Emotions flare as Namibia prepares for second land conference

By Magreth Nunuhe

Windhoek – Emotions are flaring as Namibia prepares for the second national land conference slated for the week of 18-22 September 2017 here.

The Ministry of Land Reform’s public relations officer Chrispin Matongela disclosed to The Southern Times last week that preparations were well under way with logistical reports being compiled for the conference.

“We are busy looking for interpreters, events management companies and more, and have written letters to governors and government ministries to take charge in their respective regions,” he said.

Regional consultations are to start this week on 10-11 July 12017 in Windhoek before proceeding to all 14 regions and end on 20-21 July 2017 at Katima Mulilo in the Zambezi Region in the north-east of the country.

The land conference, postponed due to financial constraints last November, comes at a time of growing unhappiness among the many landless, pressure groups, land activists, political opposition leaders and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who want to see a redress of the country’s land resettlement policy.

They say that the Agricultural Land Reform Act of 1995 has been moving at a slow pace and has not adequately addressed the issue of landless Namibian citizens who have been socially, economically and educationally disadvantaged by past discriminatory laws.

Among topics hot on the agenda is the ancestral land issue claims by ethnic groups, especially southerners who charge that they are being overlooked for resettlement at the expense of people coming from northern regions of Namibia, who accordingly have not lost land.

Organised under the land activist group, Landless People’s Movement, they have threatened to take the legal route on land reform unless there is agreement on its future modalities.

The decision to not deliberate on the issue of residential land at the landmark First National Land Conference of 1991 seem to have sparked outcries over land ownership and restitution.

The 1991 land conference dealt with issues like the challenges of accessibility to commercial land, the protection of farm workers from exploitation and the “willing buyer, willing seller” land reform policy and more.

The “willing-buyer, willing-seller” land reform policy turned into a cash-cow scheme for farm owners who have been robustly inflating purchase prices.

Government’s objective was to propel government’s target of acquiring 15 million hectares of land by 2020, but it has been facing challenges to implement land reform since independence because of some commercial farmers who are either unwilling to sell commercial farmland or offer it at exorbitant prices to the State.

Land division mostly benefitted the white minority during colonialism, constituting only about 0.2 percent of the population, who took up about 50 percent of the country’s agricultural land.

Despite numerous appeals to land owners to sell their land at fair market related prices, the Agricultural Land Prices Study report (2012) revealed that government has been buying the majority of farmland at exorbitant prices.

The bill to purchase resettlement farms ballooned from N$20 million to N$50 million per annum after 2004, while an addition of about N$20 million per annum was deposited into a Land Acquisition and Development Fund created in 2005.

Not only is the “willing-buyer, willing-seller” land reform policy a pain in the neck, but the identification, profiling and selection of beneficiaries remains a daunting exercise for government.

There have been arguments that the current resettlement models seem to focus mainly on livestock farming, thus rendering the bulk of land being offered through the “willing buyer, willing seller”, which is unsuitable for resettlement.

The Ministry of Land Reform has revised its resettlement policy framework and proposed three modalities to address specific land needs of target beneficiaries that are to be discussed at regional consultations and the upcoming conference.

In order to limit competition across beneficiaries when it comes to applying for resettlement, land will be identified, profiled and acquired targeting specifically the resettlement of potential beneficiaries under a given model.

The Lands Ministry has come up with three models, namely the High Economic Value (Commercial) Model (HEVM), Moderate Economic Value (Semi-Commercial) Model (MEVM) and the Low Economic Value Model (LEVM).

With the HEVM, government mainly targets empowerment of landless commercial farmers farming on leased commercial agricultural land, which is privately owned or belonging to local authorities. Land should not be partitioned or subdivided into small portions because of environmental protection and productivity.

“The aim is to target a few carefully selected practicing farmers who have demonstrated willingness and ability to farm and offer them a chance to access commercial farmland with more secure tenure rights,” says the revised policy report.

When it comes to the MEVM, government targets established communal farmers whose farming enterprises’ success are threatened by the environment in which they are operating, that is, shared grazing which often is not well managed.

“This is the bridging model between HEVM and LEVM.

It targets to provide access to land to people who have demonstrated through their ongoing farming ventures in communal areas that they are able to farm commercially if given the opportunity,” reads the revised policy.

Lastly, government targets landless citizens who are neither farming in communal areas nor leasing on privately owned commercial farmland.

It also includes those with or without capital, those with access to capital (bank loans, cash or livestock) or are low to middle income earners or have no income.

This includes former farmworkers, retired professionals or pensioners who are in formal employment but have no income to secure a place to live.

Government also questions whether those who were allocated land under the current system have been using it to the greater good of Namibia and if not, that the current system should address the challenge – another issue to be addressed at the land conference.

July 2017
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