There is a time for everything. There was a time when Afrikans were colonized and had their land taken away. There was a time the oppressed fought for freedom. There was a time when the struggle assumed an ugly face. There was a time for Namibia to become free and be one nation, which it was never before. There was a time to celebrate the achievements of political freedom. There was a time for the consolidation of this freedom. There was time to ask questions and search for answers. There was a time to disagree without reason. There was a time to point fingers and name the weaknesses of others. Then times changed. Then came today: What is the time now?
The current controversy, which should rather be seen as a national conversation, is in the process of answering questions about the here and now – not about what happened while we were colonial subjects, not when we were under foreign rule – but now when we are our own masters. One year after independence in 1991, the first democratic Government convened the first National Conference on the Land Question. The Government invited many people, including some of us in graduate schools abroad. The only prescription that accompanied the invitation was that all delegations be one-third women. That was very progressive, to say the least. It was a very well attended conference with many professional and well-researched papers. At the end of the long week, the overall feeling amongst the delegates was that the claims to ancestral land were near impossible. That became the operational logic of the state, namely that the fundamental law and rights in the Constitution of the Republic were the guides to managing issues of land. The outcome of that great Indaba or Ohungi was positive and peace prevailed for 25 years.
As the nation moves forward it is important for all stakeholders to appreciate that there are many factors involved in resolving land issues, some historical, others financial and the rest predicated upon a Constitution which is anchored on doctrines of equality and human rights for all citizens. The nation will be better served if all stakeholders are cognizant of the following factors: First, the Government is essentially about the peace and security of the citizenry.
Government cannot be in the business of dishing out land to the angriest, the loudest or the youngest. What is expected of Government is fair and transparent regulation of land under accepted laws of the land and international norms. Understandably, the Government of Namibia is still finding its way in this regard. Part of the conundrum for the state is to manage change, which is dynamic and never constant. In defence of the Government, it has on its account expressed its dissatisfaction with the pace of land reform at various platforms in the past few years. It can also be argued that for the first 25 years the Government was more preoccupied with transactional change and less with transformation, as it had to put systems, infrastructure and processes in place before it could tackle a hugely emotive issue of land.
Second, there are as many interpretations of who deserves land as there are commentators, and this makes it difficult for any government to develop proper responses that are sustainable. In this context, the Government which derives its power from the people can only implement and defend the Constitution. On their part, patriotic citizens ought to support the Government to do the right things at the right time. This is the context that persuaded the President to engage directly the AR movement leadership as a mature response to the cries of the youth, even though these cries might be an irritant to many.
Third, as much as we feel that the pace of land reform was not adequately speedy, we must understand the constraints within which a democratic government operates. It would assist the youth in particular to appreciate that there are more viewpoints and even beliefs in the country than just their own. Plus, people who are young now will not remain young forever and they might just be creating more problems for themselves than they wish to solve. The old folks were militant youth themselves at one point. What goes around comes around. Responsible youth have the right to ask tough questions and even demand swift action as part of their participation in a democratic culture, but not destroy what has been created with the blood and sweat of so many who died landless. History is never built by one interest group or one generation – history is a cathedral under perpetual construction and renovation. It would be good if all of us can learn the habit of participating in the project of nation-building with a give-and-take attitude, and indeed with a curiosity to grant the other what is due to them, even when we are on the opposite end of the spectrum.
The land, essential though it is, cannot be and is not the only issue that defines where we are as a nation in relation to one another as interest groups or as citizens in relation to a democratically elected Government. It is not altogether correct to say that the Government has done nothing in respect of the land question in the last 25 years.
An elected Government such as ours cannot act simply on the basis of one group’s discomfort or dislike of certain things or people. Stakeholders can thus not go into this dialogue with an air of self-righteousness, as that shuts the door to others by virtue of age, tribe, gender, language, or religion. The one resource that the Constitution gives as an equal right to all Namibians is LAND. Article 16 of the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia stipulates: ‘All persons shall have the right in any part of Namibia to acquire, own and dispose of all forms of immovable and movable property individually or in association with others and to bequeath their property to their heirs or legatees: provided that Parliament may by legislation prohibit or regulate as it deems expedient the right to acquire property by persons who are not Namibian citizens.’
To all intents and purposes, the Government tried to live by these principles. Yes there is greed. Yes there a slow pace. Yes more could have been done in the last 25 years. There are other issues that were left unattended, and corruption in the public sector is one of them. Nepotism is the other.
Political loyalty as a qualification for good jobs is just as bad. All these ills added to unemployment and the rampant spread of poverty. The story of land and whatever manner it is administered anywhere in the context of human life has the good, the bad and the ugly. We in Namibia are not an exception to this human condition.
THE WAY FORWARD: Let us assume that we all want the same, namely, our collective well-being. No one stakeholder can serve Namibia well alone. Only when we regroup and combine our limited competencies can we deliver on the Grand Vision 2030.
THE RIGHT ATTITUDE OF GIVE AND TAKE: This is our land. It must be about give and take. So that there is no winner and no loser. The Government has the responsibility to protect and give security to law abiding citizens who might feel disaffected by the process. The dialogue going forward should not be about the needs of the youth versus the needs of the non-youth. All of the stakeholders ought to be sober and pursue the goals of Bonus Commune, the common good for all Namibians and even all inhabits of the country at any given time.
NEW LANGUAGE OF INCLUSIVITY: We have come a long way, thanks to those who have done so much who did so without even knowing that we would one day enjoy the peace and stability we have today. Yes there is painful poverty, which must also be put in proper context. This language ought to include openness to acknowledge one another and show grace to those who made it possible for us to sleep today under a blanket of the security of a constitutional democracy, knowing that it is easier to destroy than to build.
OWNERSHIP: All stakeholders must have the readiness to have a sense of ownership of both the dialogue and the outcome thereof. We have a Government that was elected by the people and our ‘fights’ with government have to bear cognizance of the fact that they are there as the will of the people. We might not like some or all the officials, but they are the leaders now and we owe them a duty of respect and care. The only and best way to eject them from the positions of power is through the secret ballot in five years’ time. We have come a long way, and have a longer road to traverse.
Change begins with us individually and collectively moving in one direction. With this new mindset we can move forward by embarking upon a comprehensive, multi-pronged and multi-sectorial agenda to combat poverty. This beehive strategy would have the following landing pads:
A new sense of patriotism: A matter such as land falls within the ambit of dealing with difficult issues under the rubric national interests, with a new sense of patriotism which is different from the combative struggle mode, to dialogue and futuristic attunement of our skills and competencies towards a common good. No one is at war with any other
A war against homelessness: Ideally we should have declared a war against homelessness, which is easier to achieve. Poverty eradication is a slogan that cannot be realized by any society. What is at stake here is more a wish of people to have a decent space to live with dignity, in what they may call home, and adequate accommodation for those still in institutions of learning.
This is where the efforts ought to be to accommodate our people. Farmlands are for a few. Organs of state ought to be readying themselves to provide shelter for the people in all the regions so that the pressure on the cities is lessened. Government ought to introduce stiff regulation of property and accommodation prices across the country so that people can afford a place to live.