Namibians’ relentless claims for ancestral land

By Magreth Nunuhe

Keetmanshoop – Inhabitants in the southern parts of Namibia are persistent that the issue of ancestral land must be addressed at the second land conference as a matter of urgency and that an amicable solution must be found so that it does not lead to unnecessary conflicts and fights among Namibians over land.

Southerners say that they have been dispossessed of their land and history is there to prove that they were robbed of huge tracks of land by German colonialists during the late 1800s to early 1900s and by the subsequent South African colonial rule from 1915 to 1990.

They also charge that the incumbent government has been sidestepping them for resettlement in areas where they live, while giving preference to people coming from other regions.

The Ministry of Land Reform, which is to host the second national land conference during the week of 18-22 September 2017, has revised its resettlement policy framework and proposed modalities to address specific land needs of target beneficiaries.

Regional consultations were held in July 2017 on topics to be addressed at the land conference, but Namibians are divided on whether the ancestral land issue should be entertained at that conference.

Some chieftainships in the north have rejected the notion of ancestral land claims, maintaining that the issue would promote tribalism and Bantustans – something they have fought against during the apartheid era.

However, the many landless across the nation, pressure groups, land activists, political opposition leaders and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) want to see a redress of the country’s land resettlement policy.

Johannes Isaac, chief of the /Hai-/Khaua Nama tribe in southern Namibia, said that land is source of life.

“They know it is unfair treatment of our people in the south. They know our people were robbed of land and that our ancestors lost their lives in the process,” he stressed.

Isaac said that the German traders came and traded cheap goods for land, but when the people realised and rejected their goods, they took land by force.

However, the chief was quick to caution Namibians not to be hostile with each other, but to try to find solutions, saying, “there are so many avenues. For now, we must just try and see how to exhaust all avenues”.

Adding to Isaac’s sentiments, Stephanus Goliath, deputy chief of the /Hai-/Khaua Nama tribe said: “We must see if there is no amicable solution to handle the land issue so that it doesn’t lead to unnecessary conflicts. Any stumbling blocks must be identified; we must find out ways to avoid the conflicts. It can be done by those who make overlapping claims, but the State must not use that as reason to ignore the ancestral land issue,” he stressed.

Goliath reckoned that the main reason why the first Namibian land conference in 1990 took the ancestral land issue off the agenda was because of the overlapping claims that different ethnic groups made over the same areas, but that should not be reason enough to completely scrap the issue off the agenda during the second land conference.

“It seems that those at State (government) and in charge of land are taking offense when there is talk about ancestral land – something I don’t understand. Myself, as a person who also contributed to the liberation struggle, land was part of the total liberation of Namibia. I cannot see how anyone can take offence and it is unnecessary to see why there is the conflict between those in charge of land and those dispossessed,” he said.

Goliath said that government should instead take the responsible role of helping the landless in getting their land back, while overlapping claims on ancestral land can be addressed at the conference.

“The liberation struggle I took part in was about land. You can get Namibia but if you are landless, you have nothing,” he said, adding that he thought with independence, Namibians would get back their land only to realise that after 27 years, the land is still not in their hands.

He called on government to lead the way wisely and listen to the concerns of the people instead of pointing fingers at those who bring up the issue of ancestral land, while calling on Namibians to speak the same language on the issue.

Goliath, who also spoke last week at a gala dinner organised by the Landless People’s Movement in the southern town of Keetmanshoop, reasoned that the San were singled out and given a special status as marginalised people, but it becomes tribalistic when referring to the Namas as landless people.

“Were those who gave them (San) that status not making tribal references? The moment and time has arrived for us to demand that which is ours. I refer to all those who have lost land. It is not a Nama issue – it’s an issue of those who have lost land. We cannot stand and act as spectators,” he pointed out.

Clinton Swartbooi, beleaguered former Deputy Minister of Lands and Resettlement and founder of the Landless People’s Movement (LPM), added his voice to the ancestral land claims, saying that those who question the land and landlessness are effectively liquidated.

“We are reminded that we have to think deeply about the evolution of the Namibian nation,” he added.

Gertjie Witbooi, a small-scale farmer from Aroab living at Dickbush in the south, said that they have been waiting to be resettled since the resettlement programme was implemented in 1994.

“Last year we started enquiring why the Aroab farmers cannot be resettled, but we got no answer. We applied for land but until now we did not get any response,” he added, saying that there are 45 unallocated farms in the area, but they are not considered to settle on any.

He said that they are about 20-25 farmers and their families who live on state townland and have to make do with 1700 hectares of land, which is inadequate for farming.

The small-scale farmers, who are represented by the Legal Assistance Centre, were given until 22 September 2017 to vacate the government farm, which they allegedly occupied illegally.

The next case was to be heard on 31 July 2017 in the High Court.

“We did not invade the farm as reported in the media. We went to the police to ask for a peaceful demonstration, but we were locked up. On 20 October 2017, we went to give in a petition to the governor who is also the chairperson of the resettlement committee. Until today we got no answer. On the 27th of October 2016, the governor instead evicted us and did not resettle us,” Witbooi said, ruefully.

Witbooi vowed that they would not get off the land until they get land.

“We want to know how a commercial farm owner from Omaheke Region (in eastern Namibia), who already has communal land can be resettled here on communal land. We must go to the High Court on 27 July 2017 to be evicted from the farm. But we won’t go. This struggle is coming after 26 years. It is from generation to generation. We want answers. We want land. We don’t want to fight,” Witbooi declared.

He said that they have written letters to all concerned, including Parliament, the President, and the Ombudsman, to no response.

He charged that they were being discriminated against.

“We want to be at the second land conference so that we can tell them that everyone must be resettled in their areas. Our people are also veterans who fought for this country’s liberation. We will apply for a review of all the farms in this area. Someone must ask the judge why we cannot be resettled,” he said.

Hendry Beukes, a fellow farmer with the Witboois, said that it was a painful story that since 1987, they have been applying for land as Aroab small-scale farmers.

“I am in a free government but there is discrimination against my group. If someone comes from another area, then they qualify for land but not us. When you are 60 you don’t qualify for resettlement, but people coming from somewhere who are already 65 qualify,” he charged.

Beukes said that his area was marred with high unemployment and land acquisition was the only way to eradicate poverty.

“We believe that if we can be resettled, we can help our parents. There are commercial farm owners who want to help our parents, but because our parents do not have land, the farm owners can’t help them acquire cattle,” he added.

July 2017
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