Is the writing on the wall on ancestral land claims?

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What is ancestral land? What is the government’s policy on ancestral land? What is the resolution of the 1991 First National Land Conference? Did the First National Land Conference ever take any resolution on ancestral land?

These are but some of the million Namibian Dollars questions urgently begging for answers and clarifications in view of the renaissance and the wind of change on land that is currently sweeping the country. This is in view of the Land Bill now under the microscope and the envisaged Second National Land Conference slated for this September. Prompted especially by the conscientious position of former Land Reform deputy minister, Bernadus Swartbooi, on the matter, and lately the minister of Land Reform, Honourable Utoni Nujoma’s pronouncements, to the effect that there shall be no entertainment of ancestral land claims, that those with such claims are “unpatriotic” and that a return to ancestral land is akin to going back to colonial and apartheid era Bantustans.

In the wake of the groundswell call for the return of the land to the dispossessed as well as pleas to suspend the tabling of the Land Bill until this September for when the Second National Land Conference has been re-scheduled, one issue that has been recurring is ancestral land. But it is not clear what the government’s policy on ancestral land is. It is even not clear what and whether the First National Land Conference did take any conclusion on the matter and what its conclusion and/or resolve is. Not only this but there has also been some misleading interpretations in some societal quarters that ancestral land claims are unconstitutional, as if there’s anything constitutionally making such claims unconstitutional and unlawful, let alone anything precluding and even hindering the government in the least only contemplating entertaining such claims.

For better or worse, depending on one’s vantage point, the Namibian Constitution is simply silent on land except when land can be taken to be part of property under Article 16.

As much with reference to the First National Land Conference, the impression that has generally been that ancestral land claims in Namibia shall never be entertained. I stand to be corrected and better informed or directed but my understanding is that what this conference merely did was simply refrain if not shying away from discussing ancestral land. To the point of shelving its discussion as seems all these years. Which must have left it open for discussion one time or the other. This time cannot be other than now when the land dispossessed are saying this is the time for such a discussion leading up to the Second National Land Conference.

Equally one stands to be informed about and on any government policy on ancestral land save for sporadic and erratic caveats by politicians such as recently Honourable Nujoma. Can such pronouncements actually be taken to be public policy? One wonders. But most instructive about and surrounding the land question, the Land Bill and the envisaged Second National Land Conference, are the provisions of the Land Bill. The relevant chapter in this regard is Chapter 4, dealing with Agricultural Commercial Land.

Under this chapter the minister can acquire agricultural land for the purposes of land reform. This is to avail land to those who, a) “do not own or otherwise have the beneficial use of agricultural land or adequate agricultural land”; and for those who, b) “have been socially, economically or educationally disadvantaged by past discriminatory laws or practices, and those Namibians who are unemployed, deprived, indigent and disadvantaged in order to address social and economic imbalances in the Namibian society and bring about equitable access to land.”

While among its objects, the Act is to address in accordance of the Namibian Constitution “injustices of the past which included dispossessions”, this is as far as the Act goes with regard to dispossession which hinges on ancestral land. Because even dispossession is not defined in the act, hence there’s no way of knowing what the Act means by dispossessions and who the dispossessed may be and/or are in the Namibian historical context currently, and dispossessed of what other than their ancestral land?

But the bottom line is that given the correct political will, ancestral land can be addressed under this chapter without anything unconstitutional about such address and redress.

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