Should we believe Pohamba?

29 August 2013
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During his Heroes’ Day speech at Omugulugwombashe, President Hifikepunye Pohamba made some remarks about the land question that gave some people hope that Government might finally start taking land reform seriously.

He said that the willing buyer, willing seller policy had failed, which is an undeniable truth.

Her further went on to say, “Government is ready to buy land but those that have it must sell or we will find other ways to ways to ensure that our landless people get access to land”.

Does this mean we have seen a shift in Government policy, and that Government will start taking tougher measures to speed up land reform? Probably not!

Should we believe that our Government is sincere this time around? Probably not!

If Government had a genuine political will to achieve significant, large-scale land reform, it would have done so over the past twenty-three and a half years of independence.

We would do well to remember that next year is an election year. The land reform rhetoric always heats up a few notches in the run-up to elections.

There is no better, sure-fire vote winner than promising land to the landless – even when it’s only empty promises that offer false hope to people.

Come next year Government might even carry out a few symbolic expropriations of white-owned farms.

Most white landowners and foreigners who own land won’t worry too much because they know it’s mostly hot air that will blow over as soon as the elections are over.

Whenever Pohamba speaks about the land question, he makes it sound as though it’s a highly complex question and an intractable conundrum that the best minds in the country cannot figure out.

In reality, the puzzle of land reform is quite simple and most of the solutions have been staring us in the face for years.

Speeding up the process of land reform does not even require extreme measures such as violent Zimbabwe-style land seizures (although some hotheads advocate this route).

Pohamba and his ministers know perfectly well that a few simple measures would go a long way toward easing the burning land-hunger in the country, both for farmland and urban land for housing.

These include genuinely enforcing the existing ban of foreigners buying farmland, and introducing a new ban that extends that to foreigners buying residential property.

There is land available because you just have to look at the advertisements in local newspapers to see that farms change hands almost daily.

The problem is the massively inflated prices of both commercial farmland and urban land that put buying it almost completely out of reach of even reasonably well off Namibians.

Large-scale activity by foreigners in both the farm and residential property markets has distorted prices beyond recognition – to the point where they bear no relation to the economic value of the land.

Foreigners who normally could not afford to become large landowners in their own countries come to Namibia and use the power of a favourable exchange rate to push Namibians out of the market.

With the US$ at over 10 to the N$, the euro at almost 14 to the N$ and the British pound at 16 to the N$ how does Government expect Namibians to compete against such money power?

Because the South African government has implemented real land reform in that country, white South Africans have also become highly active in the Namibian market.

Other foreigners buy for speculative reasons. They buy and then sell just to make money. It’s a game people play – no different from playing at the casino.

The nominal ban on foreigners buying farmland is just that – it exists in name only.

They continue to use various loopholes in the law, such as usufruct, to feverishly buy up farmland in Namibia. The argument that Government cannot tamper with the law on usufruct because it would disadvantage those who want to use the law for legitimate reasons does not wash.

Even the most obtuse Ministry of Lands official should be able to distinguish between a poor widow granted usufruct and a foreigner abusing usufruct.

Pohamba, Minister of Lands Alpheus !Naruseb and all the other ministers are smart people and they know this is happening but choose to turn a blind eye.

Look at large land holdings such as Ozondjahe Safaris and Otjikaru in the Otjozondjupa region.

A certain Minister of Trade allegedly gave these foreigners exemptions to buy farmland based on that they were ‘status investors’ who would invest big money in manufacturing. Where are these investments? Has anyone done anything to rectify this fraud? No!

Most of Botswana is one huge communal area (tribal area) and the government enforces tight restrictions on foreigners buying land in those areas, and buying unimproved land or plots.

Is Pohamba saying that the Batswana are smarter than we are?

Angolan nationals are buying up vast amounts of residential property in the country.

They bring suitcases stuffed with the almighty US dollar and buy houses for cash (no one seems to care that much of it is probably stolen money).

Just go to Khomasdal, if you don’t believe it. These days you are more likely to hear the sound of Portuguese in Khomasdal than Afrikaans or any of our indigenous languages.

The fact is that the political will just doesn’t exist to carry out serious land reform in this country.

Politicians and foreigners are close bedfellows. Foreign nationals often cut politicians in on business deals, so why not turn a blind eye or even help facilitate their land deals.

Somehow, somewhere, someone has had his or her palm greased.

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