The newly formed Landless People’s Movement has dominated conversation in recent weeks and demands, amongst others, the return of ancestral land to certain Namibian tribes. One of the people spearheading it, former Swapo employee Henny Seibeb, sat with a curious Toivo Ndjebela on Wednesday this week to provide some answers.
New Era (NE): How did the Landless People’s Movement come about?
Henny Seibeb (HS): It surely did not start with the undemocratic, unfair and immature firing of the revolutionary Bernadus Swartbooi. It started way back when we were students at the University of Namibia, in 2001 when we organised a land question workshop at the university. We were operating under the banner of The Caucus Political Science Club and we invited then Zimbabwean ambassador Mary Mubi and British High Commissioner Brian Donaldson. What has radicalised the movement now is the firing of Swartbooi. It is more organised now and has the support of some traditional leaders.
NE: Who is spearheading it?
HS: It is spearheaded by land dispossessed Namibians, the peasants mainly, and the farmers. Of course the students have also joined, they are children of the farmers. It’s broad-based and not limited to a certain tribe. It’s a big civil society movement.
NE: What is your personal involvement in the movement? Some point to the fact that you’re friends with Mr Swartbooi, while others say you have a score to settle with Swapo after the party fired you from your job as personal assistant to its former secretary-general.
HS: My personal involvement lies in the fact that I’m a descendant of people dispossessed of their land. My grandparents lost their land because of colonial land policies. So we want historical injustices to be corrected and we also demand restorative justice. I feel that in 1990 when the liberation movement took over, they did not sufficiently address this matter, due to the prevailing circumstances at the time. They had to compromise on certain things and I understand that. Regarding my job, you also once worked for Namibian Sun but you are now at New Era, so there’s nothing untoward about that. How I left the Swapo employment with Honourable Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana was under different circumstances and had nothing to do with ancestral land. You can call her to tell you what really happened. If I had a vendetta with Honourable Iivula-Ithana, I would be attacking her personally or the ministry she leads.
NE: In practical terms, what are you guys actually advocating?
HS: You must understand the brief history of land dispossession in Namibia, prior to 1960 and after 1960 after the introduction of the Odendaal Plan. When Adolf Hitler first came here, he had communities in the south dispossessed. By 1902, blacks had 83 million hectares of land and after dispossession; they were only left with 31 million hectares. At independence we did not decolonise the system, we essentially carried on with the Odendaal Plan. So our demands are two-fold; the return of ancestral land as well as agrarian reforms. In Bolivia when Evo Morales took over, they took land away from the land barons and returned it to the people after 3,000 people marched to parliament.
NE: Regarding ancestral land, what do you suggest should be done about Namibians who – after the abolishment of Bantustans – might now be living on land that does not necessarily belong to their ancestors? Chase them away to their tribal cocoons?
HS: That is the misunderstanding and myth pursued by those who do not understand history. What we are saying is that, through successive colonial regimes, before 1960, the land policies of the time were very harsh. Communities were chased off their land and given barren land. Injustices were committed. We can use the Odendaal Plan as the basis for redistribution. Under the theory of justice, you must make the worst off the better off in order to reach some form of equity. People who moved to different areas because of the contract labour system must also be considered as locals and should be considered for resettlement on that ancestral land.
NE: Are you by implication therefore, advocating that each tribe be segregated and live within defined boundaries like it was with the Bantustans?
HS: No. The cardinal error that Swapo made was to maintain the traditional authorities and enshrine them in the constitution. In a republican constitution, we shouldn’t have had traditional authorities recognised but due to the unique nature of Africa they were allowed. Currently, the resettlement policy only focuses on eight regions – //Karas, Hardap, Omaheke, Erongo, Khomas, Otjozondjupa, Kunene and Oshikoto. Why is it not applicable to Zambezi, the two Kavango regions and the remaining three O’ regions? This needs to be challenged.
NE: The ministry of land reform says 70 percent of people resettled on land in the southern regions are natives of those regions, but your movement doesn’t seem to be satisfied. Is it your submission that the entire 100 percent of people resettled must originally be from those regions?
HS: The ministry must release the names of those resettled, because we are not convinced that this is actually true. The names are already published in newspapers when new beneficiaries are announced, so why can’t they give a complete list?
NE: Your movement is calling for the resignation of lands minister Utoni Nujoma, yet you are saying land has not been addressed since independence under successive ministers. Are you, as a movement, being used by Mr Swartbooi to fight Minister Nujoma and President Geingob, whom he clearly has an issue with?
HS: When Swartbooi was spokesperson of the Swapo Party Youth League, he spoke candidly about land to the extent that he and then lands minister Alpheus !Naruseb had a physical altercation in front of Fruit & Veg. So Swartbooi has been consistent on this matter. Why we are saying Utoni must be fired is because he has insulted the people by calling them unpatriotic. He epitomises arrogance and says a lot of bad things on [NBC] Otjiherero Radio. He is conflicted and must do the honourable thing and leave.
NE: Literature teaches us that we all migrated here from the Great Lakes Region. Which generation of ancestors must be deemed the authentic owners of land and who should determine that?
HS: Each nation must decide and determine its own fate. We can start from 1884 during which the ‘Scramble for Africa’ took place. The argument that the San are the authentic owners of land isn’t correct either. They did not own every piece of land across the whole sphere of the country.
NE: You were sympathetic towards Affirmative Repositioning, which claims to fight for land for all Namibians, and now you have switched to a new movement fighting for essentially four tribes. What transpired?
HS: In principle, the two movements are fighting for the same thing, which is land but there are ideological, philosophical and theoretical differences. Ours is unique in the sense that we call for restorative justice and agrarian reform. We are for the farming communities and peasants. AR, who I think are also doing a good job, is more for urban plots.
NE: How would your movement, given its ancestral land agenda, negotiate its way around the constitutional provision that Namibians are allowed to live and essentially, farm anywhere in the country?
HS: Freedom of movement should be understood in a specific context, just like ownership of property. You can move and own property anywhere, but why don’t we have certain tribes being resettled in certain parts of the country, especially the north?
NE: Your movement is being blamed by some for the tribal confrontation that took place at Keetmanshoop last weekend, leaving six people injured. It is said your rhetoric inspired the confrontation.
HS: I don’t think so. If there were such intentions, this would have happened when Swartbooi was fired last year. This was a pure criminal act and the Ileni settlement where this happened is known for petty crimes and fighting. I can’t rule out the possibility of this being the result of our meetings, though. This is Africa. It’s a class struggle as outlined in Karl Marx’s conflict theory.