Land reform essential to address historical injustices

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Magreth Nunuhe

Windhoek – While the debate on the land issue reached a boiling point in some Southern African nations, Namibia has stopped all discussions about land until the second national land conference takes place this year at a date not yet specified.

In the South African parliament, the issue of land is scratchy following a vote in favour of a motion to expropriate land without compensation – a stand some say may have long-term negative repercussions for that country’s economy.

On the other hand, the Zimbabwean government, which for long suffered economic sanctions after it confiscated farms owned by whites in early 2000 under former President Robert Mugabe, has under new President Emmerson Mnangagwa maintained that it will compensate the former white farmers in terms of its laws.  The government's position has been that it will only compensate for the improvements made on the land such as dams, irrigation systems, houses and other infrastructure, and not for the land itself. 

But in Namibia, members of the National Assembly, mainly from the ruling Swapo Party, shot down any discussion on land saying it must be discussed at the second land conference.

The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Land Reform, Peter Hamutenya, said they were still consulting on an appropriate date for the land conference, but it will definitely be before the end of this year.

Responding to questions whether Namibia was also thinking of expropriating land without compensation as in South Africa, Hamutenya said in Namibia, there should be just compensation as set out in the Agricultural (Commercial) Land Reform Act of 1995 unless amended.

He did not want to dwell too much on the subject, saying he would rather leave it to Parliament to decide.

But the opposition parties, especially the Swanu, which has been one of the most vocal opposition parties on the land issue, is perturbed that they have to wait for the second land conference to discuss land matters.

“I gave the notice to table a motion so that the National Assembly can agree to request organisers of the second land conference to put on the agenda the (issue) of land expropriation without compensation, but Swapo objected,” lamented Swanu president Usutaije Maamberua.

He said the idea of expropriation of land without compensation is not new and is not in reaction to the motion passed in the South African parliament, but that his party “has been saying this all along”.

Maamberua added that there are clauses that need to be relooked or abandoned, in particular the property clause (Article 16 of the Namibian Constitution), which says that “all persons shall have the right in any part of Namibia to acquire, own and dispose of all forms of immovable and movable property(…)”.

The Swanu president maintained that Zimbabwe’s route of confiscating land from white farmers at the time was still the best move and that Mugabe must be called to come and advice on how to go about it in Namibia.

“We have a workable plan. We are going to take the land,” he lashed out, saying one of the plans was to heavily tax excess land so that the owner is forced to surrender the excess land to the State.

He said there was a lot of idle land in the country, as many farmers own excess land beyond their specified allocated portions.

“We won’t send the army. We have a workable plan – there will be no bloodshed. It’s a question of political will,” enthused Maamberua, adding that they have dreamed long for land to be expropriated without compensation.

South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was recently in Namibia on a courtesy visit to meet his counterpart President Hage Geingob, said at the time that the motion to expropriate land without compensation really had its genesis at the 54th African National Congress (ANC) conference representing almost 4,000 branches of the ANC.

“This is now the time, the hour and the moment to address the land question because a great part of the land in our country is still owned by the minority,” he said during a live interview with the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).

Ramaphosa said South Africa now needed to speed the land reform process, adding that “yes, we must reform and be able to expropriate land without compensation, but making sure that the economy is not negatively affected”.

He did not give specific mechanisms on how to go about it but emphasised the need to ensure there was a boost in agricultural production, which would see the land issue addressed in a positive way.

“We should take away the panic and the fear that is instilled in the hearts of a number of people in our country. We are going to handle this issue very responsibly - to make sure that as our people get access to land, we do it in a way that we see as part of the economic growth path of our economy,” said Ramaphosa.

But critics argue that expropriation without compensation could be a disaster in South Africa and can have a negative impact on the banking industry, in particular the capital base of agriculture, while changing the constitution could erode property rights.

But Herbert Jauch, a union expert and political commentator, maintained that land expropriation without compensation is a critical instrument for meaningful land redistribution and is essential to addressing historical injustices, as the market-driven approach benefits the land sellers who can dictate what to sell, when to sell and at what price to sell. 

He said there would be some challenges when implementing expropriation without compensation in Namibia, adding: “The criteria need to be crystal clear and accommodate both economic and social objectives so that it does not become an inconsistent and opportunistic policy driven by personal interests.”

Such criteria, he reckoned, should be debated and decided upon by drawing in various interest groups, especially those dispossessed and excluded and once clear criteria are set the process of expropriation would have to be transparent.

He argued that the current practice of not even publishing the list of resettled farmers in Namibia was the exact opposite and created widespread suspicions. 

“This needs to be avoided when expropriation without compensation takes place.  It is not a simple process but will be necessary to achieve more equitable distribution of land,” he pointed out.

Since the inception of the Land Reform Programme in 1990, the Ministry of Land Reform (MLR) has acquired 517 farms (measuring 3.1 million hectares) at a cost of N$1.8 billion.

The ministry is targeting to acquire five million hectares of land by 2020.

So far, it has already acquired 62 percent or 3.1 million hectares, meaning only 1.9 million hectares are yet to be acquired in order to reach this goal.

The target of the National Resettlement Programme (NRP) for the financial year 2016/17 was to resettle 63 beneficiaries, but the target was exceeded by 28 or 140 percent, according to the MLR.

Most beneficiaries were resettled in //Kharas region and the least in the Omaheke and Khomas regions. Since the inception of the resettlement programme, 5,285 beneficiaries were resettled.

At independence in 1990, about 42 percent (more than 34 million hectares) of Namibian agricultural land was under white farmers’ control, while white people represented a very small proportion of the total population.

In contrast, black people, who constituted more than 90 percent of the population, owned 40 percent of all agricultural lands, mainly oriented towards subsistence farming under customary land tenure systems.

Black farmers owned less than a million hectares of commercial land.

The Namibian government introduced the ‘willing-buyer, willing-seller’ land reform policy to propel government’s target of acquiring 15 million hectares of land by 2020.

The Agricultural Land Prices Study released in 2014 revealed that government has been buying the majority of farmland at exorbitant prices, while a considerable amount of farms were also bought by individuals through AgriBank, a state-owned bank, which grants the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme, at interest below market rate, to the previously disadvantaged people.

 

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