The upcoming Second National Land Conference to be held from 1-5 October is front and centre in the minds of many who are passionate about the land issue in Namibia.
And this is as it should be, given the momentous and historical impact this summit could have.
Regional meetings to consult as widely as possible about the land issue are underway.
Some of the regions that are not representative of those that have been dispossessed of their ancestral land under colonialism and apartheid have made recommendations that call for no consideration of the ancestral lands issue during the conference.
However, we believe that calls from various regions to suppress the ancestral lands question must never be entertained as doing so would be a mistake.
Those who have been dispossessed of their land due to colonialism and apartheid must be heard and their top issues reasonably accommodated as a part of the outputs of the lands conference. Minority concerns must never be totally eclipsed by the majority in a small democracy like Namibia.
To fail to consider the ancestral lands issues devalues the historical injustice perpetrated on people who were originally Namibians, but were forced to leave the country of their birth and flee to neighbouring countries, generations ago. They have been dispossessed. Their land and property was then stolen by the German colonial forces that chased them out. Redress of these issues must be given a platform at the Land Conference.
It is vital that the agenda of the event entertain the separate issues of those whose generational lands were stolen from them under brutal German colonialism and for those who were unable to purchase land and live where they chose due to the heinous race-based laws of the South African apartheid government.
The blanket issue of resettlement of landless Namibians does not cover the special case of those whose ancestral land was stolen from them. Debate over the land resettlement policy is critically important, but does not address the issue of returning ancestral land to those who were unjustly dispossessed.
Those whose families have been generationally dispossessed believe their issue must not be combined with the debate on land resettlement policy. The solutions they seek are not the same.
We disagree with earlier statements by Lands Minister Utoni Nujoma and comments made by President Hage Geingob pre-conditioning the conference’s agenda items by closing discussion of ancestral lands being returned to those who have been dispossessed. We rather look to hear inputs on this issue from Founding President Sam Nujoma, Immediate Former President Hifikepunye Pohamba, former Prime Minister Nahas Angula and other fair-minded leaders who value inclusiveness and understand the importance of ancestral lands to those of the Namibian nation who have been separated from theirs.
This issue must be fairly debated at the Lands Conference in discussions led by the communities affected. The merits of the arguments must be considered on a level playing field that objectively measures the arguments presented.
It is easy to close off discussion of the ancestral lands issue by using the general phrasing that the “land question is sensitive” or declaring that attending to the concerns of the minority group of affected communities would be “divisive or stoke tribalism” when this country is ‘one Namibia; one nation’ and a unitary state.
We are concerned that as a united Namibia, in one Namibian House, not addressing these long-standing concerns can set the stage for further unrest on the land issue. They say that still waters run deep.
The fluctuating undercurrents that lay out of sight are nonetheless, still there. Such deep rooted, unmoveable discontent about ancestral land by those who have been dispossessed may court the exact divisiveness that those in power (whose traditional land was not taken away from them), hope to avoid.
Bring this issue to the fore, keep it on the agenda, undiluted, in its own right; let the arguments on ancestral land be tabled and fairly considered.
We believe that this is the time to be a nation that embraces the concerns of all of its citizens equally, whether they are in the minority or majority.
We note that the government has already set the precedent of singling out special groups of citizens for benefits paid for by the entire nation. And we agree with this because addressing the specific needs of a select minority within the nation can help build a stronger Namibia.
The entire concept of the war veteran’s monthly compensation package and flat grants for their business ventures is a national benefit for a targeted group. The veteran’s benefits law has established specific criteria defining who is a war veteran, what evidence is needed to prove veteran status, and how they qualify the various levels within the program.
We agree with this selective compensation program for that specific group in recognition of their sacrifices during those dark days and to reward them for fighting for Namibian independence.
Equally, we see that a similar structure with criteria and procedures can be set up to address other special groups with just claims on the Namibian government and society.
The group of citizens with recorded, identifiable claims for ancestral land stolen under colonialism can be handled in a similar system to that used for identifying and managing war veterans’ benefits.
War veterans are further catered for as a marginalized group in need of social support in contract bids, tenders, fishing quotas and even in the national resettlement policy. This special status is conferred over and above the monthly pensions and other generous benefits already available.
Inclusion of war veterans as a category equal to those of the disabled, needy youth and orphans makes one wonder if the term is now a euphemism for “those from the North” allowing that specific group of citizens to have access to tax payer-funded government programs, above people from other areas of the country.
Just as setting aside national funds to assist war veterans should not be considered ‘sensitive’ or tribal and must not be divisive, neither is addressing the concerns of the citizens dispossessed of their land.
There are concerns raised that if those from the traditional areas of the ruling party were set to benefit from a program to return reasonable portions of ancestral land to the dispossessed, then, ancestral land would be a top agenda item rather than the embattled issue it seems to be now.
The dispossessed must have their say. Sublimating their concerns under blanket discussions about the land resettlement policy is insufficient.
Those who traditionally owned land want it returned. They do not want to be settled on land elsewhere, away from the water and other resources that were readily available on their original piece of land.
The concerns of the dispossessed have national import and should not be denigrated as minority concerns not relevant to the nation as a whole.
Decision-makers must ensure that discussion and solutions to the issues of the dispossessed and their ancestral lands remain on the land conference agenda.