Land contradictions

15 March 2013

THE Minister of Lands and Resettlement Alpheus !Naruseb took a very firm and uncompromising position when dealing with Baster Kaptein John McNab’s opposition to the draft new Deeds Bill.
However, the position the Government has taken on the Rehoboth land question raises worrying questions about the whole system of customary land tenure in the country.


It also exposes a double standard in the way the Government treats the customary land rights of some ethnic groups as opposed to others in the country.

On the face of it, the Registration of Deeds in Rehoboth Act is an anachronism that harks back to the Odendaal Plan of 1963 and the Bantustan policies of the 1970s.

It revives painful memories of Hendrik Verwoerd’s segregationist vision of ‘grand apartheid’.

Chapter 3, Article 10 (1) of the Namibian Constitution, under the heading Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms, states that: “All persons shall be equal before the law”.

As !Naruseb pointed out, this makes the continued existence of the Registration of Deeds in Rehoboth Act largely untenable.

The Namibia cannot have one law for Rehoboth and a completely different law for the rest of the country, but then this should not apply to Rehoboth alone

In all fairness, one can forgive the Rehoboth hard-liners for the bitterness they feel about the way Government has handled their customary land rights

The people of Rehoboth sit in the uncomfortable position of having a mixed land tenure system of both privately owned and communal land (Baster Gemeente Grond).

They devised their system of land tenure in order to prevent alienation of their land by encroaching white colonisers.

For all practical purposes, much of Rehoboth is a commercial farming area just like any other commercial farming area, where people trade in land freely.

Constitutionally, it therefore becomes difficult to justify why the Baster people should enjoy exclusivity over ownership of land in the area.

However, their understandable fear of losing their land to white colonisers has now come back to haunt them.

These same laws now appear to discriminate against other fellow Namibians, whether white or black.

The Rehoboth Basters could perhaps have avoided the problems posed by the new Deeds Bill if they had kept their customary land entirely communal – as other indigenous ethnic groups in the country have nominally done.

In reality however, the Basters are not unique as far as practising ethnic discrimination when it comes to customary land.

In fact, the whole system of customary land tenure is riddled with contradictions and ambiguities that place it in direct conflict with the Namibian constitution.

In some ways, it is therefore unfair that we should single out Rehoboth when trying to rectify these irregularities.

If we want to eliminate discrimination in the right to settle anywhere in the country, we should do so across the board for all ethnic groups.

Furthermore, other traditional communities have also covertly privatised vast tracts of land, to the extent that one can no longer speak of communally owned land.

Much of the land in the Four O regions has now fundamentally fallen into private ownership, and the same applies to parts of the former Hereroland West as well as Otjombinde.

The same applies to parts of the Kavango where prominent politicians have made the headlines through their land purchases.

Other ethnic groups do not have the equivalent of the Registration of Deeds in Rehoboth Act, but they use other mechanisms for keeping their land ethnically exclusive.

They instead use the powers granted to kings, chiefs and headmen under the Traditional Authorities Act to reserve their land for their own ethnic group.

The fact that traditional leaders invariably only grant land to members of their own ethnic group is just as discriminatory as the Rehoboth people’s claim to exclusivity over their land.

The Government feels that it can legitimately resettle people from other ethnic groups on Rehoboth customary land at Nauas Poort and Groot Aub.

However, it then needs to explain why it cannot, for example resettle large numbers of Basters, Namas, coloureds or whites at Onamatende, Onamahoka, Otumborombonga or Okombahe.

The colonial legacy of this country does not make it easy to resolve these contradictions and inconsistencies, or our own ambivalence and confusion about customary land.

The sensitivity of the issue makes it imperative that we deal with the whole question judiciously and fairly, without resorting to rash, knee-jerk reactions as the Government seems to have done in the case of Rehoboth.

To single out Rehoboth for punishment because of discriminating against fellow Namibians hardly seems fair when other communities do the same thing.



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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