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Home / Rhetoric aside, here’s the actual debate at land conference

Rhetoric aside, here’s the actual debate at land conference

2018-10-03  Desie Heita

Rhetoric aside, here’s the actual debate at land conference
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WINDHOEK – Aside from the populist rhetoric, and a sideway demonstration that accompanied the opening of the second national land conference this week, delegates must, by this Friday, reach consensus on key issues. 

Thus far crucial issues have been lost to the general reader, thanks to an over-simplification narrative span through the local media, while the foreign media focused only on how would the country redistribute 43 percent or 15 million hectares of land to previously disadvantaged people by 2020. 

However, go through the presentations made in the first two days, and the regional consultation reports put before the conference delegates, and one would see that there are specific key issues that will either make or break the conference. 
Interestingly, though, the reports indicate that the majority of Namibians, from all 14 regions, may have already reached consensus on some of crucial aspects of land redistribution, even if they themselves have yet to realise that.

 For militant and progressive youth, their goal is attaining consensus to fighting gentrification of communal land, specifically the peri-urban land, from which the poor people are uprooted with little or no compensation over the family properties to make way for multimillion-dollar developments belonging to the country’s elite. 

The much older generation - for whom measuring how a successful life was lived is through a number of livestock and traditional silos full of grain dotting the homestead - is more interested in preserving or restoring communal land to its former tribal glory where those with influence did not fence off every available inch, and fights for grazing were a rarity.
Reports to the conference speak of how people who own commercial farms still own large tracts of communal land, fenced off, and fighting for grazing and water with subsistence communal farmers.

 The nouveau rich Namibians - whose ideal wealth creation portfolio is not complete until one has dabbled into commercial farming – want reasonable prices when acquiring commercial farms, since farms prices have become exorbitant as many are registered through close corporations. 

The new moneyed want to access reasonably priced farms where they too can breed expensive livestock names, have an acre of orchards or vegetables all replete with a professional team of full time technical experts and farm managers who dully prepare dossiers with charts and financials impact reports when the bosses arrive in their expensive air-conditioned SUVs over the weekends.

 For the minority Namibians, as with all poor Namibians, it is simply a matter of having a place to call home wherever that place might be found. They are not after commercial farms or serviced urban erven in the best part of town for future real estate value appreciation. No. That’s what young working professional people want. 

And in this minority group are thousands offspring of generational farmworkers, people who each night went to bed with anxiety of having their father or uncle being dumped by the roadside from the farm where they worked due to old age, and therefore being thrown into destitution and homelessness. 

“Generational farmworkers are still being evicted and left homeless along national roads and between corridors of farms. Recognise farm workers as fellow Namibians that need to have a place they can call home,” demands the report from Oshana to conference.

“Provide priority to generational farm workers in the resettlement programme and secure their rights to land (occupancy rights in terms of commercial land),” demands the report. 
Then there are communities, such as those in //Karas and Hardap regions, who still have to pay rent to an institution such as the church, just so they continue occupying the land on which their great-grandmothers set up small homes and erected livestock klaars.

Naturally, for the white Namibians, who by any definition are Namibians as any other, the conference would need to allay the fears of rash decision that would be discriminate.

It has also become crystal clear that demand for land cannot be looked in isolation from the social economic challenges facing the country. Land redistribution therefore is about access to the economic benefits of ‘owning’ a place which one can call their own. 

“When the majority is economically excluded, it poses a real threat. It is in all our interest, particularly the ‘haves’, to ensure a drastic reduction in inequality, by supporting the redistributive model required to alter our skewed economic structure. We should all be cognisant of the fact that this is ultimately an investment in peace,” said President Hage Geingob.

Founding President Sam Nujoma surmised up well in his remarks when he noted that Namibia has a total land of 825,615 square kilometres of land, but only 362,000 square kilometres of that land is suitable for agriculture such as farming with livestock or crop production. 

But what is interesting though is that when examined deeper the calls for the consideration of ancestral land or restitution of land are not necessary tribal in their formation. Part of that calls sprout from the problem of land tenure. Consider the case of Tswana people from Omaheke, where the issue of land tenure centred on commercial farms bought by the previous Tswana Administration, which were converted into communal land by virtue of Proclamation AG 8 of 1980, in particular item 1(b) of the Schedule to the Proc. AG 8 OF 1980. 

According to the report from the consultation meetings on land, the Tswana speaking people were settled on farmland measuring about 75 000 hectares by the then Tswana Administration before independence, each allotted farming units measuring approximately 350 to 1100 hectares respectively. 

What they want is for that land to be classified as communal land for the Tswana Traditional Authority and not as resettlement farms  on which any other person can be resettled without giving consideration to the Tswana, who are in serious need of land to live on. 

“The Communal Land Reform Act of 2002 should therefore be amended to specify that all the farms that were bought by the Tswana Administration before independence are communal land, unless such farms have been transferred to individuals by the Tswana Administration,” is their recommendation to the land conference. 

Omaheke found unlikely allies in Omusati and Zambezi regions. Omusati is asking the land conference to consider that “those who were forcefully removed should be given a priority when it comes to resettlement or where land is available.” Omusati is also asking government to “conduct research to determine communities that lost land due to colonial forceful removal.”

Zambezi Region put before the conference that “ancestral land should not be nationalised, but rather should be dealt with on a case-by-case or region-by region basis due its complexity.” 

“When allocating land,” the region said, “preference should be given to those who were removed from their ancestral land.”
Nearly all regions are in an agreement that the current form of land tenure favours the moneyed people and those with power and influence. Nearly each report to the conference speaks of how the rich – both black and white - Namibians are fighting with the poor over grazing in both commercial and communal land. 

The demand is that one should not be allowed to own large tract of communal land while still owning commercial farms. Also it is being asked that a commercial farmer should not have the right to the land surrounding his farm, as that land should be reserved as grazing area for the communal farmers. 

It is specifically delegates from Oshikoto who are asking that it should be made mandatory to “relocate large communal farmers to the commercial farming areas, in order to keep communal areas for subsistence production.”
“Farmers that have enclosed large communal land must not be allowed to compete for grazing grounds outside their farms,” they demand.

The litmus test of the conference would be urban land. All young people in the country are awaiting, with bated breath, for a resolution that would ease calls for affordable urban land. 

“Although they are employed, they are most likely never to own a house should the current trend persist,” said chairperson of the Representative Council of the National Youth Council, Josef Petrus van der Westhuizen at the opening. 
Delegates from Omusati have asked that government subsidises  urban land development to accelerate land delivery both for housing and business, and local authorities stop using property developers to service land. 

“This practice is the major contributor to the escalation of land prices in towns because the developers are after profits. Local authorities should service land themselves and sell such land directly to individuals,” they recommended.  
They also recommended that relocated people or communal farmers affected by development be provided with alternative land where they would be relocated given the fact that some people are very
poor or considered for the allocation of small scale farms.

“Relocated communal farmers should be provided with alternative land and should be compensated fairly in terms of psychological impact [and] livelihood disruption,” they said. 

2018-10-03  Desie Heita

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