Land reform gathers pace as SA, Nam follow Zim

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By Colleta Dewa 

Johannesburg – Namibian President Hage Geingob earlier this week indicated his government’s plans to undertake land redistribution in order to address racial injustices in the country.

Namibia joins other countries in the SADC region which have and or are planning to undertake the process, among them Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Geingob called for a change to the country's constitution to allow the government to expropriate land and redistribute it to the majority black population.

"The willing-buyer willing-seller principle has not delivered results. Careful consideration should be given to expropriation," Geingob said at the opening of the second national land conference in Windhoek.

The country wants to transfer 43 percent, or 15m hectares of its arable agricultural land, to previously disadvantaged blacks by 2020. At the end of 2015, 27 percent has been redistributed, according to the Namibia Agriculture Union.

"We need to revisit constitutional provisions which allow for the expropriation of land with just compensation, as opposed to fair compensation, and look at foreign ownership of land, especially absentee land owners," Geingob said.

"It is in all our interest, particularly the 'haves', to ensure a drastic reduction in inequality, by supporting the redistributive model required to alter our skewed economic structure. We should all be cognisant of the fact that this is ultimately an investment in peace," he said.

In Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe hundreds of thousands of blacks were driven off their land in the 19th and 20th centuries, and banished to barren and often crowded homelands known as Bantustans or reserves while being denied official ownership or tenure rights.

The justification of land reform originates from the fact that most of the arable land in Africa is still in the hands of colonial masters, years after the attainment of independence. 

 Analysts say it is worrisome that the economies of most of the countries that have undertaken land reform programmes are facing serious challenges.

Zimbabwe, once regarded as the bread basket of Africa, had its economy in the doldrums after embarking on the land reform programme in 2000. This was after western powers, led by Britain and the United States of America, imposed sanctions on the country in protest against the programme.

The country went ahead with the reforms regardless, and today more Zimbabweans have been economically empowered and are now being productive.    

South Africa, the continent’s second strongest economy after Nigeria, is currently reeling in recession and a rising debt as plans to expropriate land have affected investor confidence. 

It could be the same ghost haunting Namibia which last week convened its second land reform conference as part of measures to address imbalances in the ownership of the resource in that country.

Opinions from economic and political analysts seem to indicate that land reform is a heavily contested issue.

University of Johannesburg lecture Professor Vhusi Mamele believes that if land reform is to be successfully undertaken, African governments need to be sincere and serious. 

“I personally feel that the African governments contributed hugely to the sabotaging of land redistribution.  The land issue should have been addressed soon after countries attained independence because that was the major reason why the black people engaged in battles with the settlers," he said.

However, other analysts point out to the constitutional contraints which held back the redress of the land issue soon after the attainment of independence.  For instance, in Zimbabwe the constitution barred the new black government from expropriating land for the first 10 years after independence.

In Namibia and South Africa, as well as in Zimbabwe, there was the willing-buyer willing-seller policy which hampered land reforms. 

Mamele said it is those constitutional and policy restraints which made the former colonial masters to think that they were the rightful owners of the land. 

"It should have been different if the issue was addressed in 1980 soon after Zimbabwe’s independence. South Africa became free from apartheid rule in 1994 but it is only now that the ANC seems geared up to address the land issue,” he said.

He said the fact that economies of countries that have or are planning to undertake the land reform programme are shaken is more of an artificial tool being used by those who contemplate on disrupting the cause of the black majority. 

“The economy of South Africa has this year been deteriorating faster than expected. Economists say this is due to reduced investor confidence. Who are the investors? These are the same countries that have been benefiting from farming on the African land. The aim is to inject fear and compromise the confidence of the people in the land issue. I would say land reform is the only way to empower the black people but the international community should not interfere in ways that denigrate the motive,” he added. 

Political analyst Dr Isaac Samukeliso said the fact that more countries in the SADC region were beginning to realise the need to address the land inequalities was a wakeup call that African leaders were not threatened by those who intended to disrupt the good cause. 

“The path being taken by the President of Namibia is a clear indication that black people have had enough. It is high time that the land issue is addressed seriously on the continent.  The willing-buyer willing-seller model has proved ineffective. The only way to empower the black people is to give them productive land,” he said. 

Dr Samukeliso added that although the land reform programme has been labeled as a threat to economic growth, African governments should not be deterred.

He, however, added that the programme should be undertaken in a more organised and objective way.

“I would say to Ramaphosa and Geingob, though the economies might look threatened, the time is now to address the issue but what they need to do is to avoid a situation whereby some of the people who will be given the land are not even serious farmers,” he added. - additional reporting by timeslive.co.za.

 

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