Emotive land issue needs decisive redress

By Dr Ngarikutuke Tjiriange

WINDHOEK  – In one of the local newspapers an article said that 65,000 hectares of private game reserve are intended to be sold on the open market possibly to a non-Namibian buyer.

I was shocked and agonised for a moment before I decided to write this article. What came to my mind immediately is what Chief Samuel Maharero did when Germans wanted land from him. He simply sent people to get a basket of sand and gave the Germans that sand instead of selling his land. Equally, I remember when Chief Kahimemua Nguvauva said: “While I am alive I will never give land to strangers.”

This year we are going to have a second land conference. This conference is very important and a serious event. The person who is going to be at the helm of such a conference must be capable and live up to the expectations of the nation. The right person to chair such a serious conference is our President Hage G. Geingob, who has a brilliant history of chairing the Constituent Assembly, as well as being a prime minister for a long time and who had also chaired a similar first land conference.

The issue of land is an emotive one and people should be very sensitive when dealing with this rather serious national issue. The unanimous feeling of the indigenous people of this country is that they were mercilessly driven into substandard areas known as ‘Native Reserves; while their ancestral land was taken by force and became commercial farms of people from other countries. Although we should welcome people from foreign countries in our motherland, there are certain things that we cannot simply do or make available to people from other countries, since by doing so we run the risk of disadvantaging and jeopardising the future livelihood of the very same people of our country whom we have liberated. I have raised this issue in the past and now that it seems to be persisting it might be appropriate to emphasize it again.

In this regard we surely have to be careful not to forget that after independence we took over a country where the government was faced with lots of challenges. One of such challenges and problems was the most visible inequitable ownership of land. The ownership of land in the country is terribly skewed towards the white people, both local and foreign. The land, property and wealth expropriation which was carried out by successive colonial administrations was the genesis of that inequitable property and land ownership, which left the black people of this country landless in their motherland. The land, which belonged to the ancestors of the black people of this country, has become the property of those whose ancestors expropriated the land through colonial confiscation.

It will even make things worse and not be in the interest and benefit of the people of this country if the land of our country is recklessly sold to non-Namibians. The important thing we have to recognize is that it is obvious that the struggle for independence was fought not only to eliminate colonial oppression but also to remedy the situation under which most of the people were made landless.

After independence the government tried to solve this untenable situation in many ways. However, Article 16 (1) of Chapter 3 of the Constitution of Namibia, read together with Article 25 (1) of the same Chapter 3, made the efforts of the government intangible if not impossible to achieve its goals when it concerned the land owned by minority Namibian citizens and foreign nationals.

The only realistic solution to this problem is provided in Article 16 (1) of the Constitution which states: “Parliament may by legislation prohibit or regulate as it deems expedient the right to acquire property by persons who are not Namibian citizens.”

This provision will enable the appropriate minister to approach Parliament to pass a bill which will prohibit the right of foreign persons to acquire land in Namibia, which is indeed the vital heritage, indispensable, essential and valuable asset of the people of the country.

As much as it is important for us to welcome foreign friends in our country who really supported us very much during the protracted struggle for independence of our motherland, such foreign friends may be free to use the land only through usufruct since the people of this country fought and died for their land. Therefore, foreigners should not be allowed to buy land in Namibia.

Another reason for not selling land to foreigners is that foreign people have access to foreign currencies and are finding it easy and cheap to buy land in our country whereas our own people will never compete with them. The result and effect of this is that the prices of the land are going up since these foreign buyers do not mind to pay whatever amount is requested from them and the sellers of the land take chances with this situation and hike up the prices of land. Under these circumstances we may be losing our land forever without realising it.

This situation is serious, dangerous and untenable. The question we may ask ourselves is what really big difference does it make for the land hungry people between the past situation, where the land was taken by force, and the situation whereby foreigners leave their countries and are allowed to buy land which ought to belong to the people of our country, but who cannot afford and compete with such foreigners for reasons beyond their control? The time is long overdue to stop the practice of selling the precious land to foreign persons and in the process subjecting our people to unaffordable and ever increasing land prices.

No nation can regard itself as totally free when its precious and indispensable heritage, which is land, is slowly and surely becoming a property of people from other countries and the heirs of ancestral land are slowly and surely reduced to landless “foreigners” in their own country.

Therefore, our foreign friends must accept the fact that the independence of Namibia without land will make such independence meaningless to the people; hence it is just prudent for the state not to allow the selling of land to foreign people.

It is therefore unacceptable that 65,000 hectares of private land are now being contemplated to be sold to a non-Namibian buyer. This surely will trigger the discontent of landless people, which may result in turmoil.

• Dr Tjiriange is a former Secretary General of Swapo Party, former Minister of Justice and former Minister Veteran Affairs.

July 2017
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