Whites will retaliate over land - Geingob
President Hage Geingob has admitted that the country’s willing buyer, willing seller policy on land is failing, but cautioned against forcibly taking vast tracks of land owned by white farmers, as this could cause instability.
The Head of State gave further insight into government fears about the likely consequences of expropriating land, making reference to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who embarked on a land expropriation program that has brought that country to its knees.
“To build takes a long time and to breakdown is easy, so the land issue is critical. Yes we are failing so far, but the easy way had been to grab what white people have. What would have been the consequences today?” he told a Harvard Kennedy School audience in the United States, where he is currently on a lengthy visit that has included addressing the United Nations General Assembly.
“You think they will sit and watch you grab their things, they will fight and they would be supported by Western countries, by the way. You know when we were fighting for independence; we were only supported by communist countries. The (Western) governments were supporting South Africa’s apartheid regime, so don’t think they will sit and watch when you are grabbing the land; ask President Mugabe and he will give you the answer,” Geingob said.
He said the willing buyer, willing seller policy had come about as a compromise, after delegates to the country’s 1991 Land Conference failed to agree on a position.
“The idea of willing buyer, willing seller was arrived at in Namibia after I chaired the first Land Conference. We spent the whole week talking about land, and at the end, we couldn’t agree about ancestral land, especially, on who the land belongs to. Is it the San, Damara, OvaHerero, who does the land belong to? We failed to identify the original owner of that land. We said let’s move on and said willing buyer, willing seller,” Geingob said.
“It was also meant to soothe the white people, because they thought because they had treated us so bad, we would (take) revenge. We are different and had to show them, we will not grab their land, without fair compensation. We have a Constitution in Namibia, which guarantees property rights and there is no mention of land. Land comes when you mention about property, so if somebody already owns property legally, you can’t take that away without fair compensation.
“In Southern Africa, we have white people who came here a long time ago; they are settlers, citizens and we have to treat them equally like how I will treat you.”
The president said his administration remains committed towards resolving the contentious issue, but will also strive to grow the economy, thereby creating employment, which is desperately needed in the country.
“I know it’s an issue we have to address; let me ask a question, suppose we urbanise and provide jobs, do you still think land will still be so important? Or it’s a question of lack of jobs and lack of good living that forces people to think that land is the answer.”
President Geingob’s comment on land comes after his statements made in April last year that government was considering the idea of expropriating land without compensation, as the Constitution provided for the action to address the increased demand for land in the country.
According to the Ministry of Land Reform, government last year spent close to N$240 million to acquire 31 farms measuring 154,298 hectares, against the target of 187,000 hectares, for resettlement purposes.
The ministry’s figures also show that 1,2 million hectares of Namibia’s agricultural land is still under foreign ownership, with the majority being in German and South African hands.