WINDHOEK – “Determined and resolute to protect and preserve the modest gains of land redistribution and reform achieved by this group of Namibians to date,” vowed a group of emerging commercial farmers when they in March handed over a petition to the Ministry of Finance and the Agricultural Bank of Namibia.
The petition was mainly in fear of the repossession of their farms by the bank for defaulting on their loans to the tune of N$500 million but of which these farmers have been maintaining to owe only a fraction thereof. Who the other debtors and their status are only Agribank can tell. “Aware of the imminent danger of the reversal of these gains of land redistribution and reform by the actions taken by the Agribank to hand over some of the farmers to debt collectors and their subsequent listing with the Information Trust
(ITC),” maintain the farmers further in the petition. Farmers have been categorical that with the vexed, sensitive and emotional land question, especially the issue of ancestral land, they have paved the way in terms of land redistribution and repossession by taking the market route buying farms through the willing seller willing buyer approach, which itself have been proving slow if not having failed completely to deliver land to the landless and land dispossessed.
Hence, while the emerging commercial farmers, mostly previously disadvantaged and land dispossessed farmers, have been trying to graduate from the doldrums of communal farming, there seems to be little understanding, especially by Agribank, of their both de facto and de jure position as sacrificial lambs of the policy of reconciliation. This is by going the legal route in land acquisition as opposed to any other unimaginable route with untold consequences. While they consider themselves the practical torchbearers of the policy of reconciliation by buying farms instead of invading and grabbing them ala Zimbabwe, this to them does not seem to be appreciate by either the Namibian government or Agribank. And this is what has been fuelling their determination and resoluteness against the possible repossession of their farms by Agribank.
In response to their petition, Agribank has come back gun smoking rejecting virtually all their demands as per their March petition. “The bank cannot accede to this demand. The bank has consistently stated that clients approached the bank for loan funding as individuals, that their reasons for being in arrears are different for each client and that their respective repayment circumstances are unique,” says Agribank in its April 28 response to one of the demands by the farmers, that is for group meetings between them and the bank. The response came exactly the week in which the patience of the farmers seemed to be running out without any response from Agribank and the Ministry of Finance to their petition when they had scheduled a meeting to map the way forward. In fact by the time Agribank’s response has reached them, the farmers had already met. The bank further rejected the other demands of the farmers that it cancels contracts with debt collectors with immediate effect; farmers listed on ITC be removed; it starts a dialogue with each concerned farmers immediately after the group meeting; and the farmers jointly approach the government to review the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme (AALS) to make it more sustainable and useful as an intervention by the government in the land reform process. “As previously advised by the Bank as ‘concerned’ farmers you can directly engage Government on this score or, if you so prefer, you can submit specific proposals to the Bank to engage with the ministry,” reads the banks response. “Victimisation of AALS farmers who are committee members representing AALS & Previously Disadvantaged Individual black farmers in Namibia, by way of expediting the sale of their agricultural land through public auctions,” they cites one reason why they have approached the Ombudsman in a letter of May 3.
Looks like the quest of emerging commercial farmers to have a proper audience with the Agricultural Bank of Namibia is becoming another hide and seek game, relegated for that matter to endless to and fro communications between the bank and the farmers. In the continuing yoyo game the farmers have lately once again written back to the bank.