• December 15th, 2019

On aspersions against the commission of inquiry into ancestral land rights

Engel Nawatiseb 

Aspersions and doubts continue to be cast on the work of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Ancestral Land Rights and Restitution by members of the public and leaders of communities, including traditional communities.

It is not strange that the Commission, which emanated from the Second National Land Conference, has, is and shall continue to invite negative and non-constructive comments. 

Because it has now become the business and fashion, especially by those who by their own conviction and choice shunned the Second National Land Conference, to find every fault with the Commission whether in boosting their own egos, out of exasperation and disappointment that the land conference did not fail as they had hoped it would, and perhaps regretful and shameful for betraying the mandate of the masses of landless and land dispossessed Namibians by those opting not to attend the land conference.

The essence of the liberation struggle was about access to land for productive endeavours and for the masses of the land dispossessed land remains their aspirations, dreams and hopes. 

Surely those who willfully did not attend the Second National Land Conference and thus betrayed the land trust and mandate of the landless, cannot be comfortable with the land conference, and to date in the aftermath of the land conference, one of its most tangible and visible outflows, the Ancestral Land Rights Commission. 

But against their best hopes and wishes, the Second National Land Conference came up with a host of resolutions, including the Ancestral Land Rights Commission. One cannot but be reminded of the groundswell movement against ancestral land rights, with some even wishing it not to be on the agenda of the conference. 

But following informed presentations by various experts, the conference emerged with a resolution of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Ancestral Land 

Land is a complex matter, given the fact that the bulk of it is in private hands and thus private properties of private citizens of Namibia, and even foreign owners. Such property rights are guaranteed under the Namibian Constitution. 

Government is conscious that the issue of ancestral land, definitely, may have a bearing on existing property rights of some of its citizens, and foreign citizens alike. Hence the need to approach the matter with the sensitivity it requires, and within given constitutional and legal frameworks. 

As much the government is conscious of the sensitivities and high emotions concerning lack of access to land. A factor land dispossessions and displacements invoke. 

Thus, on the issue of ancestral land rights, and ensuing claims, should there be any, given the tidal wave and opinions against ancestral land rights at the Second National Land Conference, realistically it was not and it could not have  been expected to have come up with any better proposition towards beginning to seriously  address land hunger and historic land rights, than a Commission of Inquiry. That His Excellency, Dr Hage Geingob, advised that the issue of ancestral land rights, and any claims that may ensue, must and should be treated with the requisite sensitivity, since it has the ability to cause civil war, is pertinent. 
This Commission of Inquiry, which has started its work and has lately been visiting the regions of the country conducting public hearings, certainly cannot be cast in stone. But it is a beginning as a serious and honest start had to be made sooner than later and somewhere towards unravelling the vexed question of ancestral land, and land hunger in general.

One thing needs to be absolutely clear. This Commission is just an inquiry. Wikipedia defines inquiry as any process that has the aim of augmenting knowledge, resolving doubt, or solving a problem.”  

It goes without saying that save for those who may have claim to ancestral land rights, not many of us know what ancestral land rights are and what such may entail. Hence the essence of the Inquiry into Ancestral Land Rights. This is, for a starter, the essence of the Commission of Inquiry into Ancestral Land Rights. First to familiarise itself with the subject matter, which is ancestral land, and the concomitant rights thereto that may exist. The Commission thereby augmenting their knowledge, and by extension that of the President and his Executive on Ancestral Land, and the Rights thereof.

In augmenting its knowledge in this regard, the Commission could not have done this efficiently and effectively other than, partly, through public hearings, thus thereby given those who may have an interest in the matter of Ancestral Land Rights, the opportunity to expound on their rights and claims. As well as giving others the benefit of the doubt. This is simply the long and short of the current Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Ancestral Land Rights and Restitution. 

As much as the name of the Commission speaks of Restitution, it is preposterous at this stage to speak of Restitution. First thing first and that is to establish and define Ancestral Land Rights. Going by the dictum of African Liberation, Seek First the Political Freedom, and the Economic Freedom will follow. In this vogue it is important to first establish Ancestral Land Rights, where they may exist, and subsequently to define them before thinking of any compensatory mechanism. 

It is also important to anticipate and note that for those whose Ancestral Land Rights may be affirmed by the Commission, Restitution may not necessarily be the workable and practicable redress. But this does not mean that their Ancestral Land Rights cannot and should not be affirmed. 

There are and can be no better people to affirm  ancestral land rights, and attendant claims, than the communities who  during the reign of colonial Germany, and subsequently of Apartheid South Africa, may have lost land through dispossessions and displacements.  

That is why the President  deemed it imperative for a Commission of Inquiry to conduct public hearings, especially in areas where most of the Namibian people who may have suffered land lost, were condemned to and relegated through consecutive colonial laws. These are, among others, the various current Namibian communal areas, in yesteryear Bantustans. 

Besides oral presentations from those who may have been dispossessed of land, the Commission also welcomes written submissions in this regard. And to cap it all the Commission shall be conducting researches. 

It must be made clear that anyone or any community has no political duty to attend and submit any presentation orally or written to any of the public hearings that the Commission is conducting countrywide.  But certainly all have a civic duty to do so.

This is to help in the definition of his/her ancestral land rights, and their eventual realization. Unless any individual or community helps the Commission in this regard, ancestral land rights shall never be defined, and concomitantly never be realized. 

And the clarion call for the definition of ancestral land rights, and their eventual realization in whatever way possible within the constitutional and legal framework of Namibia, shall only remain a hollow cry. Until and when the Commission submits its report to the President of the Republic of Namibia, His Excellency Dr Hage Geingob, the work of the Commission remains work in progress to which every inhabitant in Namibia is most welcome to contribute in whatever way, even through constructive criticism.

Some of the entities wishing their communities and members to steer away from the Commission, made submissions to the Second National Land Conference, meaning such submissions may now be in the public domain. 

The Commission certainly could graciously study them,  and where and if merited, rely on, in coming to whatever decision it may and can come to in their final recommendations to the President. Because it is not and should not be the business of the Commission to favour and/or disfavour any submission but to judiciously consider them in its expressed mandate if inquiry.

The Deputy Chair of the Commission, Professor Phanuel Kaapama, could not have been more consequent and categorically last week when saying the Commission is an independent entity - not here to show anyone favour, and as much here to do its work without fear.

Thus, the public and all and sundry as much cannot and should have not fear that their submissions may not carry favour with the Commission. Because this is by no means its brief to look at any submission with favour and others with disdain.

Thus as the Commission continues with its work, the public have no reason to fear making submissions to it. Because in this Commission the public have a golden opportunity to make a meaningful and constructive contribution toward the partial resolution of the land question. 

The Commission resolved to conduct its work through a three-phased programme of inquiry.   The first phase of public inquiry was to contract experts who will conduct research and write up the Historical and Legal Background of land dispossession in Namibia. The second phase of public inquiry was to invite members of the public to make written representations, testimonies suggestions, and recommendations on any aspect that relates to the Commission’s Terms of Reference. We opened up a period of one month, that is during which period members of the public could make their written representations.  

At the time of the closing of the written representations, from 20 May 2019 until 21 June 2019, the Commission had received about 85 written representations and there were few other peoples and groups who requested extension to make written representations, which the Commission granted. The public have now until 9 August for written submissions.

* Engel Nawatiseb is a Swapo Member of Parliament and Deputy Minister of Information and Communication Technology.

Staff Reporter
2019-07-23 09:18:32 | 4 months ago

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