* Some foreigners own land for hunting purposes only
* Those without land want instant expropriation of land
* Those owning land are playing the ‘economic collapse’ card
* Legally, Chapter 3 of the Namibia Constitution cannot be amended
By Timo Shihepo
Windhoek - Namibia is caught between a rock and hard place with its land distribution situation, which has the potentional of leading the country into uncertainty.
At the centre of the situation is white people, who, despite controlling 70% of commercial land have refused to share the land with black people 28 years after independence – despite the latter making up 80% of the Namibian population.
It is a situation that has plunged the nation into a land crisis leading to further problems such as high housing and rental prices. The situation is so hard that if, for example, the government wants to extend the boundaries of the capital city, Windhoek, it has to buy land from white farmers at exorbitant prices.
From discussions at the land conference this week, it is apparent that Namibia has to dig deeper if it is to ever find a solution to the escalating situation. This is because, while black people and those who do not have land are advocating for land equality, white people and leading figures of the Namibian economy are adamant that the expropriation of land would lead to the collapse of the economy, citing Zimbabwe as an example.
“This land conference must protect and secure land tenure as a means to attract investment. Investors, for example, cannot invest in a land they know they do not own, this would improve bankability of land,” said Bank of Namibia Deputy Governor Ebson Uanguta at the conference.
Uanguta was responding to calls by former presidents, Hifikepunye Pohamba and Sam Nujoma for land to be expropriated by the state so that no foreign companies or people own land in the country. The two former heads of state proposed that such people or companies who already own land in the country should be compensated only for the infrastructure on the land.
The business community, mainly made up of white people, has also rejected the issue of land belonging to the state, saying if people are not sure of the status of the land they occupy or going to occupy, they will refrain from investing in the development of that land because they believe that they are still in transit.
Information from the ministry of land reform shows that agricultural land comprising 281 farms with a combined size of 1.3 million hectares is owned by foreign nationals, some of whom hold such farms for periodic hunting purposes only.
Namibia’s land distribution after independence was much skewed. About 52% (36.2 million hectares) of commercial land/freehold land was occupied by around 4,200 (predominantly white) farming households in 1990. This has increased to 70% in 2018.
Under the willing-buyer, willing-seller programme, the government has also been struggling as it only bought farms totalling 9.1 million hectares out of a target of 15 million hectares since 1990 to 2018. And the government had to pay dearly for acquiring these farms too, paying R3.2 billion since 1990.
“We have been struggling with the exorbitant prices for agricultural commercial land,” said Peter Nangolo, director in the land reform ministry.
He added that there was injustice concerning the acquisition of land in the past and that something practicable must be done to rectify the situation.
Director of regional programme implementation, Ndiyakupi Nghituwamata said land is becoming a very scarce resource, especially to the previously disadvantaged landless Namibians due, due to the increase in population and the fact that communal areas are overcrowded and overstocked.
Additionally, population growth increased the competition for land.
“Furthermore, people in overcrowded farms and corridors demand land availability. It is thus prudent that the efforts of all stakeholders are directed towards devising methods that would ensure equity in land ownership through the redistribution therefore within the legal framework,” said Nghituwamata.
Chapter 3 not amendable
Although former presidents, Pohamba and Nujoma strongly called for a referendum that would enable to amend some articles in the constitution to allow the state to own the entire land, the constitution prohibits that.
Chapter three of the constitution cannot be amended or repealed to diminish the rights given therein as provided for under Article 131.
Some people have called for expropriation without compensation.
“It can only be amended to enhance to enhance and strengthen rights or freedoms. But of course the issues being raised by communities could be accommodated through legislation, subject to the Constitution, so as to once and for all address our people’s long-standing cries for justice on issues of land,” said prominent lawyer Sisa Namandje.
He, however, said although through parliament or through a referendum the Constitution could be amended or repealed, there is a prohibition to any amendment seeks to diminish the rights provided for under Chapter three.