Unlike a section of the media that describes as “noise” the concerns of political parties and civil society organisations regarding the preposterousness and premature tabling of the Land Bill ahead of the Second National Land Conference planned for September, one begs to differ with the reference to these legitimate concerns as mere “noise”.
Rather they are voices of reason. Because the land question, which one hopes the Land Bill is intended in part if not in its totality, rather than being a sensitive issue as politicians would have us believe, is a matter of cardinal interest, and above all of basic livelihood, especially to those who historically have subsisted on and derived sustenance from it.
Not only has land to these people been a matter of subsistence, but through the years they have become so attached to land that it has become more than a means of subsistence, as it is intertwined with religion and culture, especially given the burial of their ancestors on the land.
As a result religiously and culturally the people have over the years become symbiotically linked to the land and through it maintain a constant connection with their ancestors.
But throughout German colonialism and the subsequent genocide one of the main reasons for the attempted extermination of the indigenous people was the land. The socio-economic and religious-cultural edifice of their being was not only disrupted, but alienated from them. To this day the affected and dispossessed people remain alienated: hence, the call for the restoration of their ancestral land.
The minister of land reform would have the nation believe that the claim to ancestral land is a remnant of apartheid, but he is way off the mark.
In fact, Bantustans are none other than some of the many homelands to which many indigenous Namibians were banished from their ancestral homes, in what were previously designated police zones, starting from German colonialism up to the apartheid era.
Some of the indigenes were banished to areas such as what was then known as Hereroland East and West, the modern-day Okakarara, Epukiro, Otjombinde and Aminuis constituencies, to mention but a few.
To this day these people remain banished in these Bantustans. So, the reference to Bantustans a la Lands Minister Nujoma cannot refer to anything other than the communal areas and others in the South.
There is no way people living in these Bantustans of both German and apartheid colonial legacies can and shall ever feel free and emancipated until, through the restoration of their ancestral lands, they not only have their socio-economic means of existence restored, but for the first time they would start to have a sense of the requisite religious and cultural expiation once re-connected with their ancestors on their ancestral lands.
This is the sacrosanct significance of the Land Reform Bill to these people. Nothing short of the return of their ancestral land will start their reparation. This is the only context in which their claims must be understood and in which their legitimate voices and not “noise(s)” must be interpreted.
Thusfar only politicians have seemed to lead the groundswell of opposition to the premature steamrolling of the Land Bill through the National Assembly. The voices that matter in traditional matters, that of the custodians of our traditional customs, norms and heritages, that of the traditional leaders, have been ominously mute, if not subdued.
When it comes to land, the custodians of such land have been the traditional leaders.
And unless the traditional leaders want to abdicate their role as custodians of the land and leaders of their communities to politicians, now is the time to make their voices heard on the land issue… Now and not later, starting with the Land Reform Bill.
As much as they may need more time to consult their communities on their input into the Land Bill, now is the time for them to start preparing for the anticipated Second National Land Conference.
The conference was meant to have taken place last year, which means by now traditional leaders and their communities would ordinarily have been ready with their submissions to such a onference.
At this stage it is not clear whether the government will heed the widespread call for the Land Bill not to precede the Second National Land Conference. But whether for the Land Bill or the Second National Land Conference, traditional leaders must now be ready with their submissions into either.
Should it happen that against their best wishes and those of civil society, especially the dispossessed communities, the Land Bill comes first, there’s no way their input can be of no consequence, if submitted now.
Even if their submissions should prove to be of no consequence, the traditional leaders would have done their civic duty in terms of standing up for the wishes and aspirations of their communities on the question of land reform.
So, it may prove to be perilous for the traditional communities – despite their call and urgent aspiration that such a Bill be informed by the Second National Land Conference – to let the opportunity of contributing to the Land Bill pass by without making their voices heard and their presence felt.
Such input into the Land Bill could also help them prepare for the Second National Land Conference – even if only to make the minister eat humble pie for saying that public consultations on such important public policy issues are a waste of time, because the public usually does not come to the party.
Needless to say, the Land Bill is likely to have an impact on land reform in this country. One suspects though it will have little or no consequent impact on ancestral land claims, especially without the input of the traditional leaders whose communities have been dispossessed of land.
That is why submissions on the Land Bill may be an opportunity for the traditional leaders, so that they may not want one day down the road en route to the Second National Land Conference regret having foregone such an opportunity, even if only to serve as a springboard towards preparing for the Second National Land Conference.
One cannot but also wonder if and to what extent our traditional communities and their traditional apparatuses and operators, and civil society at large, have been in any way familiarising themselves with the content of the Land Reform Bill in question? This will show the extent to which they are really serious about the land question.
Meanwhile, various spokespersons of the ministry contradict each other on the relation between the Land Bill and the Land Conference.
While a spokesperson of the ministry was categorical that hitherto most of the laws on the land have been informed by first National Land Conference, the ministry does not seem prepared to wait for the second National Land Conference before tabling the Land Bill.
Does it really make sense – given that the laws pertaining to land reform were informed by a conference that took place more than 25 years ago – to table a new Land Reform Bill based on that same now outdated conference, while another land conference is imminent?
Surely it does not!