• June 6th, 2020

Viable solutions to the land question and its child questions

Life has many questions. One of the questions which occupied the minds of our people for more than a century is the land question. Many questions in life have easy solutions, but not all solutions also answer any question.  

Land minister Utoni Nujoma defined the land question as a political, social and economic issue. “It is about addressing dispossession, equity and promoting productive and sustainable livelihoods through implementing programmes targeted at poverty eradication,” he said.

The question is, do we get answers for questions asked from the main themes in this definition. 
The first is the dispossession of indigenous people from their land.  Dispossession means to deprive people of the possession or occupancy of land and property. Since colonisation, African indigenous people have been internally displaced from their country.  

They are deprived of their land, their water resources, their hunting grounds and their sacred sites and other spiritually significant places which were totally destroyed. Dispossessed people are literally refugees in their own land. The coloniser claimed that they had a right to ownership of the land under ‘terra nullius’, the doctrine of land without people. 
The doctrine justifies their argument that the land was “empty”, with no one occupying it.

Apparently the colonisers had a right to occupy, exploit and settle on the land. To achieve their objective they killed, massacred and exterminated the indigenous population, like the Herero and Nama genocide of 1904.  
The first solution to the land question was decolonisation of Namibia and the entire Sub-Sahara Africa. We can proudly say that political decolonisation of Africa was achieved, but the same cannot be said about addressing the dispossession from the land.

According to recently released statistics from Namibia Statistics Agent (NSA), white commercial farmers takes up about 70 percent of all productive land, while the black majority in rural areas owns 16 percent and the government owns 14 percent, consisting of national parks and local governmental areas. What could be shocking is that foreign white nationals from countries like German, South Africa, Austria , Russia America, Switzerland, Netherlands and others including Chinese own 250 farms. 

This means together commercial farmers totaling about 4000 controls over 45 percent of Namibian land mass, although ‘white’ Namibians together with foreigners make up about six percent of the population, they own 78 percent of the commercial farms. On the other hand, communal farming comprises about 138 000 households, obviously all black Namibians, on 41 percent of the available and much less productive land.

Now going back to part of the definition of addressing dispossession, there are viable solutions that can be implemented to the land question. 

Firstly, we need to educate and sell all Namibians, including white commercial farmers, the idea that this is a national project which is necessary for all of us to embrace and embark on. The process of expropriation of land without compensation, which is playing out in neighboring South Africa, seems to be less desirable for Namibia but that could only be the solution. 

Expropriation without compensation in the Namibian context might mean that we do not compensate for land but probably for some developments on the land. This is because the willing-buyer-willing seller approach has failed as a viable solution. Some stakeholders to the upcoming land conference have suggested expropriation of absentee landlords’ land instead.

This will also not achieve anything because as soon as you announce such a policy, all the farms will conveniently have landlords and we will not have anything to expropriate. Expropriation with compensation also is unachievable as prices of land will be hugely inflated. 

Given the fact that we have so many foreigners owning land, this should be the starting point. Let’s strengthen our laws to expropriate without compensation all land owned by foreigners.  If expropriation without compensation is not desirable lets determine nominal rates to pay them out. In deciding this budgetary constraints should be considered. 

Secondly, in the same way up to 60 percent percentage white Namibian commercial farms should be expropriated without compensation, targeting all those vast tracts of land which are underutilised. There is need to look at what the farm contributes to the whole value chain and ensure not to disrupt upstream and downstream industries, for example expropriating an important dairy farm providing milk to Nammilk will be destroy the economy. 

Of course there will be issues of mortgage loans on farms expropriated which could result in the collapse of commercial banks. A fund should be set up to settle these bonds and loans without paying any interest on them.

Having expropriated, land redistribution should begin by taking lessons from the resettlement programme and elsewhere. Let’s not simply move rural folk to commercial farms, but commercial farms need to remain commercial. Identification, training and financing of new farmers including ambitious agricultural graduates and former commercial farm workers is needed. Creation of all small holder farms vi-sa-viz large farms will be the solution in equitably redistributing land. We have now to develop a sustainable agro-business value chain, with industries like wineries, dairy processing plants, beef processing factories and many others to absorb our farm produce. 

The first child land question is the issue of ancestral land that could also be addressed concurrently with the main land question. What is troublesome with ancestral land will be a contestation in the determination of borders. Also as black Namibians it is tantamount to unprogressive partitioning of our country into like former ‘bantustans’ as one politician put it. 
As a Namibian, if I am from tribe A and I want to go into for example certain crop farming under the new resettlement programme, which can only be done in Kavango or Zambezi, where I do not come from I should be able to do it freely. This benefits everyone. 

Ancestral land should continue to be considered possibly in rural mentality setting and not in the new commercial farms. 
If government fails in addressing the land question through expropriation, Shimwafeni (2011) suggested that the Namibian working class should follow the Brazilian example of a Rural Landless Workers’ Movement that could occupy the underutilised farms and turn them into productive small-scale farming units. 

He also encouraged us to form a Namibian Landless Rural Workers’ Movement and organise all the laid-off farm workers. It is time for the urban and rural workers to come together

The second child question is the issue of urban land. The country is facing massive urbanisation and rural to urban migration. More land is needed for housing and industries. The solution will be to expropriate all farms within 40 km of urban centers, then provide mass semi-serviced urban land and not mass housing. 

Semi-serviced urban land means only dirty roads, water and sewers are provided. In certain cases if people are given big erven sewers can also be in the short-term replaced by septic tanks. With time people will be able to connect to sewer and electricity at their own pace with help the municipalities. 

Expropriation without compensation makes perfect sense as long as this is done as a national project and all stakeholders should buy into it. 

The land question therefore dates back then to the 1800s. Our forefathers have been resisted this occupation for years. Genocide of indigenous Africans including the Nama and Ovaherero genocide of 1904-1908 was committed, and the essence was land disposition. The desire to solve the land question also perpetuated the national liberation movement.

New Era Reporter
2018-10-03 09:19:10 | 1 years ago

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