This land could cause problems

February 6, 2017, 9:19am

by The Villager Reporters     Fri, 3 February 2017 20:31 

The land issue was one of the fundamental reasons why Namibians took up arms against the invading nations from the 1800s to the war against apartheid South Africa.

Sadly enough, if nothing is done, the same land issue could put asunder all the work done to unite Namibia and to build a nation where everybody has hopes of living like citizens. Although the land issue has been whispered about in the past, events that happened towards the end of last year indicate that action should be taken now to right whatever is perceived to be wrong regarding resettlement.

While most people would dismiss the land issue as just another tribal problem, fact is that since people are talking about it and have shown unhappiness, the government needs to assess the situation. Currently, there are calls for the second land conference, which most interest groups say should take precedence ahead of the re-tabling of the Land Bill (2016).

Land reform minister Utoni Nujoma tabled the Land Bill last year in the National Assembly but had to withdraw it in November after some opposition parliamentarians had said there was need for consultations. Although Nujoma postponed the second land conference indefinitely citing lack of funds, he is adamant that the Land Bill will be re-tabled when the National Assembly opens this year. This has, however, become the bone of contention between Nujoma and the interest groups who still maintain that the Land Bill should wait until after the second land conference has been held.

The other issue is the demand by some tribes that they should get back their ancestral lands taken by the Germans. There is also an outcry on whether those from other regions should be resettled in another region. At least, this was the reason why former land reform deputy minister Bernadus Swartbooi lost his job last year after he had said that people in the south of the country were being sidelined while those from other regions are being resettled.

Swartbooi accused Nujoma of pushing this agenda, saying that he should be called to order. When Swartbooi refused to apologise after President Hage Geingob had asked him to do, he was dismissed. The beginning of today’s problems Namibia’s land has been in the hands of two different settler regimes – the Germans and the South Africans.

The Germans flocked to the country after 1884 when Chancellor Bismarck grabbed this land which he called the südwestafrikanische Schutzgebiet or South West Africa Protectorate. Both the Germans and the South Africans were given the land taken from the natives for close to nothing. This expropriation of land came between 1906 and 1907. The affected tribes were the Nama and the Hereros who had been defeated. Although the Germans gave the Baster community a reserve at Rehoboth as gratitude for loyalty, they failed to grab land in Ovamboland from the north of the country.

The German governor Leutwein also was reluctant to invade Ovamboland and Kavango because there was no minerals and because these regions were viewed to be stronger than the small garrison that defeated the Nama and Hereros. To deal with the Ovambos and Kavangos, the Germans then created a buffer zone known as the Police Zone between the Ovamboland and the Kavango. The Police Zone was established in the areas that fell within the railway line or the main roads, while leaving Kaokoland, Ovamboland, Kavango and the then Caprivi untouched.

Natives were either banished to reserves that were created in 1912 or were allowed to own pieces of land in what was called the Police Zone. But to own land in these Police Zones, the natives were supposed to have a special permit from the governor. Some historians say that most of the natives who were allowed to stay on in the Police Zones were used as cheap labour on the lands they had lost. Six reserves – Berseba, Bondels, Fransfontein, Okombahe, Soromas and Sesfontein – were created as a result of the Police Zone. The creation of these reserves freed more than 13,4 million hectares and according to research by 1913, whites had 1 331 farms.

When South Africa took over, Pretoria established a commission in 1920 that recommended that 2,24 million hectares of land in the Police Zone should be given to the blacks. The commission also came up with the idea of dividing the land along racial.

This resulted in the creation of what were known as Black Islands. Between 1923 and 1926, the South Africans created 10 more reserves. These were Aminuis, Epukiro, Neuhof, Ojituuo, Ovitoto, Tses, Gibeon, Waterberg, Otjohorongo and Otjimbingue. After the creation of these reserves, most poor whites came in droves to take up land while more and more blacks were driven away. Dealing with the land problem In 1990, when Namibia became independent, whites owned 34 million hectares of land, while blacks had 40% of land that was under tenure system.

It was because of this that the new government held the first land conference in 1991 to correct the mistakes made by both the Germans and the South Africans. Namibia’s land reform is two pronged – Commercial Land Reform Act and the Communal Land Reform Act. The Commercial Land Reform Act was enacted in 1995 to acquire land through the willing buyer-willing seller basis from commercial farmers. This approach, however, depended on white farmers’ willingness to sell their farms for resettlement.

After realising that most white farmers were not willing to sell farms or that they were inflating prices, the Act was amended in 2003 to expropriate farms. There has, however, never been any expropriation done so far. In 2002, Namibia passed the Communal Land Reform Act that created land boards empowered with land management and allocation communal areas. This act was meant to democratise the system and accord communal farmers with tenure security.

To help farmers fund their activities, the government started the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme through Agribank. Initially, the resettlement programme was meant to target members of the San community; ex-fighters from the People Liberation Army of Namibia, South West Africa Defence Force and Koevoet; disabled people and those in overpopulated areas. The target set in 1990 was to acquire 15 million hectares - five million for the government resettlement programme, and 10 million are under the Affirmative Action Loan scheme.

So far, however, the government has acquired just nine million hectares in 26 years. The loan scheme beneficiaries got 2.8 million hectares, while resettlement received about 2.9 million hectares and about 4 million hectares went to buyers who get loans from commercial banks. Was the problems solved? President Hage Geingob told an audience at the Kennedy Harvard School in United States that the willing-buyer, willing-seller policy on land is failing.

Geingob told a Harvard Kennedy School audience in the United States in September that the willing seller-willing buyer policy had come about as a compromise. He said the policy was meant to soothe the white people, because they thought because they had treated Namibians so bad, they would revenge.

Apart from this, Namibia has not been putting in enough money in the resettlement program ever since 1990. For example, this current financial year, the lands ministry lost 45 percent of its 384 million Namibian dollars budget. In 2013, the former lands minister Alpheus !Naruseb said Namibia would need about N$370 million per year to buy 280, 000 hectares of land if the target is to be met. The government spent 290 million Namibian dollars (about 21 million U.S dollars) that bought 183, 000 hectares in 2015, while from 2003 to 2012, N$50 million per year were allocated for land reform purposes.

To date, Namibia has spent more than 1.4 billion Namibian dollars (about 100 million U.S dollars) on land reform. The reason for the slow pace, according to a study commissioned by the land ministry with the help of Food and Agricultural Organization and released in 2015, was because ever since Namibia started buying land through the loan scheme, most commercial farmers increased their prices. The report titled Study into Agricultural Land Prices suggested introducing price controls because it claimed some landowners were overcharging government. The government, the report said, was buying the highest proportion of farms at high prices, followed by the Stateowned Agricultural Bank, through its Affirmative Action Loan Scheme.

“It is safe to conclude that the government’s right to purchase as well as the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme resulted in high farm prices,” the report said.

Another factor, according to the report, which affected the prices of farms bought through Agribank Affirmative Action Loan Scheme, is that the bank calculated loans erroneously from 1992 to 2004. Although price controls can be put in place, the report said, to ensure that land prices do not exceed the operative value of farms ramifications of this approach would have to be investigated further. The report also revealed that the government has refused to buy more than 400 farms measuring 3 000 hectares between 1994 and 2015.

Furthermore, the report said the rate at which farms were rejected would significantly make it harder to acquire the targeted hectarage by 2020. Some of these concerns are supposed to be addressed by the proposed Land Bill of 2916. If that is the case, why is there so much resistance? Nujoma said the proposed bill consolidates the Agricultural Commercial Land Reform Act, Act 6 of 1995 as amended, and the Communal Land Reform Act, Act 6 of 2002 as amended into one Land Act.

Resistance and threats Prof. Wolfgang Werner, an associate professor in the Department of Land and Property Sciences at the Namibia University of Science and Technology says there is need for a proper review of 25 years of land reform. Werner, who has written extensively on land reform in Namibia, says judging from what the ministry is saying, nobody can know what they have in mind whether the conference will serve any meaningful purpose.

He also says before anything happens be it the land conference or the bill, there is need to take stock of what has been achieved so far what the pitfalls are, what the policy weaknesses are. “We do not have a proper policy. Our land policy now is 20 years old and it is wealthily inadequate for new challenges that have risen with the implementation of certain programmes and new issues that have come up,” he says. He adds that traditional authorities are stakeholders like commercial farmers as well as resettlement beneficiaries, who all have contributions to make from a customary tenure point of view that needs to be discussed.

Swanu organising secretary Unaani Kawami says the land issue must be discussed first before the bill. “If Nujoma brings back the bill before the land conference, we will debate and try to say our opinion about why the bill is not supposed to come before the land conference. Definitely, we are not going to walk out before the discussion unless we are being mistreated in parliament,” he says. Contributing to the debate in the National Assembly last year before the bill was withdrawn, All Peoples Party presi dent Ignatius Shixwameni said that the Bill needed further consultations to address and accommodate the voices of the genocide descendants such as the San, Herero, Damara and Nama people.

“The land issue is not only a sensitive issue, but a very complicated issue to just resolve without proper and wide ranging consultations. We cannot treat this issue as a casual issue. We really need to address the land dispossession that took place in the central and southern parts of the country. “The second land conference will create a platform where all voices can be heard and considerations made to address the core issues of the people of Namibia as a whole,” he said Shixwameni. Nudo deputy secretary general Vetaruhu Kandorozu says the first land conference excluded the issue of ancestral land.

“We are saying the current Land Bill must first wait for the land conference so that the outcome there can form basis of the bill,” he says. The #Aodaman traditional authority chief, Petrus Ukongo, also every person needs to be returned to their ancestral land as long as there is concrete proof. “I know that ancestral lands issue can be very confusing as more than one tribe will possibly claim that the land belongs to them. If there is proof that Namibians with ancestral land can be resettled on their land,” he says.

Although the issues of dispossession as well as that of ancestral lands are being spoken about a lot, The Villager obtained figures that show that during Alpheus !Naruseb’s administration more than 878 San tribesmen of the Hai//Om and //Om were resettled within the Otjozondjupa, Kunene, Oshikoto regions from the period 2006 to 2013. Statistics also indicate that an estimated 3 739 San people were resettled Kavango; Otjozondjupa; Ohangwena, Omaheke and Oshikoto.