Land Rights Application Deadline to Be Extended

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Only about a third of existing customary land rights have been applied for to date, seven months before the February deadline. Two thousand customary land rights have been approved since March 2003, when applications for registration and recognition of existing customary land rights began. Communal land boards, to which applications of the rights are made, have 68ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 applications pending although there are an estimated 236ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 rights in the 12 regions with communal land. The Communal Land Reform Act provides for the registration and recognition of customary land rights, including the right to a farming unit, residential unit and other forms of customary tenure. Land Registration Technical Advisor in the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement, Richard Witmer, said yesterday the deadline would have to be extended to provide for more time to get in all the applications. “It is inevitable. We will definitely not make it to get all the applications in by February 2009,” he said. He was speaking at a stakeholders meeting on the Olukonda Project in Oshikoto Region, which the ministry designed as a pilot project to register customary land rights in communal areas. All the applications are supposed to be in by February 2009, but Witmer recommended that the period for application be extended and a public awareness campaign be started to assist the process of application and verification. Witmer attributed the slow process of the registration to the need to make people aware of the need to register, the registration process to be organised and also involvement of many partners that need to work together for the process to be successful. One of the things the team noted during the pilot project is that people need help with the application process. The challenges lying ahead for the ministry, communal land boards and traditional authorities are to get all applications before the February 9 deadline, to register all existing customary land rights in communal areas and to solve upcoming disputes, said Witmer. Oshikoto, with 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 195 approved rights, has the largest number of rights approved followed by Ohangwena Region with 439, Oshana with 252, Kunene with 52 and Otjozondjupa with 19 approved rights. Kavango region has 40ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 estimated rights and 4ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 500 pending applications even though none of the rights have been approved yet. Omusati has the largest number of pending applications, while Hardap has the lowest at 384 pending applications. After four months of working at Olukonda, the board received 600 new applications, verified 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 692 parcels and approved 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000. By June 30, 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 certificates were ready. Approximately 45 percent of the rights were allocated to women and 155 parcels, which were bigger than 20 hectares, were referred to the ministry of lands. After Olukonda, two new projects proposed for registration of customary land rights are Oshikuku in Omusati and Sibbinda in Caprivi regions. Oshikuku and Sibbinda have approximately 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 and 2ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 households respectively. The European Union’s Rural Poverty Reduction Programme and the KfW co-financed the project.