The Second National Land Conference has come and gone. The foremost question among many is what it has attained. Put bluntly, was it a success or not? Yes and no, depending on which side of the land continuum you are.
From the perspective of the government, the head of state has already taken the liberty when officially closing the conference last Friday to declare it a “resounding success”.
Surely the president and the government must have their reasons. And there are some who may agree with him. Among those who agree would be those who went to this conference with little hope and confidence that their issues will at best be on the agenda, and prominently. Among them are those who have been advocating for ancestral land right claims, especially the recognition thereof, and ultimately the restitution thereof.
As many may have been aware, there was much intensive consternation and exasperation before the conference generally, and specifically if it had to be on the agenda of the said conference.
There and then such consternation and exasperation was understandable, given the public posturing, and if you like the playing to the public galleries, especially of a certain section of the Namibian electorate usually holding the electoral aces by their numeric preponderance. Thus, among the believers, adherents and proponents of ancestral land rights claims and restitution, the die had been heavily cast against their belief, and realistically so given the various official utterances leading to the land conference, all of which did little to instill in them any belief and confidences that the land conference will deliver in this regard. Hence the sleepless nights among ancestral land beholders, among them traditional leaders from the land dispossessed communities, in marathon consultations to prevail upon the powers that be, particularly the prime minister, the supreme convener and chair of the land conference, to take on board their concerns and reassure them in this regard.
Their concerns and fears, which included the elevation of ancestral land rights claims and restitution to a thematic issue on the programme of the land conference, may have been duly noted, ala the grapevine but there was never any official reassuring response, if only by written communication, to their own written plea to the PM dated September 14. Therein various civic society formations, including traditional leaders, enumerated their concern about the organisation of the land conference, including its representative nature, objecting in particular to its overcrowding with government officials, if not Swapo Party of Namibia functionaries. Although these civic organisations never received any official responding communication to their letter, signed by various formations but with the main signature of supreme chief Tjinaani Maharero of the Maharero Traditional Authority, they initially were made to understand through their various networks, some of them close to the government’s High Level Committee (HLC) for the preparation of the land conference, that their concerns were being taken on board. But somehow it later transpired that some elements on the HLC, the effective gatekeepers to the land conference, would not let go of their hidden grip on the agenda.
Meantime a document compiled by the Ministry of Land Reform was leaked with predetermined outcomes at the land conference. This was preceded by the categorical position of the Swapo Party’s Elders Council to the effect whatever the outcomes of the land conference, especially on ancestral land rights claims and restitution, they were never to be implemented by the Swapo Party administration. To some this was a clear message that the land conference was an exercise in futility. To some civic society formations this, and the equally less reassuring bid of the vice-president who had an audience with these civic organisations upon hearing a possible boycott of the land conference, was the last straw.
There and then the civic society unity became short-lived with some boycotting, with a demonstration outside the conference venue, but others taking the battle right into the halls and even corridors of the land conference. The long and short is that the conference, unlike the fears of predetermined outcomes, and which were justified for that matter considering the various shortcomings, and signals to this effect, the conference eventually has not only come up with resolutions on ancestral land rights claims and restitution, but there is no denying that indeed ancestral land rights received sufficient ventilation. Thus its adherents, particularly those taking the issue right into the conference hall, cannot but agree with the president that the land conference was a success, albeit not sure if “resoundingly’ so.
“Establish the Presidential Commission of Enquiry on Ancestral Land to
Commission a survey/study to identify communities who have lost ancestral land;
Establish the sizes of ancestral land lost and boundaries;
Incorporate a special provision in the resettlement criteria to fairly address the situation of the most affected (land dispossessed);
Generate a common understanding/consensus on the definition of ancestral land rights and restitution;
Study to determine the limit of the pre-independence ancestral claims.
Given this resolution, which as far as the adherents of ancestral land rights are concerned, is a dream come true given the various scenarios before the land conference, how can they not share the president’s notion of success. Suffice that this is only the beginning, and as they say, “the proof of the pudding is in the