Earlier this month, Deputy Land Minister Clinton Swartbooi commented on the country’s land-reform programme, saying it is a “total failure” driven by “ahistorical” principles. This position is principled and we support it.
We recognise that the deputy minister’s statement may have put him at odds with the ruling party’s long-standing policies regarding the land resettlement programme and we applaud his courage to state his honest point of view within a democratic system that should encourage such dialogue and not penalise people for it.
Namibia is a unitary State that fought for its independence to reject ‘bantustanisation’, regulations against free movement of all citizens and tribal /ethnic based regulations attached to land ownership.
While echoing this national sentiment, we also recognise that an accelerated nation building programme that provides for resettlement of people based on a national list on farms in areas of the country where other landless citizens are historically located is problematic and must be reconsidered.
Relocating a family living in, for example, Mondesa to a farm that has become available in Mariental under the current farm land purchase regulations, while people who are historically and generationally from Mariental remain landless, without grazing areas, farming space or sufficient places to live, can foment local unrest and high levels of discontent.
History says that the Nama, Damara and Herero lost land during German and South African colonialism due to military relocations and forced removals.
Other families with members in exile lost land and other assets at the hands of traditional leaders.
This lost property and land is irreplaceable. When the land was taken, it altered the lifestyles and fortunes of those families and entire communities.
Resettlement can be used to address these injustices by prioritising the resettlement of people on farms that become available, based on their proven historical connections with a particular area as one of the criteria.
Old cemeteries and burial grounds as well as church records can attest to the family names that originally lived in certain areas. Many of those located in barren, low rainfall areas, were pushed off their original land and forced to exist on the margins as their fertile lands were usurped by others.
This is not conjecture, it is historical fact. This land imbalance must be addressed and the resettlement programme should be responsive to this.
We define the word ‘resettlement’ to mean replacing people back onto lands where they and their ancestors previously lived. We recognise that the government resettlement programme defines it more broadly and involves moving anyone from one location to another to settle and live.
But it sparks concern when someone from, for example, Oshakati is resettled in Rundu as part of the government land redistribution programme. The situation can be particularly tenuous when people living for generations in Rundu, remain landless watching ‘others’ with no connection to the area move onto farms where they have history.
This issue is not about tribalism or a re-establishment of ethnic zones where tax paying Namibians are banned from living wherever they choose within the country because they are of a different language grouping or have no historical ties to an area.
Rather, the policy we support is a practical one.
Resettling people to areas where they have historical connections to can strengthen local communities and soothe some discontent over the land question, particularly as farmers search for grass and water sources for their animals in drought-affected or naturally low agricultural resource areas.
The precedent for recognising historical claims to obtain access to government benefits is entrenched in the passage of the Veterans Act and the establishment of veterans’ grants and other monetary programmes.
Special consideration for individuals falling under certain and specific qualifications criteria opens access to them for State funds due to a historical claim.
This same principle can be brought to bear in the allocation of resettlement farms or plots purchased by government with funds from development partners.
Land is always a sensitive issue as it speaks to something deeply embedded in each one of us; the need to have a place to call our own and leave to our children.
The government resettlement programme ought to serve this intimate feeling within Namibians, not challenge it.