Agricultural land acquisition and distribution in Namibia

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New Era Newspaper Namibia
Official Logo for New Era Newspaper 2016 version

It was clearly revealed by the Ministry of Land Reform in the New Era newspaper on August 25 that “Foreigners still own huge tracts of land.” This is 247 agricultural farms measuring 1.2 million hectares, mainly absentee farmers. The majority is owned by Germans, 129 farms measuring 630,000 hectares (ha); South Africans 81 farms measuring 350,000 ha; Australians 14 farms measuring 49,000 ha, Americans 7 farms measuring 82,000 ha; Swiss 6 farms measuring 43,000 ha; Italians 4 farms measuring 13,000 ha; British 2 farms measuring 13,000 ha; Spanish 1 farm measuring 13,000 ha; Chinese a huge track of land measuring 40,001 ha; Canadian 1 farm measuring 3,000 ha; Dutch 1 farm measuring 4,000 ha, and last but not least 441,000 ha is owned by joint ventures between Namibians and foreigners.

Landless Namibians have no single reason to be apathetic but should be compelled by their sense of dispossession – that if he/she can have it why not me, and to speak up either in support or against the efforts of the Ministry of Land Reform. Political parties, particularly the Swanu Party of Namibia, and other pressure groups, must be at the front of “Give the Land Back to the People” as they have been calling for before and after independence.

Here are some proposals: Prepare a White Paper on Land Reform for submission to Cabinet, recommending that all disabling policies be scrapped, a single enabling policy is adopted that will pave the way for a new Land Reform Act, and a systematic return of land to the people. The Ministry of Finance should be closely consulted in the formulation of this Act and I will tell you why. Overhaul the land tax to the extent possible to ensure that revenue derived from land tax is not claimed back.

Current land distribution practices

The land should be distributed to the people taking cognisance of the fact that already 5 231 individuals have benefitted from the resettlement programme since independence, of whom 2 039 are women. It is surprising that the Ministry of Land Reform will no longer consider land distribution on the basis of gender. In my view, this should continue until land distribution attains the 50/50 target of women empowerment.

Criteria

The criteria set out in the Government Gazette are as follows:
• Applicant should be a Namibian citizen.
• Applicant should be 18 years and above.
• Applicant must be a woman 25 years and above.
• Applicants should have agricultural experience.
• Surprisingly, there are additional requirements that have been unilaterally designed by the regional land advisory committees such as:
• Certificate in Agriculture: In my view, this is a reasonable criterion because modern agriculture requires in-depth knowledge and skills.
• Letter from a headman/councillor: The public was never informed that the letter must come from a recognised chief. Thus, all applicants with letters from chiefs who have not been recognised by the government are dumped in file thirteen without notice and trace.
• Submission of applications: If your postal address is, for instance, in Windhoek and you submit your application in Mariental, where you are leasing farmland, your application is returned to Windhoek, sometimes on the due date. Some regional offices only consider applications that were submitted on the day the notice was issued in the government gazette and local newspapers.

WAY FORWARD

◆ Speed up the scrapping of disabling policies and adoption of new enabling policies;
◆ Promulgate the new Land Reform Act and Regulations;
◆Acquire and distribute land to the landless of Namibia;
◆ Expropriate land owned by foreigners with just compensation;
◆ Reduce the size of commercial farms to 3,500 ha and buy excess land to make more land available for distribution;
◆ If this is not constitutionally possible, align political forces to secure a two-third majority and change relevant provisions;
◆ Introduce heavy non-refundable tax on excess land;
◆Land owned by joint ventures should not be forever and should be entertained on the basis of substantial ownership and control by Namibians;
◆ Joint venture agreements should be scrutinized by the Office of the Attorney General to ensure that they are not in violation of the provisions of the Namibian Constitution;
◆ Consult the public on the development of a single, all-inclusive criterion for land distribution to be approved by Cabinet;
◆ Develop a national register of aspiring farmers who wish to be resettled using information from applications for resettlement or through any other methods;
◆ Set target dates for presentment within the framework of Vision 2030; and,
◆ Develop a map of all farms on which people were resettled and keep it updated.

• The views expressed here are from a man whose ancestral land was stolen by Germans, British and Afrikaners and now acquired by foreigners through dubious means.

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