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Opinion - Overview on the state of land governance in Namibia

2021-09-07  Staff Reporter

Opinion - Overview on the state of land governance in Namibia

A good and predictable land governance system is required to address gaps in the land administration system and to identify weaknesses and challenges in the overall land administration and management with an informed understanding to implement an early concomitant remedial action. The current system in Namibia discriminates against community ownership and community management, and interventions to ensure secure tenure are, therefore, urgent for the debate of the land reform process.

The ultimate goal of a human rights-based land governance system is to reduce marginality and poverty over a sustained period and eliminate inequalities that exist, especially amongst women and vulnerable groups and should achieve economic growth, foster development and secure rights of landholders and users. 

Therefore, any effective land governance must address the strategic thematic areas of the institutional framework, the legal framework of land tenure and administration, dispute resolution, land valuation and taxation, land use planning and control, management of public land and land information management (Land Governance Assessment Framework, World Bank, 2012).

Namibia has a total population of 2.4 million people with a total landmass of 825 615 km2, including 1 572 km stretch of coastline (Namibia Statistics Agency). Of the total population of 2.4 million, 70% of the population relies on agriculture in communal farming areas and freehold agricultural lands (De Villiers et al., 2019; Land governance in Namibia). 

The bigger share of 43% is commercial farmland, whereas 39% of the land is essentially communal land under customary land tenure, while the remaining 18% is government land (Mendelsohn, et al.,2013; An overview of communal land tenure in Namibia). 

This presents a particular challenge, as there is a huge demand for land, particularly from those communities who lost land during the colonial administrations of Imperial Germany and Apartheid South Africa.

The colonial enterprise of Imperial Germany and Apartheid South Africa left us with massive land dispossession, internal displacement of indigenous communities and marginalisation. 

Thus, at the end of colonialism and apartheid in 1990, more than 36.2 million hectares of land were occupied by some 6 292 farming households, which supported an estimated 2% of the population, while 33.5 million hectares of land was occupied by 150 000 families and supported more than 70% of the total population (Nghitevelekwa, 2020, Securing land rights-communal land reform in Namibia). 

While Namibia has made some progress since independence in 1990, as it specifically relates to land administration, key challenges are experienced in the implementation of the national resettlement policies, land ownership patterns, unequal and politicised distribution of land, ineffective and expensive affirmative action loan schemes/financing for agriculture products and land acquisition. 

Equally, the failure to create a deliberate class of small-scale farmers, and expansion of smallholding farmers with a subsequent and further failure to effectively address ancestral land claims, genocide reparations and continued land dispossession, define the landscape of Namibia’s land question. 

With the devastating effects of desertification and overgrazing due to congestion of communal land, which adds to land degradation and prolonged droughts, the rural-urban migration is growing rapidly, compounded with widening gaps in rural-urban poverty and inequality. 

This calls for urgent socio-economic interventions/responses to deal with informal settlements in urban areas but also to redress “pull factors” in rural Namibia to limit and hopefully eliminate urban migration. 

Land management in terms of land use planning, infrastructure development and security of tenure are key means in dealing with this rapid urbanisation. 

The state of land governance legal and institutional framework, especially in the communal land, is at crisis levels with regards to increasing cases of land grabbing, mistreatment of the farm labourers, exclusion of women and vulnerable groups from resettlement. 

These bottlenecks are preventing so many hard-working communal farmers the chance to “accumulate from below”. There is an increase in the elite capture of land and land grabbing, especially from the governing party powerful elite.

The urban land crisis is consuming Namibia, as land administrators and town councils are failing to curb the rising trend of informal settlements with utmost disgust for their human dignity. 

Yet, flats are the norm, as ruling elites and relatives obtain large swathes of urban land through corrupt land deals at the expense of urban freehold housing developing schemes. 

A new phenomenon of land markets has developed recently, which is fraught with the forceful removal of landowners from their homesteads in northern Namibia to make way for new merchants. 

This is executed in cahoots with Chinese tycoons. 

The development of nature conservancies, geared toward protecting animals like elephants, lions and leopards have increased human-wild-life conflict, with communal land that was profitable for domestic farming now becoming unliveable and dangerous for humans, such as in Kunene and Zambezi regions. 

This land grab is celebrated as a “successful conservancy programme” that placed Namibia as one of the lead conservancy nations alongside Botswana but the human livelihood and inter-generational transfer of wealth cost are ignored. 

Equally, the Namibian Constitution has not done well for those who lost land in Namibia. 

Article 100 provides that all land unless privately owned shall belong to the State. 

This means: maintain the colonial and apartheid land dispossession through Constitutional provisions. 

Article 16 provides for land ownership individually and/or in association with others. However, was there any provision made to register titles owned communally? Open access land in Namibia is abused by State institutions and tenure security lacks behind the freehold land titles. Where are the laws to protect others and not just individuals? Nowhere is historic land dispossession a key Constitutional and legal demand to redress historic injustices. 

Yet, the Namibian government pushed for a law where veterans of the so-called liberation struggle are placed as priority recipients of land in the resettlement programme. These veterans never lost any iota of land! These are grave injustices, and their continuation is an affront to restorative justice and the advance of human rights.     


* Henny H. Seibeb is the deputy leader and chief strategist of the Landless People’s Movement (LPM). He serves in the 7th National Assembly of the Republic of Namibia. This short piece was submitted to the Network of Excellence for Land Governance in Africa (NELGA). NELGA is a partnership of leading African universities and research institutions with proven leadership in education, training and research on land governance.

2021-09-07  Staff Reporter

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