The great land divide
It occurs to us that the unfortunate divide between the people of Namibia is very apparent particularly when looking at two major events of national importance being held this weekend; one in the North and one in the South.
Juxtaposing the two occasions, there are disturbing contrasts that should send alarming signals to our leaders that actions to unify the country must take a higher priority before the rift becomes too wide to ford.
This weekend, the Oukwanyama Traditional Authority commemorates King Mandume ya Ndemufayo’s centenary. Oukwanyama Queen Martha Mwadinomho Kristian Nelumbu will preside.
We all should know and honour the brave and self-sacrificing history of this great leader and his role in building the nation we have today. Indeed, it is quite appropriate to recognise King Mandume’s centenary as a major national event.
In addition, this weekend, there will be a much-anticipated regional convention held in Keetmanshoop in the //Karas region where public discussions about the urgent need for a land conference before tabling of any legislation on the land, will be held.
Concerns about people from other areas being settled on ancestral land connected to specific communities will be discussed at the same time the Mandume celebrations will be underway.
Leaders and concerned citizens from a significant part of this country spanning a range of communities, primarily from the South, will be present and various leaders have been invited to deliver important speeches.
Paramount Chief Vekuii Rukoro will be making an important address, along with Ida Hoffman, rounded up by a significant keynote address from the capable former Deputy Minister of Lands, Bernadus Swartbooi.
For the Mandume ya Ndemufayo centenary being held in the North, dignitaries expected to attend the event include President Hage Geingob, former presidents Hifikepunye Pohamba and Sam Nujoma, Government ministers, members of parliament, traditional leaders, diplomats, and captains of industry.
At that event, we can expect a plethora of high-end SUVs and luxury cars, sharp and expensive suits and tailored dresses, coiffed wigs and weaves, fancy hats, and the best that the beneficiaries of EPLs, fishing quotas, tenders and other largesse derived from access to the more profitable State assets, have to offer.
No doubt, State funds have been used to some degree for the bust of the great King, security considerations and to further enliven and enrich the centenary celebrations.
But here is the rub: these political and business powerbrokers will take a break from sharing Namibia’s wealth amongst themselves to celebrate the King’s centenary on their ancestral land, whereas their fellow citizens in the South, are not afforded this right.
The area to be used for the land debate is not in the hands of those who have ancestral claim to it. Therein lies a poignant example of the point of contention and the crux of the division that is growing fast between the people from different parts of Namibia.
Minister-for-life, Utoni Nujoma, who is likely to be happily enmeshed with the upper-class throng that will be in the North this weekend, has acted myopically when he announced his commitment to tabling the Land Bill before there is a national discussion on the emotive and critically important land issue.
He went so far as to make an incendiary statement on behalf of the Government, that recognising ancestral land claims is tantamount to re-dividing Namibia into the Bantustans that the liberation struggle eliminated.
It must never be underestimated or forgotten that the history of Namibia is alive in each one of its citizens. Just as each person who fought against or suffered at the hands of apartheid South Africa remembers that history, it is the same for those whose ancestry involves the theft of their land and other valuable assets at the hand of the German colonialists who were also victims of genocide that robbed them of their lives and culture.
To proceed with laws that do not demonstrably consider the concerns of all of Namibia’s people, widens the gap between the different cultures living here. The right of return to ancestral land is a critical pillar in international law. It is also recognised in Namibian law when we consider ownership and property rights.
We cannot remain silent on these and other points when considering land and resettlement questions. Inclusion of the right to be resettled on ancestral land is not just the concern of those in the South, who are currently demonstrating and protesting on these points, but for all indigenous Namibians.
Settling the land issue will never be easy; pleasing each person involved is impossible. There are many divergent points of view on each topic to be considered. But the fight against colonialism and apartheid wasn’t easy either, and yet it was successfully waged regardless of the cost.
As we consider substantive actions that Government should take to unify the country rather than widen the divide, holding the land conference before tabling the land legislation must be first on the list.
The esteemed minister of lands must refrain from making fete accompli Government policy statements before the public (most importantly, the affected groups) has been heard on the matter.
Compromise and negotiations on this issue must be done in good faith. No one should enter land discussions expecting to leave with 100 percent of what they want on every point.
Those participating in a land conference must enter the fray with an honest commitment to building a united Namibia as the end-goal. We are stronger together than we are apart.