Close to 100 black farmers in commercial areas, reported to owe Agribank altogether, N$250 million took to the streets in Windhoek last Tuesday on Independence Day eve where after they marched to the Ministry of Finance and Agribank and handed over a petition.
Led by the former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Mines and Energy, Kahijoro Kahuure, himself now an emerging commercial farmer, they handed over the petition to the Minister of Finance, Calle Schlettwein, and then the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Agribank, Sakaria Nghikembua. Initially, the panic-stricken farmers, threatened with losing their farms because of overdue repayments on their loans with Agribank, approached President Hage Geingob to intervene in the possible repossession of their farms by Agribank but Geingob referred them to Schlettwein.
Agribank last year embarked on the collection of debts to recover money owed to it by the farmers, and in the process hired the Red Force Debt Management and the United Group of Africa companies. In their petition, the farmers are demanding a dialogue with Agribank collectively maintaining that they are “still haunted by the horrific nature of the dispossession of our land through various means by successive colonialists and the inhumane treatment of our ancestors at the hands of the German and racist white South Africans because of our land”. The farmers are further particularly appealing to Agribank to recognise their rights as its clients to approach it for consultation in what they consider common issues to them as a group as they have requested the bank before.
Despite the bank going on record saying its doors will always remain open, the farmers maintain that its doors are as yet to open to them, especially to them collectively as a group rather than individually as the bank seems to have been insisting. The farmers are also petitioning that contracts with Agribank’s appointed debt collectors be cancelled immediately and that the names of farmers blacklisted with ICT also be removed immediately. The farmers also ask that the bank start dialoguing with each farmer concerned immediately after the collective meeting with all farmers to agree on how they can amicably restructure the respective loans with the farmers. “The bank and the farmers must jointly approach the government of the Republic of Namibia to review the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme (AALS) with a view to making it more sustainable and useful as an intervention by government to achieve land reform,” the farmers plead in the petition.
To back their petition and put in context their unenviable position, the farmers point out that due recognition must be given to the government’s land reform programme, and especially AALS, which has been established as one of the policy instruments of the government to effect land reform and redistribution. The farmers further maintain that they are emboldened by the blood their ancestors shed during the anti-colonial battles waged jointly and separately, first against German colonialists, and then against the minority white racist South African government for the return of their land and dignity.
“Disturbed, disappointed and disillusioned by the continued refusal of the Board of Directors and Executive of the Agricultural Bank of Namibia to meet with the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme farmers as a group of clients with similar conditions,” the farmers say they are determined and resolute to protect the modest gains of land redistribution and reform achieved by this group of Namibians to date. Not only that but they are also aware of the imminent danger of the reversal of these gains of land redistribution and reform by the actions of the Agricultural Bank of Namibia by handing over some of the farmers to debt collectors and their subsequent listing with ITC.
But in the same vein, they appreciate the contractual requirements of each loan recipient to meet their debt servicing agreements at intervals and they are also conscious of the full and unconditional commitment of the farmers to meet their loan obligations when the conditions are right. But the farmers note what they refer to as a near impossible state in which they find themselves due to a combination of high contribution in the buying of land; the high prices of land and the high interest rates charged on land. Last but not least, the farmers welcome and appreciate recent pronouncements by high-ranking government and Agribank officials for an open dialogue among all stakeholders to protect both the bank and the land reform and redistribution gains achieved so far.