Just two quotations to set the stage:
The “pace of acquiring land meant for resettling formerly disadvantaged landless Namibians is not moving fast”. ‑ Namibia Lands Minister Hifikepunye Pohamba, February 2004
“Many revolutions were started by landless (people)... Why can’t we move faster on the issue of land? If you are not careful, it could become a problem...
“We don’t have to retaliate, but let’s be reasonable. We have to look at the situation with big eyes – with a view to sharing the land.” ‑ President Hifikepunye Pohamba, March 2010
Both before and after these public proclamations, President Pohamba has – I am fairly certain – talked several times about the agonising pace of land reform in Namibia.
Some will view the discussion of land as an “old story”, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The land question is very much a part of who we are and what we will become.
So why then is land reform progressing at such a torpid pace, not just in Namibia but also across just about every country that had a significant European settler community through colonialism?
“Minister of Lands and Resettlement, Alpheus Naruseb, told the (US) Ambassador on 13 August (2008) that expropriation of land (eminent domain) should be a last resort, and that he intends to allocate land without antagonising key stakeholders and ensure it remains productive.
“He lamented that a majority of resettled farms are idle, and said government should provide them more support, ideally with the assistance of the international community.
“He praised white farmers for their outreach to emerging commercial and resettled farmers and said the Zimbabwe contagion was unlikely to spread to Namibia because land here is plentiful.”
This is taken from a WikiLeaks cable detailing a conversation between the minister and Washington’s then top diplomat in Windhoek, Denise Mathieu.
Before we go further, one thing should be made clear.
The leaked diplomatic cables do not reflect exact words or sentiments expressed by the people meeting US Embassy officials.
They are merely the interpretation by the embassy staff and thus should not be taken as the Gospel-truth reproduction of what was said in what were confidential meetings.
What they do give, though, is a general feel of policy positions.
And there can be no mistaking that the general sentiment of the Namibian government is that the kind of land acquisition that Zimbabwe embarked on is not best for Namibia.
And that is fair and fine; each sovereign has the right – blood-bought I might add – to determine what policies are best for it.
The question though is, if Namibia has abundant land and competition for the resource is not as bruising as it was in Zimbabwe, why then is land reform not moving at a much faster pace?
Is it advisable for the state to wait for the situation to get as bruising as it got in Zimbabwe?
Namibia is fortunate in that it has more breathing room on the matter than Zimbabwe because it has a smaller population but a larger land area.
Namibia’s population density is about 2.5 people per square kilometre, compared to 32.5 (2010 estimate) in Zimbabwe.
Of course, not all the land is suitable for farming and not all people are even interested in farming.
Further, since 1980 Zimbabwe has resettled well more than 300 000 families whereas those seeking farm land in Namibia are believed to number around 50 000 thousands families. So certainly, the land pressures in Zimbabwe and Namibia are different and hence should be treated accordingly. But that is not to say the problem is not urgent.
Some will recall how in 2004 Namibia’s farm workers’ union threatened to invade commercial farms. They said this would be “land-sharing and not land-grabbing”.
Relate this to President Pohamba’s admonition that landless people have started many revolutions and you start getting the idea that this is no small matter. So what is the government doing to ensure the Zimbabwe “contagion” does not spread to Namibia?
Recently we read about how the government was trying to speed up the transactional process of acquiring commercial farms.
In essence, the new thrust allows those holding vast pieces of land to tell the government sooner rather than later that they do not like the state’s valuation of the price of the land and that they have thus withdrawn the offer.
This means the government will not spend a lot of time going back and forth in trying to negotiate with farmers. What does this materially change? How does this in any way increase the pace of land redistribution?
The caution being displayed by the Namibian government, as is evident with other African countries facing land pressures, is understandable.
Zimbabwe has gone through a nightmare for daring to repossess its land. Whatever the Namibian government decides is its justified course of action, but mollycoddling a few individuals who have thousands of hectares while tens of thousands of indigenous families clamour for a place to call home will certainly not go down well with the land-hungry.
There comes a time when we have to stop pampering the already pampered.