The messenger has been shot, and fatally

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Don’t shoot the messenger. This could and must have been the initial reaction to the demand by President Hage Geingob for the former deputy minister of land reform, Bernadus Swartbooi, to apologise.

What a note to end a year on now that the messenger has indeed been shot – and fatally. Not only that, but someone has been made a sacrificial lamb for an essentially ill-mooted and ill-inspired and badly implemented land reform process.

Yes, perhaps Minister of Land Reform Utoni Nujoma may have been caught in the crossfire, but unlike many would like us to believe, he is and cannot have been the target of Swartbooi’s remarks.

Also, with hindsight one could say that perhaps Swartbooi, as deputy minister of the said ministry, is no less accountable than the minister for non-performance, inaction, oversight and/or non-commission.

Indeed there’s no denying that the land reform programme in the country in its current form has been inconsequential, whether by design or by unintended outcome.

Nor can it be a matter of hearsay with the naked truth there for all to see, even the visually impaired can see the problem. But what is saddening is for someone pointing out the evident rot in the programme to be made the sacrificial lamb.

That the land reform process has since the word go been suspect, for many reasons, least of them for being corruption-infested, is known all too well by, all if not many, and not least by those at the helm of the Namibian polity in all three wings of the State machinery.

If a cursory look at those who have been resettled in the Omaheke Region is anything to go by, it is not unusual to note that members of one family or clan to have benefited unevenly, or/and even families of those close to the echelons of power and/or authority – not to note the powerful and well-connected themselves benefitting most of the time.

One need not mention names, where some individuals do not only have one or two resettlement lands, but continue to squeeze other poor, marginalised and perhaps politically not-so-well-connected subsistence farmers in the communal areas.

Swartbooi’s utterances cannot be seen as a revelation at all, because corruption within the land re-allocation system has long been known, indeed since day one of resettlement.

Perhaps, and it is a BIG perhaps, the rot and corruption, inefficiencies and ineffectiveness – if not all together total greed – with which land re-allocation and resettlement have been infested may have been understandable in the early days when systems and procedures may not have been well-tested and proven.

But 26 years later? This is the situation that Swartbooi is trying to draw to the attention of the public, and of course, the powers that be too. That must have been and continues to be the focus.

The gist and content of Swartbooi’s remarks (and not who is saying it to or how she/he is saying it and the channels through which it is said) should have been the focus in first instance.

But most importantly it must be noted that Swartbooi was by no means echoing his own sentiments, but those of a constituency and marginalised people. A constituency and people one would be cautious to arrogate, lest one is misunderstood by those who think it is a sin and uncivilised to have tribal roots.

To realize that Swartbooi echoes the voice of a people and a constituency – if not peoples and constituencies – one needs look no further than the findings of the Non-governmental Organisations Forum (Nangof) from its consultations with communities, especially in the areas whose people have been affected by land dispossession as result of the genocide.

Hence the symbiosis and tension between genocide, land dispossession and land reform. The findings of Nangof on the vexed question of land reform, flowing from consultations with communities dispossessed of land and motivated by the anticipated second land conference, are loud and clear.

Another pertinent issue that Swartbooi raised and which the findings of Nangof also raise is that local residents in localities countrywide have not been enjoying priority in the allocation of resettlement farms acquired by government in their localities and consequently there is unhappiness among local people about people from other localities and egions being resettled in their environs at the expense of the locals.

In view of the second national land conference which has been mooted for next year, it is only appropriate that the country address such issues rather than shoot the messenger.

But most instructive now that the one matter of Swartbooi’s fortitude has seemingly been dealt with, a procedural one, as a result of his presumed unbecoming, unministerial and un-statesman-like approach to the matter, it remains to be seen what is going to be done about the substantive issue, which sparked his outburst.

The core of matter is the rot within the re-settlement system. Shall it be dismissed altogether because of Swartbooi’s apparently unprocedural ventilation of his frustration?

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