Slightly over one year ago, the land question in Namibia took on a whole new meaning after the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) activists touched a raw nerve because land is the most fundamental means of production. They literally took the bull by the horns, or as someone said, they touched the lion by the b@lls! However, the Leninist question is: What is to be done now?
The “AR Housing Charter 31” recognises that the demand for housing far outstrips its supply, thereby leading to excessively high housing prices and an acute housing shortage. The main causative factors are identified as: the shortage of serviced land, the increasing costs of building materials, high interest rates and the unbridled speculation in the housing market.
The Charter recommends that housing should be entrenched as a fundamental and inalienable right in Chapter 3 of the Namibian Constitution. Furthermore, a Property and Rental Control Board should be established, as well as a Building Society and a Land Servicing Board. Strangely, the Charter proposes that the construction of the houses should be left in the hands of private entrepreneurs, and that NHE should be liquidated.
Is AR a revolutionary movement or is it just a radical housing project? Minister Emeritus Helmuth Angula was quoted as saying that AR cannot be a revolutionary movement because they are fighting to own property, which is antithetical to fighting for the destruction of classes thereby placing all the means of production in the hands of the people.
In fact, paragraph 1.8. of the AR Charter does not set out any revolutionary ideological basis for the establishment of the movement; it is merely a reaction to the housing crisis. Thus, to be revolutionary, AR needs a socialist vision that seeks to fundamentally transform the existing capitalist mode of production.
Property ownership per se is not revolutionary; it is in fact the hallmark of capitalism because mortgages are the largest asset base of all the commercial banks, thereby helping to oil the capitalist machinery. A revolutionary theory must thus empower people to know that property ownership should not make them members of the capitalist club; on the contrary, property should become the explosive and implosive device that will smash capitalism. As Malcolm X said, a chicken cannot lay duck eggs, but if it does, then it is indeed a revolutionary chicken.
The fact that AR is not a revolutionary movement in the strict sense of the word does not diminish its significance, though. However, my biggest issue is: why leave the critical aspect of housing construction in the hands of the private sector? And why create new institutions like the Building Society and the Land Servicing Board while at the same time campaigning for the liquidation of the entity that was specifically created to service land, build houses and then finance such houses? Of course, NHE has many challenges, but then we must address and resolve them, rather than bury this crucial institution without a guarantee that the new ones will do better than NHE.
In fact, building societies are a dying breed of financial institutions. Remember SWABOU and NamibBou? Historically, building societies were credit unions like the Shack Dwellers Federation, owned entirely by their members, to offer mortgages and demand-deposit accounts. They were also known as mutual institutions because persons that had savings accounts or mortgages automatically became members with voting rights.
However, over time, legislation changed and building societies were allowed to demutualize, thereby becoming identical to commercial banks. Boxall and Gallagher (1997) explain it well “... there was virtually no difference between banks and building society ‘listed’ interest rates for home finance mortgage lending between 1984 and 1997. This behaviour resulted in a ….. rapid accumulation of reserves....(which) is difficult to reconcile with conventional theories of mutual behaviour”. In Zimbabwe, the building societies have retained the name for purposes of brand loyalty only (e.g. Central Africa Building Society, CABS).
Furthermore, the creation of a land servicing board is a duplication of functions by local authorities and the NHE. It is far better to empower the local authorities and regional councils, as well as NHE, as envisaged in the Blueprint, than to create new institutions.
The Blueprint holistically addresses many of the issues raised by the AR Charter. I thus cringe when I hear that there are talks to produce a new blueprint; this reveals the Namibian disease which causes everyone to create his/her own legacy instead of consolidating the one initiated by our predecessors.
Mass housing is the brainchild of the Namibian government, approved by Cabinet in 2013. Independent investigations have shown that the allegations of irregularities and price-inflations are untrue. It is the lack of adequate government funding, caused by sectarian political and economic interests, which killed mass housing.
The bottom line is that we all know what we must do, but we are working at cross purposes; we want to outshine each other at the expense of the common people. The problem is the twin evil of power and glory that Jimmy Cliff sang about. Fundamentally, lasting solutions can only be found by genuine, concerted and collaborative efforts that will ultimately lead to a total transformation of the capitalist mode of production. The solutions that are proposed in the Blueprint and the AR Charter attempt to patch up and massage capitalism, which we know is intrinsically un-reformable. But I guess half a loaf is better than no bread at all……..
Do we have the guts to do the right thing? Can AR become a true revolutionary movement? Can we have adequate shelter for all Namibians in our lifetime? Is a socialist revolution achievable in Namibia?
Tracy Chapman has some answers: “Don’t you know/They’re talkin’ bout a revolution/It sounds like a whisper/While they’re standing in the welfare lines/Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation/Wasting time in the unemployment lines/Sitting around waiting for a promotion/Poor people gonna rise up/And get their share/Poor people gonna rise up/And take what’s theirs/Finally the tables are starting to turn/Talkin’ bout a revolution.”