The second land conference built on sand

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The envisioned second land conference planned for later this year will, in the Namibian context, not achieve anything of substance and the earlier we accept this reality the better.

The idea, although grand and long overdue, is from the onset doomed to fail due to a number of fundamental reasons, which, if not addressed in the medium to long term, will further prolong this very important matter to the continued disadvantage of current and future generations.

I have identified five very important fundamental factors, which, in my opinion, will render this initiative not worthy of being held at this stage, and in that regard will be a total waste of time and resources for all concerned.

For starters, the relevance of land and its historic link to the struggle for our national independence was after post-independence thrown into the dustbin the moment the country embraced capitalism, instead of the socialist ideals which had initially united us to achieve political freedom.

This highly unexpected switch to a capitalist society, supported by the willing-seller willing-buyer doctrine, as enshrined and protected in the country’s Constitution, significantly altered any meaningful way or attempt to seriously address the issue of land.

The willing-seller willing-buyer principle has to a very large extent put a blank financial price on land that the nation will never, at the current pace, be able to afford, nor significantly distribute for the benefit of the masses.

The country and the masses simply don’t have the financial muscles, despite the natural resource endowments, to buy back the country at the desired pace and price from the previously advantaged minority members of our society.

The second most important factor is that land delivery in Namibia for the benefit of the masses is to this day not a political priority, hence the very slow pace of its delivery.
The petty annual budget allocation to the Ministry of Lands, the low hectares acquired and the number of people resettled over the last 26 years speaks volume and demonstrates the lukewarm approach by the central government to an issue of historic significant to the nation.

The importance of land has as a result fallen behind other national priorities, such as education, health and – to a very large extent – the construction of government office buildings and national roads.

Land, as a strategic national asset, has been left in the hands of individuals to decide among themselves, which in most cases is at the slow pace of the seller to such an extent that there is no pressure to sell.

The third most important factor is that there is no clear directive or strong financial support relationship from the central government to the local government to assist in expediting the delivery of land to the masses.

So, despite the significance of this very important matter, the central government has outsourced this historic aspect to entities that do not have the financial muscles nor the capacity to fast-track the delivery of land, as it should be. This oversight is a significant contributor to the slow pace of land delivery in the country.

The local government entities operate at their own respective paces when it comes to the delivery of land to citizens.

The fourth most important factor is that the timing of hosting the land conference relative to the current dynamics in the country is being overlooked.

Namibia is currently facing an unprecedented financial crunch that has led to dramatic budget cuts that have affected all major aspects and planning of the government. The duration of this financial crunch is uncertain and as such places a burden on the government not to make any significant commitment that it might not be able to afford.

This sad situation has in consequence directly affected in the short to medium term the disposable income of many households, of which the affordability of land as was initially intended is now placed further far away from them. Further, the Swapo Party, as the ruling political party is set to host its national elective congress, which will set the nation’s agenda going forward.

This political event – albeit internal – would have an impact on the future implementation of the resolutions, as may be decided at the land conference.

Last but not least, the land issue as is historically linked to our independence is not clearly understood by many stakeholders, hence the varied expectations.

I am therefore at this juncture not even sure if we, as a nation, truly know the value and importance of land as an asset towards mass individual empowerment and nation building.

The Namibian landscape is highly blessed with abundant natural and mineral resources, which under the current regime or generation is unfortunately fully exploited by foreign entities to the disadvantage of the masses.

In this regard I am not sure the conference will even have the capacity to sincerely discuss such matters and if any meaningful resolutions will be arrived at for the benefit of the masses, as it should be.

Land is not as simple as many wish to think or believe. Land is everything and going forward will require sincere and patriotic brave minds to change the status quo. Anything to the contrary will be a total waste of time.

* Pendapala Hangala is a Namibian socio-economic analyst and commentator.

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