I start this article by cautioning against the dangers of false promises that no amount of explanation can justify. This warning is directed at our political leaders to be cautious when making public promises on land delivery because one day, the chickens will come home to roost.
It is amusing when some leaders express shock when they see people taking law into their own hands to grab land – like the recent incidents in Windhoek - to erect rudimentary structures to live in. When these incidents happen, some leaders behave as if they did not see it coming.
Lack of access to residential land and affordable housing in urban centres like Windhoek are some of the unfinished projects of the liberation struggle causing political and economic instability in Namibia. It is worth noting that Namibia inherited a biased pattern of human settlement development because of homeland policy that was put in place by the colonial governments. The Apartheid regime used this policy of separation to marginalise the majority.
Namibians were restricted to communities designated according to ethnic groupings, while a vast part of the productive communal land was converted into commercial farming units owned by European settlers. Besides, rural to urban migration was also limited by law. At independence, the new government promised to undo all the colonial legacies that contributed to the current skewed land distribution.
It is a fact that 15 years after independence, major public services, ranging from quality education, health services, employment and other opportunities could only be found in Windhoek and other towns like Walvis Bay and Swakopmund. This prompts people who, before independence, were restricted in their homelands to flock to the capital in search of better lives.
The increase in urbanisation rates resulted in the demand for affordable housing and land in urban areas. The clearest evidence of this dilemma is found in the mushrooming of informal settlements on the outskirts of our capital city and other towns. People arriving in towns found themselves on the fringes of the society due to a lack of residential land and proper housing. The government has tried to find the solution to land challenges through public intervention like National Housing Enterprise and the Build Together Programme and the mass housing programme.
But these efforts have failed to make a meaningful impact in addressing housing challenges in the country. Due to frustration, many people resort to taking land by force to erect their shacks as we saw in Windhoek recently. For the past 30 years of independence, politicians have been using the land issue to their advantage. They have been using land to canvas for political support from the destitute, promising them land and affordable housing once elected to power.
During campaigns, opposition political parties spoke out against and shun the government strategies on land reform and housing provisions, and promised to change the status quo. On the other hand, the ruling party pleaded with the people to give it more time to find solutions to land and housing challenges. This charade was repeated last year during the national elections.
For instance, the Swapo Party every election year promises for the fast delivery of housing units, thereby addressing the backlog in housing delivery and enhancing access to affordable housing for all Namibians, especially for those with lower income. The party also pledges to financially assist local authorities to increase the supply of serviced residential land.
The Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) promised to roll out a massive low-cost housing programme to ensure every family has a house complete with all basic amenities, including toilets, piped water and electricity. In Windhoek, PDM promised to prioritise urban housing reform by creating 100 000 new homeowners through the ‘One Namibian One Plot’ policy. Other political parties like the Rally for Democracy and Progress promises to reduce the price of land and to provide serviced plots in all urban centres, subsidise construction materials for both urban and rural residents and ban the practice of auctioning state land.
The Affirmative Reposition (AR) was the darling of landless youth in Windhoek. Upon its formation, the movement gained popularity through its radical land redistribution campaigns, promising to provide quality and spacious houses. Alongside AR, the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) has also gained political traction in Namibia, with a focus on the return of ancestral lands.
Now, the opposition parties that promised to change the status quo – the PDM, LPM, IPC, and AR are in charge of the Windhoek City Council, with the latter occupying the mayoral position.
It has been almost a year, and people are waiting for accessible land and affordable housing as promised. Now, those promises and the one made in the cause of 30 years of independence are haunting those who made them. The recent incidents, where land grabbers squared off with the law enforcement in Otjomuise, is a classic example of the chickens coming home to roost.
*Tulipamwe Nashuuta is a Journalism and Media Technology master student at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. Her thesis is on land reform in Namibia.