Rethinking resettlement

23 July 2012

Hooray! Finally, someone in Government has started to see the light when it comes to the land resettlement programme.

Minister of Lands and Resettlement Alpheus !Naruseb’s declaration when speaking at Hoachanas that he supports the subletting of farms comes as welcome news indeed.

The opinion he expressed shows an uncommon degree of perceptiveness and a sense of realism that we have learnt not to expect from our usually dogmatic politicians.


Usually when they have taken a certain position, they cling to it tenaciously even when it flies in the face of the facts, reality and all reason.

We should, however, see the new thinking !Naruseb has articulated as only the first step in a thought process and a re-evaluation of the resettlement programme that needs to evolve much further.

Above all, we hope !Naruseb can bring his Cabinet colleagues on board and help them also evolve their thinking and take them along on the journey of reassessing the land reform programme.

Land reform stands head and shoulders above any other programme as the most important policy initiative Government has undertaken since Independence – followed closely by black economic empowerment – although BEE remains stuck in the starting blocks.

These two policies are the cornerstones of all our efforts to address the legacy of oppression, injustice and dispossession that remains from the country’s dark colonial history.

In that respect they are more important than Vision 2030 or any number of National Development Plans will ever be.

The new thinking on land reform requires many additional steps before we can hope to arrive at a workable model of land reform for the country.

Some of these steps include accepting the principle that Government cannot empower people by claiming to give them something but then still want to retain ownership.

Secondly, Government needs to accept that within certain well-defined parameters it will have to allow resettlement farms to become a tradable commodity in order to empower citizens in the true sense of the word.

This second step is also a prerequisite for the natural mechanisms of economic development to work and to prevent destroying the value of a precious and scarce resource.

The Government in principle had quite noble and reasonable motives for deciding that it would retain ownership of resettlement farms and only grant beneficiaries leasing rights.

It obviously aimed at preventing the more foolish among the beneficiaries from immediately cashing in by selling the resettlement farms for a quick profit.

Furthermore, Government probably realised that to achieve genuine and enduring land reform it needed a mechanism to prevent the land falling back into the clutches of the privileged white minority.

They are the ones with the financial muscle that they have gained through benefitting from colonial and apartheid policies.

They could easily snap up any resettlement farms that come onto the market and we would soon be back to square one.

The Government has poured vast amounts of time and financial resources into the modest successes it has achieved in the area of land reform and obviously no one would want to see a reverse in those gains.

Clearly, any government that uses taxpayers’ money to acquire expensive farmland and then allows individuals to throw it all away by speculating with the land would be highly irresponsible.

There are, however, far better ways in which Government can prevent any reversals in the progress the country has made with land reform.

The policy of Government retaining ownership of resettlement farms has, however, proved counter-productive.

It has created economic inefficiencies, skewed the natural patterns of capital formation, retarded economic progress and distorted markets.

Government could have implemented a number of alternative measures to prevent the undoing of land reform.

With the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme (AALS) to purchase agricultural land, Agribank sets a minimum period of ten years before beneficiaries can sell their farms.

This is a sound idea because it gives people enough time to find their feet, explore, and discover whether they really have the inclination, the ability and aptitude to pursue a career as full-time farmers.

Some will succeed because they are hardworking, farm prudently, have good judgement, management capacity and the ability to husband their resources.

Others will fail because they are lazy, wasteful, and improvident and consume their capital instead of building it up.

However, the fact that some succeed and others fail is the way of the world in any field of human endeavour and we have to learn to accept that.

Those who fail as farmers might well have succeeded in any other field and maybe they were just not made for farming.

Only extremely naive idealists cling to the belief that you can legislate against human nature and the natural order of this world when at best all we can do is moderate its excesses.

In fact, only communists believed that coercion could change human nature, which is what led to the downfall of that economic system all around the world.

Those who make a success of farming should have the opportunity to grow and prosper by buying up the farmland of those who clearly show no aptitude for farming.

Government could prevent all the land from reverting to the privileged white minority through the simple measure of stipulating that resettled farmers can only sell resettlement farms to other previously disadvantaged persons.

This provides a win-win scenario for everyone; the unsuccessful farmer would still achieve empowerment by gaining something from the sale of the farm.

The purchase of additional land would allow the successful farmers to increase their livestock or crop fields.

That would allow these farmers to increase efficiencies, become more productive and achieve economies of scale and thereby make a greater contribution to economic growth.

If we had this system in place, farmers who have the capacity to farm commercially like President Hifikepunye Pohamba, Usko Nghaamwa, Erkki Nghimtina and others would not have to deprive impoverished subsistence farmers in Uukwangali of land.

At the same time, Government would have to put in place strict penalties – including possible jail sentences – for dishonest people who sabotage Governments efforts by acting as fronts for white farmers.

This should also apply to farmers that benefit from the AALS. Currently a significant percentage of these farmers illegally lease their farms out to white farmers.

This completely defeats the whole purpose of the AALS, which is to empower the previously disadvantaged.

Instead, the scheme empowers the previously privileged who secretly lease AALS farms.

They now farm more profitably than ever because they do not have to carry the burden of servicing a loan and have a black farmer to do that for them.

Meanwhile, they rob black farmers by not paying market related grazing fees and make all manner of dubious deductions for so-called ‘maintenance’.

Agribank should also consider lifting its prohibition on subletting on the strict condition that these farmers only lease to other previously disadvantaged persons.

In its current form, our resettlement programme contains elements of Stalin’s, Mao Zedong’s and the delusional madman Pol Pot’s failed experiments in ‘collectivisation’ that eventually led to famine and mass death.

The ‘collectivisation’ mentality behind our resettlement policy has caused serious damage to the country’s economy and especially the agricultural sector.

It has resulted in falling agricultural output and a situation where productive agricultural farmland has in many cases turned into subsistence farms or no better than squatter camps.

Those who have the capacity to farm productively are unable to grow their businesses (yes, farming is a business) because banks will not grant them loans since they cannot use the land as collateral.

Government cannot empower people when it retains ownership. It amounts to giving with one hand and then taking away with the other.

Either you give, or you don’t give. You cannot half give, and then pretend you have empowered people.

Minister !Naruseb has started the ball rolling. His Cabinet colleagues now have to play the ball and score so we can all become part of a winning team.



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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