Let them eat cake

12 October 2018
The land conference is over and now the predictable statement from President Geingob at the October 9th Cabinet meeting has been released, bearing a cornucopia of “quick wins and low hanging fruit” as an ad hoc attempt to make placating offerings to segments of society that are ill at ease about the land crisis.
We are disappointed when we read the president’s list of suggestions and vague insinuations.   Once again, this government is run with no urgency to get anything substantive done.  It seems that in the midst of every national crisis where segments of the population are screaming for redress, the answer from the government is to hold a conference or a meeting followed by a speech where all the ‘buzz-words’  and recognizable goals are merely repeated.
Geingob’s statement is solid proof yet again, that our 70-80 year old leaders have little idea of the heartfelt priorities and deeply rooted values of the constituents they claim to represent.  We imagine a hospital patient with a curable form of cancer and a cold.  The president’s low hanging fruit suggestions are like treating the cold with expired medicine and ignoring the cancer completely then proudly claiming that the problem has been ‘addressed.’
Does the president think that his statement will distract the nation enough to forget their unfulfilled need for land, jobs, and hope?
Our criticism is born of frustration with a long line of ‘major’ conferences that generated limited or no results stretching from the Vision 2030 high level meetings in 2004 to the conclusion of the recent land conference.
It seems that government believes that holding a conference about a major national issue is, in and of itself, a key achievement. 
Recall the powerful education conference of 2012.  Few remember the resolutions and recommendations – little has been achieved. 
Recall NEEEF.  Remember the plethora of conferences and meetings. Until now, no NEEEF, even without the 25 percent requirement of black ownership for all businesses, has been passed into law. 
Recall the mass uproar about urban land servicing and the demand for rent control and the meeting with Affirmative Repositioning at State House.  We are reminded that the president along with various ministers went in person around the country to various municipalities looking at land charts and pretending to map out servicing areas all as a gimmick to show his ‘commitment’ to immediate land reform.  Geingob’s cabinet statement again throws a hollow bone to that major concern by nebulously talking about government working closer with the Windhoek municipality to identify land for houses.
Recall 2011’s Targeted Intervention Program for Employment and Economic Growth (TIPEEG). Job creation targets of TIPEEG were launched with conferences, consultants, and cheers.  All of that has died away and government barely mentions unemployment.  
We read headlines this week saying, “Business and investor confidence restored after guaranteed property rights at land conference.”  In other words, the status quo is intact, so the previously advantaged that own 72 percent of the land can rest easy and continue to leave the land crumbs to everyone else; the cabinet statement makes no mention of expropriation. 
While the president has declared that money is not the main issue causing unimplemented laws that could have made strides in addressing the land crisis, he is off the mark.  In fact, with no money available, nothing will move – he knows this, and, yet his statement claims that money should not be a problem.
We are particularly astounded about the statement declaring the “suspension” of willing buyer/willing seller.  We believe that making such an unsupported statement is, in terms of good governance, inept.  Purposefully creating a policy/political vacuum is never productive.  The president and cabinet are well aware that those words in the context of that statement, mean nothing in the law. 
The statement is window dressing to assuage public sentiments; to try to depict the president as ‘in step with the calls from the masses of the people.’ 
In our view, the ‘suspension’ may give the uninformed a false positive on the land issue, but in effect, it satisfies the white landed aristocracy who didn’t want to sell their land anyway and never wanted to offer their farms to government first.  Where is the policy/law to replace the ‘suspended’ willing buyer/willing seller? If a new law on land ever emerges, it will likely take many years.
Another pronouncement in the cabinet statement is about research into increasing the profitability of cattle above the notorious Red Line by mandating that government entities (schools, military and police) use beef produced in the North.  This is nothing new; such pronouncements have been made since independence.  Mention of this point is blatant pandering to the Northern Communal Farmers whose feathers may have been ruffled by the land crisis. 
Another of the astonishing “quick wins” announced by Geingob includes a suggestion pandering to the Ovaherero community that the great Chief Hosea Kutako’s “dwelling place” should become a national monument.  Given the National Heritage Act that covers this pronouncement, this process will take years and have significant budgetary implications. 
Shrines and renovations in cemeteries that memorialize significant events in Namibian history or are cultural landmarks, have no place as tokens in the debate over the land crisis.  These honours are historical and educational necessities to benefit all Namibians and are not low hanging fruit to address any political issue.
The president’s absurdly vague pronouncement to “identify a farm or two adjacent to Aminius” could well be seen by the dispossessed and genocide affected communities as a milksop to placate their concerns about the issue of ancestral land.  However, we believe that placing one or two plasters on the stump of an amputated leg, is not a cure.  It merely makes the suffering patient doubt the sincerity, training and common sense of the doctor.
Geingob’s pronouncement that he will establish a commission to discuss ancestral lands is another a tried-and-true placating tool meant to check the clamouring masses.  Supposedly “skilled” members of various segments of the community (likely those who do not shout too loudly) will be selected with much fanfare, paid S&T for travel and sitting fees for meetings, but their resolutions will gather dust. 
Time is running out for a ruling party and government that believe that pronouncements of low hanging fruit and holding major conferences are the solutions to problems.  This model of governance is worn out.
The day that tens of thousands start marching for serviced land and lower rents and the day that the landless and dispossessed continue to see white farmers unbothered and still in control of historically stolen land, cabinet statements or national conferences will not silence them.
Apocryphal stories claim that the French Revolution took off when the pampered Empress responded to complaints about starvation by offering the masses cake instead of bread.  The past is prologue; we must be careful when announcing suggestions for actions that do not address what the people demand. 
Let us rather make the quick wins, real wins and move substantively to amend the laws and regulations that will make a tangible difference in the lives of all Namibians.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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