While participating in the Global Africa Investment Summit earlier this month, Namibia’s President Hage Geingob was interviewed by the BBC on its HARDtalk show. Below is the second part of the interview, where Sarah Montague asks Geingob what difference he feels he can make in his country, which is one of the most unequal societies in the world. The first part of the interview was published last week.
You said there is pressure for land reform because of the apartheid years and you have said that land reform did not happen at a pace you would have liked it to. There is tremendous pressure from groups like Affirmative Repositioning calling for mass expropriation. You held it off, but you do need to deliver, don’t you?
Firstly, there are people who don’t like peace, whether they are in BBC or not, they want Africa to be in turmoil, so they are happy if there is chaos. So, many supported the group. I called them and asked them what their problem is, the land issue is known by all and we know the causes thereof, but we need peace. We are all talking and agreeing that land must come back, but we are disagreeing on the modalities. You cannot go to war because of modalities.
What is the answer then? You said their need for land is genuine.
I also said people who own stolen land, because they were born there – even if the parents of those people came 100 years ago and stole the land – if a child is born on that land that land belongs to that child, because he/she is also a citizen of Namibia, so you cannot grab it from them.
So you will protect those farmers with land, irrespective of what happened during generations that passed, but how do you satisfy groups like AR, who say they need land?
They need land to build houses. We are doing that and we are clearing the area. It is in the Swapo manifesto and I pointed it out to them that we are together on this one, but we must have order and follow the law.
You said it is easy to destroy what you have not built… Do you think the youth are perhaps too hot headed?
No, no, no… do not put me against them. We are together in this, Namibians are holding hands and moving together and we will do things that will not destroy the peace we have.
Let us turn to China, because it is the third largest investor in Namibia after Germany and USA. Somebody who looked at Chinese employment practices in Namibia, Herbert Jauch, who founded the Labour Resources and Research Institute, said they had found that China is frequently paying one-third of the legal wage, and for some it feels like a new form of colonialism.
Writers can sit and write. We went and sat with the Chinese, I went to China and told them that they may not know what is happening in our country, regarding Chinese companies that do not obey our laws, not paying our people proper wages and overtime. They told me that China has opened up in the last 30 years, hence there are some private companies that go outside. They said our laws must take their course. They also said there are bad Chinese and good Chinese, the same way they think there are bad Namibians and good Namibians. So we talked to them and told them and they have since improved. We also arrest them when they violate laws.
Is it a matter of enforcing the laws, because there is a minimum wage in certain industries?
It is not only Chinese that are not paying the minimum wage.
Indeed, I am actually wondering if it is not down to enforcing the law?
So the Chinese are as bad as anybody else?
They were worse until we talked to them.
Now they are not worse than anyone?
Well, I do not know, they are like others who are still doing wrong things. The foreign [affairs] minister of China came to talk to them [Chinese business community in Namibia] and ordered them to obey Namibian laws.
Will you now enforce the law?
If we get to, yes.
But that is the difficulty, because everybody says well, it is one thing to have a law when you do not enforce it?
People talk when it does not apply to them, but when you grab them…
But is it not important when you are tackling poverty, that is one of the ways to do it?
We will do it our way. I know how to do it.
But you know that there are people who will think you are too sympathetic to the Chinese, because you are so dependent on them?
That is not true, we dismiss that with the contempt it deserves.
So you would be happy to enforce the laws?
We will do it, like we did with the white people who were there before the Chinese. But we did not complain about that, they are the ones [whites] who own all the property there, not the Chinese. But we are trying to do it in an orderly and peaceful way. If it applies to Chinese then it can apply to any white people there, and you are not going to be happy about that, the British especially!
But ultimately, the British there, are you saying they are also not paying the minimum wage?
Minimum wage is not paid, even by us, we blacks.
Then why not enforce the law? Why have a law and not enforce it?
We are enforcing it, but do you think all the laws here [in the UK] are being enforced.
According to The Namibian in January this year, there was a confidential letter sent from Namibia’s ambassador to China to Namibia’s foreign minister talking about a Chinese delegation that was visiting the country to find the way forward to build a naval base in Walvis Bay. Is China going to build a naval base in Namibia?
Do not bring in the Chinese into your ideological problems. If the Chinese come like anyone else comes… [The] Americans have asked the same thing, we did not decide on either one of them.
Is Namibia going to allow China to build a naval base there?
If the parliament decides, but we are not there yet. You are jumping the gun.
Indeed, but the plan is to have the naval architects and technical staff to come and have a feasibility study. That will go ahead, there is a proposal to do that.
Well, I do not even know anything about it, everybody comes and not only Chinese. Americans are also interested in things there.
Are you saying you do not know that there is a proposal for China to build a naval base in Namibia?
I do not know about a proposal, it never came to us, maybe to the former president. I heard about it from that paper also.
Because in that letter they talked about a Chinese delegation coming some time after March 21 this year, the month you became president?
Why do you believe in that letter?
Do you believe the letter?
I do not believe the letter. Not only Chinese came, Americans came too.
Ok, but do the Americans want to build a naval base?
I’m not going to tell you what they [want to] build, but they want something.
Would you mind in principle if the Chinese build a naval base in Namibia?
Naval base, I do not know anything about that. If they were to do it, in a sovereign country like Namibia, what would be your concern?
You would not have a concern?
It does not matter.
So leave it. It is my country. It is me, not you. How would it affect you?
How will it affect the people of Namibia?
That is not your concern, Namibians will decide.
That is why I am asking…
Namibians will consent.
From the Namibians’ point of view, should they be aware about a proposal for a naval base?
That will be done publicly. We are a democracy, there will be no secret deals.
So they have not asked yet?
They have not asked yet.
So the moment they ask you will go public.
President Hage Geingob, thank you very much for coming to HARDtalk.