• June 6th, 2020

Land conference: A layman’s assessment

It is all systems go for the organisation of the second national land conference for Namibia. The first one took place in 1991 – 27 years ago.

In that meeting, resolutions were passed that served as a basis for presumed consensus. As one listens to the debate currently pervading the Namibian society throughout the 14 regions, one gets the impression that  those understandings meant different things to different participants and the broader society and now it has gradually dawned on the nation’s leadership that all is not well. 

And so did those who had lost land through colonial genocide and the expropriation of land by the colonisers, expect that there shall be a time in the near future in Namibia when they would be resettled on their ancestral lands or given alternative land for resettlement. 

This did not happen as the nation’s resettlement program actually meant settlement of all Namibians who yearned for land, whether their ancestors had lost land or not. This in itself created a contradiction and so the nation is currently wrapped in consternation that is bordering on an explosion of tensions. 

Still, government seems to be labouring on, to at least get the land conference out of the way and see what the aftermath will bring us.

In all fairness, the 1991 land conference did not promise a redistribution of lost land and never promised that those whose families had lost land would receive preferential treatment. But the assumption, rightly so, from the members of society who lost land was that in the larger scheme of things, government would be fair in the process of resettling or settling Namibians on farmland procured by the state. 

This did not happen and charges are rampant that most of the people who are enjoying settlement on land are the ones whose ancestors never lost land. These charges play against the backdrop of the statement that must have been made by the permanent secretary charged with lands and settlements, that if he was to release the settlement records, this country will explode into a civil war.

The expectation from those whose ancestors had lost land may have been fueled by their understanding that resettlement meant settling again, descendants of those who had lost land in the genocidal and broad colonial stampede. Yet, subsequent to the first land conference it became all systems go with regard to access to land procured by the Namibian government, so much so that it seems that most of Namibians who were resettled are those who come from areas where colonisers did not take land. 

This fear is exacerbated by some statements that had emerged from the echelons of power, in the process of articulating the challenges of the business of state, as they expressed their views on matters such as genocide, ancestral land and more so the resettlement modus operandi. 

In his first State of the Nation Address in Parliament after the last national elections, President Hage Geingob must have said that he did not wish to discuss genocide and reparations for Namas and Herero’s alone, because that was tantamount to discussing tribalism.

Subsequently, the minister charged with resettlement was quoted as having said that he was perturbed by people calling for the return of ancestral land because to him this was tantamount to calling for a return to Bantustans. 

And subsequently, the same minister must have said in a television interview, inter alia, that the reason that he would not resettle poor people is because they would not contribute substantially to the economy. Needless to belabor, these statements did not augur well in society and must have left a lingering “nasmaak” in many mouths around the nation. 
Genocide and ancestral land dispossession are interlinked and hence the expectation for resettlement, not just wholesale settlement of Namibians yearning for land, many who still live on their ancestral lands.

The consensus document that was constructed in July 1991 says on ancestral rights: “Before Namibia was colonised at the end of the 19th century, the land boundaries between Namibian communities were not precisely demarcated and shifted frequently. The claims of different communities will inevitably overlap.”
It went on: “During the colonial period, there have been large population movements and a mixing of previously distinct communities. Conference concludes that given the complexities, in redressing ancestral land claims, restitution of such claims in full is impossible”. 

Evidently, this is a mouthful of a statement and unbundling it requires time. I shall however only say these boundaries have remained distinct to this day and even if there were some gray areas, we have no evidence that redressing these contestations was impossible enough for the state to forfeit the obligation for restitution of lost land. 
In the final analysis, lost ancestral land remains lost ancestral land and we cannot absolve that crime to our anticipation that our people cannot share ancestral territory. There is evidence that they can. 

In Ovitoto there are people of Oshiwambo and Khoekhoegowab ancestry sharing space with Ovaherero. In Kaoko, there is a place between Palmwag and Warmquelle called Okuvare, where people of Otjiherero ancestry share living and grazing space with people of Khoekhoegowab ancestral back ground. 

During the struggle I used to serve latter communities as envoy of the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN), to deliver drought relief aid to both and I found them interacting in mutual regard, albeit with the regular tensions that have characterised communities living together for generations throughout the world.
There are so many anomalies that suggest that the envisaged land conference will be shrouded in contestations that could drive a wedge among our communities like never before.  

And one wonders whether it is too late for the government to consider postponing the conference to a later date, to allow for further consultations in the light of obtaining and mounting tensions in our society with regard to some of the contentious issues.

New Era Reporter
2018-09-19 10:09:09 | 1 years ago

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