Land activists have called on Government to turn down Russian billionaire, Rashid Sardarov’s, offer to donate N$24 million to the Ministry of Land Reform in exchange for rights to buy three additional farms to add to his existing 28,000 hectares acquired in 2012/13 to set up a game ranch.
The controversial offer aims to extend Sardarov’s ranch to 46,000 hectares by purchasing another 18,000 hectares of surrounding farmland.
It comes as Government last year November, tabled a new land ownership bill that seeks to bar foreigners from owning agricultural, commercial and communal lands.
Former Deputy Minister of Land Reform, Bernadus Swartbooi, said it will be irresponsible and embarrassing for the Government to take up the offer, when locals are poverty stricken and demanding access to land.
“This issue was there when I was deputy minister, but it was just never discussed thoroughly. But even if I was there, I was not going to allow the sale to go through while I have a fundamental problem of my own people without land.
“Normally, it is not advisable to sell farms and land to foreigners; it will be irresponsible for Government to sell that land to someone who will be absent. Do we really think that this man will leave his businesses in Russia to come here? Government will be seen as self-destructive to take the N$24 million, and it’s a useless donation. Selling farms and land for exorbitant prices means the market will be distorted as well,”Swartbooi said.
The Russian billionaire is said to have roped in Muyenga Muyenga, a Head of Strategic Support at NamPower and nephew to President Hage Geingob’s Assistant, Wensel Mavara, who professed ignorance of the deal.
“I am not involved; it’s only Muyenga who is my brother’s son. The company involved is Popa Group,”Mavara said, adding that he is not in business with the Russian billionaire.
Strangely, Public Relations Officer in the Ministry of Land Reform, Chrispin Matongela, said that the offer was still to be handed officially to the ministry.
“We only read the development on this matter in the media. We have not received this offer yet and at this point in time we cannot say much,”Matongela told the Windhoek Observer.
Land People’s Movement (LPM) co-founder, Henny Seibeb, said that should Government give a green light to Sardarov, it will set a dangerous precedent in future, with rich people flocking to Namibia to acquire huge tracts of land as they wish.
“As far as LPM is concerned, we are of the view that Government (Ministry of Land Reform) must establish a shareholder and community based vehicle such as a Community Trust whereby the private investor (Russian billionaire) and the community are encouraged to enter into a PPP model on a 70-30 principle basis (private investor 70 percent; 30 percent community) to enable joint ownership. In that way community employment is assured and at the same time profit sharing is guaranteed.”
He, however, warned that such a deal will likely push up land prices in Namibia.
“If, for example, private investors are allowed to buy those farms for N$2000 per hectare, or even at N$10,000 per hectare, it will value a farm at over N$50 million, which will push up market prices for farms in surrounding areas and in Namibia.
“Speculation will ensure that the whole resettlement policy will collapse and distort the market. This is a dangerous situation. This private investor is a billionaire and can pump in money like a Russian Roulette player, only to play a rich boys game on the hunting park he wants to create,” Seibeb said.
He argued that the move to acquire the additional land must be avoided at all cost so that Government can buy such farms and expropriate to landless people.
“Land is a sensitive matter right now and Government should avoid to be caught in between the rightful demands of the people and capital. Also, the executive arm of the Government dealing with this matter has been compromised heavily as there are talks of corruption making rounds. Wensel Mavara and Muyenga Muyenga and the private investor (Russian billionaire) must be advised to relook at their business model,” Seibeb said.
SWANU MP, Usutuaije Maamberua, accused the SWAPO-led Government of stealing ancestral land from the ordinary people.
“Namibia is the only country in the world that sells land to foreigners and that is a criminal and corrupt way of stealing from the future generation of the country, therefore this should not be entertained. This is the main reason why Government is not willing to hold the second land conference,”Maamberua said.
Of the 281 foreign nationals that own land in the country, the majority use the farms for hunting purposes.