Dr Hage Geingob
Twenty-seven years ago, on the 21st March 1990, Namibia was born; born into freedom and sovereignty; born with the legal right to determine its own destiny and that of its people. That is what our forefathers bled and died for. So we have a right to recognise this day, we have a right to celebrate this day, because never again shall the sovereign people of Namibia be restricted by the wicked chains of colonialism; never again shall the sovereign people of Namibia be engulfed by the hateful flames of Apartheid.
For 27 years, we have been a free nation and have a right to celebrate our independence. We have a right to acknowledge this momentous day and will continue to do so for years to come, through good times and bad times.
I thank both the Kavango East and the Kavango West regions for the outstanding organization of our 27th Independence Day. You have exemplified the Harambee spirit by pulling in the same direction, and in so doing, you have repelled those retrogressive forces whose intent was to propagate their reactionary tendencies by encouraging people not to celebrate their independence. How can you boycott your own achievement? How can you boycott national reconciliation? How can you boycott the freedom of movement and the freedom of speech? How can you boycott the desire to maintain unity, national sovereignty and human dignity? Let the free people of Namibia celebrate their existence.
After 27 years, it would be absurd for us to deny that we have so much to be grateful for. First and foremost, we are grateful, and celebrate the fact that, despite many challenges, we have managed to maintain peace and unity in Namibia.
I am aware that there are some people in this country who are tired of peace and have made it no secret by questioning why we keep repeating to talk about peace. We are repeating ourselves because the truth cannot change. Only lies can change.
The very fact that we celebrate this day as the day we attained our freedom means that we must also celebrate the peace we enjoy, since the two are inseparable.
A key contributing factor to our peace has been our national unity. Unity is defined as a state of being one; oneness. That is why we have launched the narrative of One Namibia, One Nation. Unity is also described as the state or fact of being united or combined into one, as of the parts of a whole i.e. unification. This is why we talk of the Namibian House, whose walls consist of the bricks representing our various tribes/ethnic groups and races, however once plastered and painted with the colours of the Namibian flag, the individual bricks are not identifiable and therefore the various bricks have been combined into one and we have achieved unification.
We must be weary of centrifugal forces who are intent on destroying what took us so many years and so much blood, sweat and tears to build. It is easy to destroy but difficult to build.
If we allow Namibia to be torn apart by malicious elements, then this beautiful land of ours will struggle to recapture its pride and glory.
So when we talk of the concept of Harambee or peace, it should not be scoffed at or ridiculed; rather it should be seen in the context of promoting oneness of the mind and a concord amongst our people in order to safeguard our sovereignty. It puzzles me when I see that there are Namibians who are intent to see the government of the day fail, even to the point of wishing for some kind of calamity to take place and jeopardize our plans to take Namibia forward.
We are aware that after 27 years we still face many uphill challenges, most specifically with regards to our socio-economic architecture.
Poverty is a scourge that continues to wreak havoc in our lives, because if one Namibian is poor, then we all are poor and we will all pay a price for that. What I am referring to in this instance is abject poverty, and not a Utopian existence in which we are all millionaires and equal. We are talking of the provision of basic necessities to our people in order to give them a sense of human dignity.
At the same time, government will concentrate on fulfilling the needs of the underprivileged and vulnerable members of our society by bringing relief to them through the implementation of various existing and new social relief programs.
Our problem of poverty has been exacerbated by the fact that we are currently in the midst of financial headwinds, which have necessitated that certain austerity measures be put in place.
We took concrete steps to address the structural imbalances which we inherited. These are not problems that were created by Swapo or the government of the day, but the fact remains that Namibia still has one of the highest levels of income inequalities in the world.
It is for this reason that we have embarked upon a multitude of strategies to address this, and many other social issues as per our Vision 2030, National Development Plans and the Harambee Prosperity Plan, which does not replace the former plans, but is aimed at fast-tracking these plans.
Furthermore, in order to make an immediate impact on the livelihoods of our most vulnerable citizens, we have increased the Old Age Social Grant. This means the old-age grant which stands at N$1200 in 2017 has doubled from N$600 in 2014. This intervention has made a meaningful impact in reducing poverty levels, not only amongst our senior citizens, but our children as well; since, many of our children are under the care of senior citizens.
On other dimensions of poverty, we decided to engage the nation through a public dialogue on wealth redistribution and poverty eradication. Outcomes from this dialogue will culminate in a blueprint on how to eradicate poverty in Namibia by 2025.
We are exploring measures to accelerate industrialisation and job creation. We are also promoting investment in the tourism, agriculture, services and other labour and skills intensive sectors. Through the Food Bank we are not only able to provide food for the urban poor but are also able to provide employment for the youth through the Street Committee Program.
We are not saying that the Food Bank is a panacea for poverty eradication, but it is one amongst a multitude of measures being deployed to address the problem. Furthermore, we are continuing to explore how to combine this program with the Basic Income Grant.
It is proven that transaction costs in providing food are more expensive than cash transfers, so we are studying how to come up with a new plan in this regard, while the Food Bank concept is used on a trial basis in Windhoek/Katutura. For the rural areas where many Namibians depend on subsistence farming for food, we are planning to provide ploughing and crop planting services in order to assist people to increase their crop yields.
NEEEF is also a program that we intend to implement. It will have to come with conditions in regard to terms of government tenders.
Some people are opposed to NEEEF without providing alternative proposals but it is time that all of us in Namibia adopt the culture of sharing and assisting each other to attain human dignity.
As a sign of government’s commitment towards the improvement of the quality of life and living standards of Namibians, we continue to invest a significant share of our budget in the social sectors.
[At least] 47.7 percent of our budget is allocated to our social sectors at a value of N$27.44 billion, or N$83.71 billion over the MTEF.
We now have a free society and people are able to move and live wherever they chose, sometimes at their own detriment, such as in the case of people settling in floodplains and placing themselves at the risk of drowning. Similarly they go to our cities and towns to set up shacks, whether that area is proclaimed or not, or whether that area is serviced or not. Unfortunately, municipalities work according to a plan and therefore people find themselves on land which may have not been demarcated for residential use.
We know people are coming for the allure of the bright lights of the city. We have witnessed the expansion of Windhoek and many other towns around the country. The challenge now is to take these bright lights to the regions in order to curb rapid urbanisation, which leads to the increase of urban hunger and poverty.
Today, black people are owners of farms, which they have acquired with their own money. An example of this is the founding father, second president and I. Many Namibians today are also owners of purchased land. This was unheard of before independence and it is a cause for celebration.
Land is an emotive issue and in order to interrogate the land problem we must first revisit our history. When the Germans colonised Namibia in 1884, they repossessed the land until 1915, following World War One, when South Africa took over most of the land.
From 1915 to 1966, there was no armed struggle waged by Namibians to reclaim their stolen land until the International Court of Justice threw out Namibia’s justifiable case based on technicalities. It was at this time when one of our gallant sons proclaimed that we are our own liberators, and shall cross many rivers of blood before we achieve our freedom.
It was Swapo that united Namibians to fight for independence and to fight for land, therefore Swapo cannot be against Namibians owning land. We are committed to addressing the land issue and this is why I have alluded to the fact that we need to revisit the willing buyer, willing seller concept which we adopted to adhere to Resolution 435. We have exhausted the concept because after 27 years the process is slow in satisfying the wishes of the majority of Namibians. This means we need to refer back to our Constitution which allows for the expropriation of land with fair compensation and also look at foreign ownership of land, especially absentee land owners.
In terms of ancestral land, we welcome proposals from all concerned Namibians so that we are able to reach a national consensus before proceeding with new measures to address the land problem. Of course, one question I ask when addressing land is who the land of Windhoek and surrounding areas belongs to. The San people always seem to be left out of the discussion on land even though they, more than any other group of Namibians, have more of a right to claim a large proportion of this country’s land.
I will not delve too deep in issues affecting our nation, since one does not spoil a birthday celebration with long speeches. I will elaborate on some of the matters I have mentioned during my State of the Nation address on the 12th of April.
So as I conclude, let me once again give a special thanks to the Kavango East and Kavango West regions for the spectacular festivities you have arranged for our 27th Independence Anniversary.
• Dr Hage Geingob is president of Namibia. This is an abridged version of the speech he gave on the country’s 27th independence anniversary held at Rundu on Tuesday, March 21.