Land grabbing by the wealthy in former Kaokoland

Alexactus T. Kaure

In addition to the chunk of communal land that has already been occupied and fenced off by [name withheld pending further investigation], there are now a host of other wealthy and powerful individuals who are busy carving up communal land in and around the area of Otjindjerese/Orokapare on the outskirt of Opuwo, to set up lodges, farming or residential units.

They include [name withheld] a wealthy businessman here in Opuwo, who has bought land from [abovementioned].

Most of these illegal activities are taking place with the connivance of the police and the Land Board, as well as secretaries of some of the so-called government recognised traditional leaders (chiefs), who are not resident in the area – and not by the community at large or by the locally appointed resettlement committees.

There are some unscrupulous and corrupt individuals in the community, who are suspected of getting kickbacks to get these illegal deals to go through under the table. And when the community members ask the ‘new land owners’ as to how they got the land, their usual arrogant response is to say: “Talk to my lawyer”.

Thus without the assistance of the police or the Land Board, the community has no power to stop these illegal occupations of communal land in this part of the country, especially the above-mentioned villages of Orokapare and Otjindjerese. The problem is that those who are grabbing and fencing off land are related to people higher up in the political and security services, like the police.

Thus, despite objections and repeated pleas from the local traditional leaders and the community at large for assistance to help put a stop to, or remove illegal structures and further occupation of communal land, the Land Board has been reluctant or unwilling to intervene in this very vexed and sensitive land issue, which at the end of the day might lead to unnecessary political turmoil.

Many civil wars in Africa have been as a result of the misuse of land.

This is especially the case when the majority, who are usually the poor, are forced off the land by the wealthy and powerful in society and a handful of foreigner nationals, who have political and economic connections and ties to those in power.

As President Hage Geingob put it in 2015: “The land issue could lead to disaster if not handled carefully.”

What is taking place now is contrary to the recent pronouncement by President Geingob on poverty eradication, because by taking land which is the bloodline of the poor and who depend on land for grazing and cultivation, one is actually perpetuating poverty, perhaps inadvertently.

The community says that the President’s efforts to uplift the livelihood of the poor are now being sabotaged by the ministries of land reform, environment, agriculture and inaction by the police –some of whom are also involved in land grabbing.

It is against this background that on May 3, 2016 a Preliminary Tribunal under the chairmanship of Mr Kishi Shahumu was sent to mediate in the matter. But the judgement that pitted the community versus the land grabbers did not satisfy the community at large. The community found the judgment to be unfair, unreasonable and thus unacceptable.

The community based its objection to the judgment on the following grounds:

1. The judgment condones/justifies the unlawful and unprocedural allocation of grazing land to non-residents of the area by unauthorised residents and an outside traditional councillor without proper mandate of the chief or traditional authority in terms of the Communal Land Reform Act of 2002 (sections 20, 22, 24, 29 and 30).

2. The judgement was mostly based on alleged pro-forma consent letters, which allegedly empowered the so-called area headman to allocate land, as mentioned in the judgment, according to the letter, which was smuggled into the meeting from an observer (Ben Kapi) ostensibly to serve as evidence. This letter was not presented to the meeting and the chairman kept it secret and immediately adjourned the meeting after receiving it. This, according the community, was tantamount to abuse of power and corruption by the chairman.

3. Those so-called pro-forma letters are in contraction of a letter from Chief Tjimbuare Thom of the Vita Royal House (dated 07/07/2015), which denied that he has given any mandate/authority to anyone in his office to allocate land on his behalf.

4. Thus, the community is still standing by its original stance that the Land Board acted ultra vires and corruptly abused its power by unlawfully and unprocedurally ratifying land applications in violation of the Communal Land Reform Act. The community rejected the judgment as being unfair, baseless and in contravention of Article 18 of the Namibian Constitution.

5. The Otjindjerese Concerned Traditional Community has instructed the chairman of the three traditional leaders to launch an appeal against the Preliminary Tribunal through the courts, or alternatively to request Minister of Land Reform Uutoni Nujoma to arrange a re-hearing or review of the judgment as soon as possible.

6. For the sake of natural justice and fairness and for the community to strengthen its case the minister is being requested to provide the community with the following information: a) pro-forma consent letters b) minutes of the meeting of the Vita Royal House held on 22/01/2004, c) applications of the five applicants with their consent letters and, d) the report of the investigating team, which was Chaired by Mr Nauseb.

7. Finally, the community is requesting the minister and the traditional chiefs to put an immediate halt to any land allocation in the Otjindjerese Traditional Area while the case is still under investigation in this contested area.

Not taking action against the land grabbers – as government does with elephants and rhino poachers – would mean government is not adhering to its own laws with regard to land issue in communal areas, says the locals. The affected communities maintain that they cannot wait for the envisaged land conference planned for this year, but want an immediate response from the relevant ministries and the Land Board.

* New Era has withheld the names of two parties accused in this article of land grabbing at Opuwo, pending further investigation and verification of the facts. – Editor

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