on this commission?
Then there is Uhuru Dempers. It is well known that Nangof-Forum did some work on land, including ancestral land and thus their work could be instructive to the commission. But on the flipside it is well known that Nangof has somehow been a champion of the landless and/or land dispossessed, which is not bad thing in itself.
But is the commission looking for champions of one or the other interest, or meant to be a conglomeration of various lands interests?
The same can be said of Josef Petrus van der Westhuizen, who as a National Youth Council Representative Chairperson, cannot but favour the interests of the youth. Again without faulting his dutifulness to the cause of the youth, is that what the commission requires?
One cannot but disagree with those criticising the commission for lack of representation. One would understand if criticism is whether the commissioners in the first place have a deep understanding of the history of land dispossession in Namibia. But looking at the appointees, with few exceptions, one cannot but seriously doubt how conversant they are with such a history to be able to understand the complex issues underlying land dispossession, and subsequently the delicate compensation issue upon establishing ancestral land dispossession.
One cannot really understand the evident fixation with representativeness of the commission as if in the first place it is the business of the commission to represent any sectarian interests.
The expressed and explicit mandate and brief of the commission is and cannot be less or more, than inquiring into ancestral land claims, and after such inquiry judging whether they are justified or not, and to suggest and/or propose how those who have been proven to have been unjustly dispossessed of their ancestral lands can be compensated.
This is how the mandate of this commission can be summurised. There is thus no room for representativeness as opposed to impartiality, good judgment, good comprehension of matters and issues as submitted, and the analysis thereof in a completely detached manner and devoid of any interest by any of the commissioners.
If any commissioner thinks they are there to champion any land interest, and/or to stop any ancestral land lobby from being heard and/or presenting their case and cause to this commission, then such commissioner is definitely on the wrong commission.
Because it must be emphasised that it is and cannot be the business of any commissioner, nor the entire commission collectively, to voice or favour or seeming to be voicing or favouring the land interests of nay would-be ancestral land claimant, or siding with those opposing such claims. Because the commission is just an independent arbiter in this regard.
This means there must not even be any perception and suspicion in any single commissioner of representing the interest of anyone. Can one really avoid such perception in personas like Van der Merwe, let alone those with ancestral land claims, should they sit on the commission? Surely this is inviting absolute lack of confidence and integrity in this
It is the presence of people with obvious land interest that is giving rise to perceptions of the commission being purely an appeasement.
Given this apparent apprehensions and suspicions, the commission definitely has its work cut out.
But what can elevate the commission and gain it the confidence is the integrity, fortitude, foresight and judiciousness of its members. And ultimately once it has gained the requisite confidence among the public, the quality and substance of the submissions of the public, as well as its willingness to cooperate with it. Because in the face of qualitative and credible submissions, testifying convincingly to historic land dispossession whether by the Katjiuonguas/Rukoros for Okakango, Muundjuas for Goreangab Dam and surroundings, van Wyks (Sperrgebiet-Rehoboth), etc., is to the commission of little consequence.