‘Land Reform Is Hurting Economy’- Big Investor

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Billions of dollars lie locked in Namibia because foreign investors cannot trade their land freely, the owner of Erindi Game Reserve, Gert Joubert, has said. Foreigners are not allowed to trade land in Namibia, a thing which, Joubert says, will continue to impoverish previously disadvantaged Namibians. “Land reform in its present form is hurting economic development terribly. It complements poverty and unemployment, because it locks investment capital out of the economy,” he said. At a press conference held this week to discuss the negative impact of land reform on Namibia’s economy, Joubert said that the country could not afford to have millions of hectares of land frozen out of the country’s economy. He said if ownership of land could be traded freely without land reform or any other hindrance towards any willing seller, willing buyer, from anywhere, the land could sell at N$2 000 per hectare, which equals N$50 billion. “So N$37.5 billion lies locked in the commercial areas. Money that cannot be utilized by owners for economic development by unlocking the capital, by selling the land and investing the proceeds in farming or other economic investments,” he added. If communal areas were to be added to this, it would amount to N$87 billion, which is not working towards the economic development of Namibia. Although his dream of turning Namibia into one big game reserve has not faded, he said, he has had problems to secure money to invest in Erindi because he does not “own” land which can be used as collateral. “Should all the land of a nation belong to the government or be hindered by laws and regulations to trade freely – this is typical of a poor country. “For this reason, the real monetary value of the land cannot be unlocked by selling it or having it in bondage at the bank for money,” he said, adding that the largest amount of capital available and necessary for a country’s prosperity lies locked away in untradable land. Lack of ownership of land is also cited as a barrier to further investment in the Namibia Tourism Investor Roadmap, which was launched a few months ago. The roadmap recommended that the government reviews its land reform policy with regard to tourism, as it is perceived to be a barrier to further investments by entrepreneurs. The Agricultural Communal Land Reform Act prohibits foreign investors from acquiring majority ownership of close corporation farm businesses without prior authorisation from the Minister of Lands and Resettlement. To acquire land that is in the government’s hands, in most cases, an investor is given leasehold for 99 years. Joubert said on Wednesday that Namibia would not become rich if it does not realize the capital that is locked up in undeveloped property. “Investors do not want to put in money when they cannot sell the land, when they have made their investments for the highest price possible,” he added. He said he was frustrated with rules and regulations, red tape and bureaucracy to conduct his business and he would feel tempted to sell if he did not have a vision to help end poverty and unemployment. Joubert plans to develop Erindi, which comprises 65 000 hectares, over 15 years with N$10 billion and envisages that the tourist attraction will get 30 000 tourists a month, and employ up to 4 000 people. Other infrastructure planned for the game reserve include 500 km of tarred access roads though the game reserve, a business centre on the outskirts of the reserve with a shopping mall containing a pharmacy, supermarket, clothing boutiques, a clubhouse and spa, a private hospital and ambulance, and franchise restaurants. At present, the fence around the reserve is completed while he has started bringing in different species of game such as wild dogs, hippos, crocodiles and lions. Joubert would like what happens at Erindi to be replicated in the rest of the country, which he proposes should become a game reserve, with no internal fences except around the cities and villages where game, like in the Serengeti, can migrate freely from north in Etosha and the former Owambo right down to the Orange River.

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