Communal land deserves its place in reform discourse

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The parliamentary response from the Ministry of Land Reform on the questions raised by the UDF, regarding the illegal sale of communal land, raises pertinent issues that hopefully the ministry has incorporated in the agenda for the upcoming second national land conference slated for this October.

The findings presented in Parliament, highlighted a number of topics that are often relegated as non-issues within the overall discourse on Namibian land reform – how to unlock the economic potential of communal land, the effect of reclassification of settlements from rural to urban, and the customary land tenure within communal land.
Not to mention the management of customary land, something which until now government has not really paid attention to, to enforce those breaking the law by illegally selling land and illegally erecting fences to delineate what is otherwise State owned land, for common use, into private properties. The discourse of land reform, or resettling those who need land, is so often narrowly focused on the re-distribution of commercial land. We often forget the specific groups of people, such as the retired, former farmworkers and their families, who simply want a land on which to set up a home and engage in subsistence farming, some perhaps with intention of one day eventually moving into commercial farming.

The report, based on a study done in 2016, speaks of what could be described as rampant illegal sales of customary land to those with money, but who pay peanuts, just so they have large private farms and private holdings. As we speak these are issues that continue to ignite fights, divisions and rebellion among many Namibian villages, wherein each day households are pushed to the fringes of society, and those already classified as vulnerable are forced into abject poverty. It does not require a study for government to immediately start correcting these wrongs. It is today impossible to drive through much of the communal land in the regions identified by the report, – Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena, Oshikoto, Kavango West, Kavango East, Zambezi, Otjozondjupa and Omaheke, – because of kilometres upon kilometres of illegal fences erected in those areas.

And new fences are going up each day, yet government is yet to prosecute anyone contravening the Communal Land Act. With each new fence erected is a household that looses grazing area, a household that now has to find a new common land for wood to mend their homesteads and kraals for their livestock, and a new longer route to the nearest body of water.

It must also be emphasised that the upcoming conference would not be fruitful if the on-going discussions on issues pertaining to land continue to be handled ad hominem to persons who hold public offices as opposed to the issues confronting the nation.

The political animus between land activists, politicians and the minister responsible for land reform, warranted or not, does not augur well for the public discourse on land, a discourse that should be seen as an important dip-stick into what are truly the aspirations of the public in the period leading up to the conference.

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