The land issue: we need another conference

The land issue:  we need another conference

Upon ascending to power in 1990, the Swapo-led government declared its plan of transferring land to the landless and agreed to a Constitution in which the property of citizens could not be expropriated without just compensation.

The struggle for independence was first of all a response to the colonial land theft, which formed the basis of apartheid and labour mistreatment. However, giving back the stolen land and distributing it equally for development and national reconciliation has proven to be a mammoth task for government.

A year after independence in 1990, the Swapo-led government, joined by the opposition parties, steered a national discussion on the land issue, which culminated in the National Conference on Land Reform and the Land Question, which was held in Windhoek from June 25 to July 1, 1991.

The purpose of that conference was to agree on issues pertaining to land and ultimately to come up with recommendations to advise government on a land reform policy and a plan of action for the enactment of the required changes.

The subject of land has, therefore, been on the development agenda in Namibia before and after independence.
In truth, the 1991 Land Conference seems to have focused mainly on agricultural land and the issue of residential land was not deliberated on. The resolutions of that conference focused on issues, such as foreign ownership of land, underutilisation of freehold land, expropriation of absentee landlords’ land, the sizes and ownership of several farms, land tax on commercial farms, issues related to communal land, among many others.

Nonetheless, since the abovementioned conference, the government has kept its promise by pumping money annually into the acquisition of land in commercial farming areas to resettle the landless. This has been done, thanks to the Swapo Party for keeping their election manifesto promises!

As a result of these documented and practical efforts, some 2.5 million hectares of commercial land has been acquired to date, on which thousands of landless citizens have been resettled.

Over the past years, the Swapo-led government has kept its promise to accelerate the acquisition of land to resettle indigenous communities.

For example, in its 2014 election manifesto, the ruling party promised to acquire 2.5 million hectares of land under the National Resettlement Programme by 2020, thereby reaching the 5 million hectares of land target since the genesis of independence.

In fact, the Ministry of Land Reform is set to get N$807 million from the national budget during the current financial year for the acquisition of commercial agricultural land in an effort to speed up the pace of redistributing land and resettling disadvantaged Namibians.

In addition, the Swapo-led government has also vowed to continue applying the willing buyer, willing-seller policy, while continuously reviewing the same.

Yet, given all the successes and new promises mentioned above, Namibians’ current call and hunger is for serviced residential land. The governing party, through its 2014 election manifesto, pledged to provide funds to local authorities for the servicing of municipal residential land.

Although supplying serviced land is one thing and building houses is another, the government’s effort to support local authorities is equally important. The urban land issue – which the 1991 conference interestingly decided not to discuss – has come back to haunt the government of the day, as witnessed during the mass land applications late in 2014 and early 2015.

There is thus an urgent need for a National Conference on Urban Land to be conducted.
Although nearly N$1 billion is set to be spent on agricultural land acquisition, more money should indeed be spent on acquiring farmland around the city for residential purposes, for servicing of land and the eventual construction of houses.

Government’s latest relaunch of the Mass Urban Land Servicing Project is laudable and could in the long run provide the answer to the shortage of serviced residential land, provided every Namibian comes on board voluntarily. The acceleration of land servicing is thus important, if the country is to have sufficient serviced land for everyone.

One of the leading causes of the high demand for residential land in Namibia is the rate of urbanisation. Namibia’s fast-increasing urbanisation is the effect of relocation from villages, as well as regular population increase, leading to the expansion of regional capital cities.

As more people relocate to urban centres, the focus of development must therefore be double, focusing on rural development and rapid industrialisation, that could contribute to economic growth.

With economic growth, urban poverty and unemployment could be reduced, or contained within reasonable lower levels.

Although rural development is costly, national efforts should be redoubled towards providing basic services, such as water, electricity, roads, and mobile and TV network coverage, among many other things, in almost every village.
Such infrastructure enables small businesses with high potential of creating job opportunities to be set up in the rural areas, thereby limiting the rate of migration of people to cities.

Namibia needs to accelerate decentralisation. This is another key tool Namibia can use to successfully manage urbanisation. Public services and various administrative arms should be extended to small towns.
Decentralisation should not only be limited to services, but also capital government projects. This prevents the relocation of people from rural to urban areas in search of jobs.

Another direction that Namibia could go is to establish various banks that will deal with the finances needed for servicing urban land. Just as we have Agribank, which provides loans for agricultural purposes, Cabinet should resolve to introduce 1) a State-owned enterprise that will only service land; 2) a Land Servicing Bank that would offer loans to local authorities for the acquisition and servicing of land, thereby increasing the output of serviced residential land; and 3) a Housing Bank, that will issue loans to lower income earners to build their houses.

The land servicing and housing banks would then provide subsidised loans to local authorities to service land and to lower income individuals to build houses of between N$50 000 and N$200 000, repayable over 20 years, with say a one-year grace period and an interest rate ranging from 2% in year two to 5% from year ten.

Government should further set up an institution that will deal with relocation of farmers who own land around urban centres and sufficiently compensate displaced farmers on the outskirts of towns who are making way for urban development.

Urbanisation is good, but could be painful if displaced farmers from land around our towns are not well compensated. It is time for new ways of compensating those affected by urbanisation. This can be done for example by government or the business community connecting the soon-to-be-displaced farmer who owns the land to an investor who will set up a factory.

All the abovementioned proposals are possible, provided all stakeholders come together through an urgent National Conference on Urban Land.

Resolutions from such a conference could then be used in guiding government policy on vital components to be included in the fifth National Development Plan (NDP5). This engagement would also pave the way for the realisation of Vision 2030’s goals and objectives.

* Indileni Set Sam Iipinge is a civil engineer and youth activist from Okau Kamasheshe village.

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