Landless in the land of the brave
> Tiri Masawi
WINDHOEK – Namibia, which celebrated 27 years of self-rule a fortnight ago, has evolved financially and seen its economy growing by an average of 4 percent per annum, but the country resembles an African country still dealing with colonial imbalances of mismatch in the distribution of land.
The country also faces the harsh reality of inequality where the gap between the rich and poor in terms of standards of living is presumed to be one of the worst in the world.
The country of roughly 2,3 million inhabitants, like any other country in SADC, has been following a willing-buyer willing-seller concept to distribute land to the previously disadvantaged people, mostly blacks, but this hasn’t been smooth sailing. This means the country is still to find a lasting solution to its land re-distribution challenges.
In recent months while other quarters have used different social media platforms to call for a referendum on land distribution, President Dr Hage Geingob reiterated in his Independence Day speech that land distribution remains a challenge in the country and that this needed redress.
His sentiments corroborated those of his predecessors Dr Hifikepunye Pohamba and Dr Sam Nujoma who also concurred in previous interviews with different international and local media networks that a lot needed to be done to redress the skewed land ownership in the country.
But Geingob’s frustration with the slow pace of land reform echo sentiments expressed by South African president Jacob Zuma who recently threatened to take a radical approach in redressing the imbalances in land ownership in his country.
Analysts point out that the willing-buyer, willing-seller models in land redistribution does not work, pointing to Zimbabwe which had to take a very radical approach in distributing land after it embarked on the fast-track model which saw more than 300 000 families getting land.
Although the country was slapped with economic sanctions by the West after embarking on this model, the analysts say, the positive results are now being felt as more black farmers are now producing on the land. In fact, the bulk of the tobacco in Zimbabwe is being produced by resettled farmers who last year brought in more $600 million after selling their produce through the auction floors.
Perhaps more peculiar to Namibia is that its plethora of challenges emanating from land re-distribution or the lack of it have not only been steered along commercial and communal farms, but has a slant towards urban land development as well.
The issue of land in this country is emotive like in any other country in the region where the traits of colonial imbalances have left those without land exposed to the harsh realities of poverty with no access to the means of production.
Despite the reality that many Namibians need land, be it communal, commercial and urban land, the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement believes the country has made significant strides in driving the land distribution programme through the willing-buyer willing seller model since the country attained independence in 1990.
Chief among the challenges in hastening the land reform programme and making sure that everyone has a place which they call theirs has been the unavailability of abundant financial resources to acquire the land from those that own it. There is also a serious challenge of absentee landlords who own vast tracts of land.
Ministry of Lands public relations officer Chrispin Matongela told The Southern Times that government spent a whooping R240 million to acquire land for resettlement in the last financial year, but this was still not enough.
“For the time being, I would say we are very satisfied with what we have achieved in terms of the land reform programme and should there be any changes we will gladly inform,” he said.
Perhaps while dedication of such resources to land acquisition shows the Namibian government’s dedication in driving the land redistribution programme, the availed funds are short of what is needed to acquire the land in a country where the most sought after resource is beyond the reach of many.
According to the model used in Namibia to acquire land, those that want to dispose of it need to give first preference to the government to acquire the land at a competitive rate before going onto the open market.
Another challenge is that acquisition of land in urban areas is driven through the auction system which many believe favours those with fat pockets and land developers at the expense of the poor who are in dire need.
Matongela’s sentiments also come at a time when calls for land delivery have been increasing with some quarters agitating for reclamation of their ancestral lands while most people in towns have been calling for urban land.
He also added that although progress has been made, the process has not been without challenges as sometimes the process has moved slower than expected.
He, however, reiterated that utilisation of some of the farms allocated by the government has been worrisome.
“It is still a challenge that some people who received land are not really utilising it and sometimes it leaves the impression that it will have been better to give the land to someone who can use the land better,” he said.
Matongela added, “The ministry acquired 25 farms last year alone and this might seem like it is a small number but we actually exceeded the set target that we are supposed to meet. Per year we are supposed to acquire about 90 000 hectares but we actually acquired 155 000 in the past financial year which almost doubled the set targets. That alone shows that progress is being made.” He said the ministry in its quest to hasten the process of land distribution and redress colonial imbalances had to date registered 104 792 customary land rights giving holders an opportunity to access financing from financial institutions.