The land problem in black and white

28 April 2017
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When we talk about corruption, the land issue and mismanagement problems in Namibia, these accusations are always focused on black people in political office, local Government or businesses. We reject this limited scope. Failure to fully identify a problem means failure to come up with viable solutions.

Why do we readily pursue outwardly wealthy black people as the automatic source of any economic problems we face, while we are slow to consider the generationally wealthy white Namibian community and their historic and continuing role in compounding negatives of the current situation?

In South Africa, the Economic Freedom Fighters commented on that country’s downgrade to junk status by rating agencies by saying that black people have been living in junk for decades, so what difference does it make.

Comments from South African President Jacob Zuma, albeit for his own selfish reasons, and other media pundits also focus on the reality that the majority of the wealth of that economy still lies in the hands of those advantaged by apartheid.

Political commentators here in Namibia have also drawn attention to the fact that those sitting on the most viable farmland and owning the most expensive real estate in Namibia’s main city centres and beach fronts are all white, a few of whom are foreign.

President Geingob said, “Why is it that when a black person is rich people start asking how that person got his money, but when it is a white person no one questions anything…When my good friend Quinton van Rooyen bought a Bentley, no one said anything, but if that was a black person, people would be asking questions.”

Whites in Namibia continue to be in their historically protected comfort zones. While this, in and of itself, is not necessarily wrong, we wonder why blacks are not allowed to be in their comfort zones with the same ‘hands-off’ status that is offered to whites.

While most people in Namibia do not support Zimbabwe-style land expropriations, many support reviews of property belonging to people who own multiple farms or long-term unimproved plots with an eye towards obligatory sales to Government using fair and transparent formulas.

Unscrupulous people, conmen, fraudsters, people using nepotism, thieves and corrupt people come in all colours and are in the public and private sector. In fact, there was no greater corruption done in Namibia than by those who materially benefited under the apartheid system and those who profited under German colonialism.

Land owned by those families who profited from apartheid and colonialism, should be a part of any discussion about resolving the land problem in Namibia.

We support serious and immediate re-consideration of the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ process. After 27 years, this method of land redistribution has not worked and the peace of the nation is under threat.

To undercut discussions of this fact by shifting the blame for the land problem and Namibia’s economic woes to the Government, hard-working, middle class blacks, and successful black businessmen, is political sleight of hand that draws attention away from whites, who own and control most of the wealth in the country.

Namibia has high rates of income inequality; our shameful Gini coefficient and global graduation to an upper middle income country, without an intra-Namibian examination that explains this status, exposes the fact that the majority of the wealth of the country is still concentrated in the hands of generationally rich, white Namibians.

The income disparity of the super-rich whites is a significant reason for the huge gap between the rich and poor.

We are referring to the fact that whites make up less than six percent of Namibia’s population and yet the Employment Equity Commission reported that they continue to dominate top positions in key sectors of the economy and hold more than 60 percent of the highest paying posts in the country.

And yet, far too many Namibians consistently point fingers at emerging wealthy blacks as the culprits of income disparity and unequal land distribution.

We are at each other’s throats over the small number of resettlement farms made available by the Government, while whites are still sitting pretty, receiving land and assets from their ancestors, leaving their wealth to their children and accumulating even more wealth from their high-paying executive positions.

When we look at the issue of ancestral land, we must not forget that much of it is still in the hands of whites whose ancestors stole it from the original owners. And yet, Government comes to their rescue whenever this issue pops up. White ownership of ancestral land must be a part of the land redistribution debate.

The war for independence was not only for the right to vote. In a real sense, that right to cast a vote means little if the main goal of economic independence and equal access to opportunities remains unrealised for the majority.

Everyone descends like vultures on the SME Bank and yet, the South African banks that control Namibia continue with their majority white boards and decision-making executives.

The banks that make policies that affect the lives of Namibians receive their marching orders from white South Africans who actually own those banks. Why not approach these foreign banks and their foreign owners with the same aggression that we pursue the SME Bank.

Our points should not be reduced to mere racial debate. It is the larger picture that concerns us. We cannot adequately address the land issue or income disparity by arguing over the few Government purchased farms or jealously attacking wealthy blacks.

We must look at who owns the land and wealth of the nation and devise a solution, based on that reality, even if it means changing the laws to do so.

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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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