The entire point of land resettlement is restoring the dignity of our people who were stripped of land or denied access to land in their own country.
The recent case of the late land activist, Maria Sululu Isaaks, a valiant woman who fought for the rights of the landless who lived and died on her resettlement farm and then was initially denied the right to be buried on that farm due to insensitive government fears about future claims of ancestral land rights, flies in the face of the reason for land resettlement.
While “ousie Sululu” was in fact buried on farm Versailles, where she was resettled by government and subsequently where she resided when she recently passed away, we take alarmed note that it took a last minute intervention directly from the President to allow the burial.
While the presidential intervention was timely and appropriate, the fact remains that this will not be the only case where a resident on a resettlement farm dies and requests burial on the land where they lived. Will the President have to personally intervene each time? We are pleased for the bereaved family and friends of the deceased in this case, but, the overall issue that concerns us here is an institutional regulation that seems to forbid burials on resettlement farms.
We are concerned that the very African, cultural stricture against embarrassing or defaming the dead, as they are not there to defend themselves, was violated when government initially refused the wishes of the deceased resettlement land resident, the right to be buried on the rural farm where she lived.
This places government in the role of snubbing culture and acting in a way that is insensitive and uncaring.
We reject claims that the burial of the lady concerned sets an unsustainable precedent that could open a Pandora’s Box of future claims under the banner of ancestral rights requiring permanent access to that land by the family of those buried there.
The entire issue of respect for ancestral land rights and land resettlement to restore the dignity of a person should be examined after this recent controversy.
And what is wrong with ancestral rights? Are they not as valid as any other right given to Namibians in the Constitution? Where is the justification for raising concerns over ancestral rights in the case of a certain group of people only? (i.e., those moved by government onto resettlement farms.)
Arguably, Maria Sululu Isaaks’ rights and dignity as a Namibian were restored when she was finally resettled on the land after a long fight for her rights. Post mortem regulations about her preferred burial location tried to remove those very rights.
Government must find a way to work with communities and families to maintain the very point of land resettlement and accommodate burial requests on resettlement farms the same way as it is done in communal conservancies (also State-owned land) and on State land and protected areas all across Namibia.
There are communities that access cemeteries on land that was stolen from their families by the Germans and they continue to honour their ancestors and bury those of the family wishing to rest in those places by continuing their right of access to that part of the land, regardless of who claims ownership today.
There are people from various areas that regularly visit grave sites of loved ones that are located on land owned by entirely different people today than at the time when their ancestors were buried there. It is not an unusual circumstance in Namibia and it must be accommodated.
Access to ancestral land must be allowed to those who have a traditional, cultural -and we submit- legal, right to it; arguably, people who are connected to that land, may have the right to be buried there, should they choose to be. These are long-standing customs that cannot be easily brushed aside.
It cannot be denied that it is still very much the case in all parts of Namibia, that people are buried on their family farms, in local traditional places, in rural church graveyards, in communal areas and other spots chosen by a community or family. To hinder this is an insult to our culture.
Furthermore, it can be argued that there is a double-standard at work when we continue to allow rural burials in other cases such as those mentioned above and yet, place those resettled by government into some sort of different category of citizenship rights as decided by unnamed government bureaucrats that decide where certain citizens must not be buried.
We believe this is an incorrect way of handling this very sensitive issue and we need to do better. Our people must live and die with dignity.