Land reform, redistribution and ancestral land: A Case of Namibia

Land reform, redistribution and ancestral land: A Case of Namibia

After independence, the Namibian government inherited so many economic, social and political challenges under colonialism and apartheid regime and one good example is the land reform transformation agenda. But before the nation reflects on the past, present and future of the land reform few questions need clarity such as; is there a specific timeframe for solving the land saga? Are we the only country in Southern Africa which is confronted with all these unresolved land issues?

For example, what about countries such as South Africa and Zimbabwe, and what are the good lessons to be learnt from these neighboring countries in terms of successes and challenges? This is because studies have shown that they are also going through radical economic transformation to make land reform a reality. However, transformation shouldn’t be just a political rhetoric. Great leaders like Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe didn’t use demagoguery statements as an excuse towards land reform. They uncompromisingly used their legislative powers right away after independence with the aim of transforming the agricultural sector on behalf of the majority landless people.

Although their actions had some economic implications, both leaders put in place long-term strategies to overcome any external unforeseen eventuality or influence by the capitalistic white monopoly.

As a nation, Namibian government too has the same political and economic duties to fulfil and had set clear land reform targets. There are 35 million hectares of arable agriculture land of which the government committed itself to transfer 15 million hectares (43 percent) to the previous disadvantaged individuals and landless communities by 2020.

Apart from the loopholes detected now in the current land reform process, all these were supposed to be dealt with long-time. So, the people also need to know why the government took so long to do a thorough review.

Let us all proclaim that the political freedom gained in 1991 be accompanied by economic freedom otherwise we must forget about governing this country in the best interest of the next generation.

One might also further argue that ‘yes’ the struggle for liberation was about land, but why is there still a coherent blame game played by the government and its citizens regarding finding the best formula for land redistribution.
Hence, the moto ‘give land back to landless Namibians’ is been pursued. It has created unnecessary tensions among different communities and government. This is mainly because of poor land administration, favoritism, and nepotism claims regarding land redistribution.

Apart from the ignorance of foreign land lord absentees some affected communities have questioned the government developmental agenda (driven by politics) which is regarded as skewed in terms of resources allocation after so many years of independence.

Others in the political arena have viewed the use of land reform program as a political tool to win votes at the expense of those powerless communities who are in dire need in order to boost the economy when it comes to food security. Thus, the incoming land bill should address the limitation of powers vested in certain political offices and or traditional leaders to avoid abuse of power. Otherwise it can easily lead to another unwanted tribalistic slaughter houses in the regions over land disputes.

Apart from land redistribution, many Namibians including the author who lost land and suffered at the hands of apartheid needed at least their ancestral land. Many of these people aim to utilize this land for agricultural production, (subsistence or commercial), for settlement or for non-agricultural enterprises. Without this land, it will be impossible for them to participate in the mainstream economy.

That’s why in some countries governments have initiated for the promulgation of the so-called ‘Restitution of Land Rights Acts” (in line with the parameters of their constitutions), which allow for those who lost their property as a result of the past colonial laws and or apartheid to claim back their land and or just compensation. It is doable as long as there is an open and fair dialogue between the whites and black communities through their elected governments.

In fact, not all whites are bad – some are contributing to the GDP of the country through same farming activities, and while others are enjoying reconciliation, some have opted for economic sabotage like in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
But this doesn’t mean that people cannot share the land cake equally or partly, if not, then expropriation of land should follow with compensation. Those who have excess land should be compelled through the legislature to give part of it to government for redistribution purposes.

Proper regulations should be enforced to restrict foreign nationals to buy farm land. Let the policy framework be put in place urgently to look at the most productive land in the country and also work out a uniform land redistribution formula according to the needs and aspiration of the landless people. The fact is in the absence of fair land redistribution process indirect marginalization of people in some regions will continue to be evident.

In South Africa, for example, during the first 10 years into democracy, a total of 36,489 ancestral land claims were settled involving about 85,000 households. This is an achievement considering the fact that 90 percent of the land was in the hands of whites who made up less than 10 percent of the population when apartheid was dismantled.

However, people (without provoking our leaders) observed two major differences between Namibia and South Africa’s land reform process respectively which they think Namibian could also learnt a lot from.

The first is that ancestral land rights are not acknowledged in Namibia (something that needs serious review within the proposed bill provisions). This out dated decision was taken way back in 1991, where it was decided that land redistribution would be based on the ‘willing seller/willing buyer’ principle (a concept that has failed totally to date in Namibia and South Africa) and that there would also be no recognition of the ancestral land rights. This basically meant that there would be no direct land claims on individual land farms.

This was seen as a significant departure point from Namibia and South Africa land policy perspectives, which are predominantly based on this common principle. However, people have witnessed many barriers when it comes to access of land and some even lost hope in the government.

The government has negotiated the economic transformation for 27 years, which is too long.
It’s high time that the President [Hage Geingob] start touching the nerve of the Namibian economy before it is too late. Issues such as access to economic opportunities, inequality and income gabs are serious obstacles that need urgent government intervention.

The second is that the Namibian government has the right of first refusal on all land sales. This concept has been seen by many communities as bureaucratic and expensive to the government and its beneficiaries in the long-term. A good example of the land in question is the protracted negotiations without tangible results between the owner of Erindi game farm (+-70, 000 hectares) and government.

Now, for how long are the people going to wait before the matter is concluded for the sake of patience and peace in the country? One of the main reasons advanced for this slow progress experienced with many farm owners is the actual ancestral right principle where farm lands are targeted for redistribution following land claims. South Africa did it without people reverting to war or killings – why not in Namibia? So, it was implemented and all parties involved were happy. Surely, there was no chaos and or war declared apart from hatred speeches over the social media due to this claim, which is common in some parts globally. It was just about a normal legitimate claim settlement for the sake of One SA – One Nation and above all it was done solely in the spirit of the Ubuntu philosophy. Finally, in Southern Africa many agree that land reform is an essential political component of efforts to reduce poverty and inequality as it is also outlined in the Harambee prosperity plan, but some countries still find it very difficult after so many years of independence. In fact, land has been a very emotional topic in Namibia including South Africa and Zimbabwe and it is becoming more so. Further, the existing land reform process has equally ignited emotional tension and uncertainty among affected communities and further established an inherent distrust, which will benefit no one in the long run. Frankly speaking, landless Namibians deserve to panic if the government continues to ignore the plight of the electorate.

Therefore, because of so many unanswered questions we should respectfully all admit that the current pace of land transfer is horribly too slow and it needs to be accelerated through a speedy national democratic discourse as directed by the President of the Republic of Namibia.

• Dr Rudolph Kamerika is an academic at the University of Namibia and an emerging farmer. The views reflected here are not necessarily those of the university where he is employed. E-mail:

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