The Windhoek Observer News Editor, Nyasha Francis Nyaungwa, recently set down with former Cabinet minister, Kazenambo Kazenambo, to gauge his views on next week’s Second National Land Conference.
Kazenambo said the claim that it is only some communities that have lost ancestral land and others have not lost ancestral land, is ill informed and not factual.
He said delegates to the land conference should listen to experts and seek solutions on how the country is going to use its land to improve food security, tackle homelessness and begin developing more light industries.
NN: What does ancestral land mean to you?
Ancestral land is defined as inherited land belonging to an indigenous community or a geographical area occupied by a particular community with a common heritage.
It can also be an area where our parents and grandparents lived for generations.
The argument as to who arrived first in Namibia and therefore who should claim ancestral land rights is merely an intellectual debate.
The reality is that we have a place called Namibia. The acknowledgement of who arrived first and who arrived second is important, but I don’t think we should quarrel about it.
The important thing is how do we share and how do we develop this place of ours.
I don’t think we should spend much time debating about that because present day Namibia, the territories, communities were torn apart, from the East to the West, North and South and that is a reality.
The claim that it is only some communities that have lost ancestral land and others have not lost ancestral land, is ill informed, it is not factual.
It is not realistic because all African people lost their ancestral land, but the magnitude and manifestation of this loss is not the same.
Let’s look at the magnitude, there is no point in us quarrelling saying that it is tribalism when the Ndongas are saying that they have lost part of Etosha which is their ancestral land.
And when we come to central Namibia in Windhoek, all the land that was declared as commercial farms belonged to the San, Hereros, Damaras, Namas, Ndongas and Okavangos.
These communities were here. As for the Hereros, these people were declared rebellious tribes and they were arrested and thrown into concentration camps. They stayed in captivity the two communities (Herero and Nama) until the late 1920s.
The whole area was declared a police zone and was cut into commercial farms with title deeds. It was no longer communal land, but pockets of little reserves for Bantus were identified such as Okakarara, Otjimbingwe, and so on.
When these prisoners were released, they joined their fellows there, but they have no connection with the places where they were settled.
NN: How do you determine that someone is a direct descendent of those who lost ancestral land since you say they are spread across different geographical regions? And what is your view on statements that ancestral land claims might lead to civil war?
KK: Let’s address that misconception. It is misinformed because even now, why are the people not fighting. These communities you find them everywhere, why are they not fighting.
Ancestral land claim is not a claim to say because my grandparents hail from Windhoek or from Oshakati or Katima Mulilo, I must be resettled in those places. That is not the claim.
Some people are defining the claim in monetary terms or through claim of occupation or reoccupation of resettlement and restitution and some are misinterpreting the right of return.
The argument that the debate on ancestral land will cause civil war is hogwash; it is not factually informed because communities are all facing land challenges.
When we are talking about the claim, who are these people we are talking about and what are they going to claim that you think is going to cause a war.
What is it that will cause war; tell us because the communities are mingled now.
In fact, opening up the debate on ancestral land will go a long way in healing the scars manifesting themselves in many ways.
You know if you go to the psychology of people and place, some people connect to places psychologically, not that they want to live there, but the remains of their ancestors are there.
That is why some people across the globe worship rivers, some worship mountains and some are connected to these things spiritually and socially. It is not only settlement alone, it is spiritual and social.
If we suppress and threaten, we are not solving any problem, so that is why I am saying the debate on ancestral land must be opened up because it affects everybody.
It is only that it affects everybody differently; it is not a one size fits all.
The talk by the Swapo Elders Council is misleading, it is ill-informed, because as we are speaking now there are Namibians who live in the North who are grazing in Angola because they lost land to the borders and they are losing land to new comers, people with big money fencing off land.
Ancestral land did not only affect people during the colonial era, it is affecting people even now because people are being uprooted in their original agricultural land in a post-independence Namibia.
The ancestral land issue is yesterday’s issue; it will be today’s issue and it is going to be tomorrow’s issue because even when our towns are growing, we are developing villages that are ancestral land and as we are urbanizing them, we are uprooting and moving people from land that was inhabited for centuries by generations.
Ancestral land will remain here, it depends from what perspective you are looking at it. Why should it cause war, and who will fight who and why?
That is politics that we need to move beyond. The statement by my elders is ill informed.
NN: What was the aftermath of this land dispossession that has taken place that has affected almost every community?
KK: The aftermath is that you have territories that are overcrowded and over-utilized to a point that these places are no longer agriculturally productive, they are exhausted.
Like the reserves, they are drought prone, over-grazed and they are no longer good even for subsistence farming for example, Otjimbingwe, Ovitoto, Khorixas etc.
The population in these areas is growing and this is causing a rise in poverty levels. Even in the northern areas, the population is growing and the towns are eating into the area where people used to grow food for their survival.
There are many dimensions to this subject and that is why we need to look at the old issues and the new issues rather than concentrating on personality issues, unknown fears, pointing fingers and accusing one another.
NN: How do you propose to resolve the consequence of urban development going forward? What should be the way forward?
KK: First, it will be acknowledgement of our background in terms of land ownership and how it has been transformed in the past and how it is transforming itself into the future. How do we respond to expectations, fears and frustrations?
Second, it is to manage diversity of ownership of land itself as a limited economic resource.
We must manage our land to address the diverse factors - social, political, economic and technological - that we face.
How do we address issues of population growth, food security, homelessness etc? How do we address these diverse needs that should be catered for by this limited resource called land?
Therefore, the land and national conference should be a window of opportunity to provide feedback and to evaluate and take an audit of how many hectares of urban land do we have and how our towns and settlements are likely to grow into the future. These are the key issues.
Leasehold is also an issue that we critically need to take a look at. It is only in Namibia where the leasehold of government purchased farms is not tradeable. There is no way in business, where you lease a property for 99 years. It’s a lifetime thing.
For 99 years it means that the value of that lease will not increase, and if it increases, it will not be at market value.
NN: What is the alternative then?
KK: The alternative is that, lets cap the years to a maximum of 25 years, or even 10 years. If in 10 years, you don’t prove yourself, you must get out. You must graduate. You must have a system where people are graduating.
Those that have functioning skills and training for farming and who are producing, Cabinet must consider incentives to subsidize them if they are contributing to job creation.
These are the alternatives that I would suggest, rather than allocating farms on a 99 year leasehold to an individual without monitoring or evaluation.
NN: But if you reduce the number of years, some people will argue that it will become difficult for the farmers to access finance because their leasehold will expire within the next 10 years. How do you address the issue of finance because to start farming productively, capital is needed?
KK: That’s why I am saying, start with my alternatives. I am saying that the farms that are being bought with government money, must not be allocated to individuals irrespective of how politically connected you are. It must be allocated to institutions!
Some people who were allocated farms, they don’t run those farms, but lease them. The people who are leasing them don’t know how to maintain them.
The biggest disease in this country which journalists and social scientists and public intellectuals should be looking into is greed! People in this country have a culture of greed, be it in the public sector, in the private sector, or in families.
One person is on 10 boards and still they want to be on another board. Physically, how do you productively divide yourself between these boards?
You find people who bought a farm through a loan, but they still apply for a resettlement farm. Although the laws won’t allow it, they will find a way through their sisters and friends. It is greed, but that greed is described as tribalism and racism.
Greed is a problem here and that is why people are denying others opportunities by grabbing and accumulating land using their positions. We are greedy and manipulating communities using statements like there will be war. What war?
Communities are living together in this country, why should there be war?
It is not all the communities from the North who are resettled in the South, but people in top government positions who resettle themselves there and now they are talking about tribalism. The poor Namas are just there and the ones who have access are the ones on top.
NN: Surely it can’t all be doom and gloom. What are the success stories of the land reform programme?
KK: I identified one already, the expansion of land in communal areas. Another success story is in urban areas where government is working with the Shack Dwellers Federation. It is a successful story which we need to build and expand on.
Organisations like WAD have been working with government in rural areas and have empowered many women in providing shelter to them.
There are many government programs that have helped. Towns like Windhoek have expanded; Windhoek is no longer the same.
NN: As people gather next week for the land conference, what is your biggest wish?
KK: That we arrive there for the purpose of reflection, purpose of hearing true, unhindered feedback.
I want us to arrive there to listen to experts and seek solutions. I want the experts to tell us how we are going to use our land to improve food security, where are the opportunities to address homelessness and where are we going to have land in the urban areas to put up light industries.
Where are the opportunities for land, which land remains underutilized? How is it underutilized? Let us use the conference to check and balance and to equip us on what needs to be done.
We should not use this conference as a theatre of war, rather we must use it as a theatre of diagnosing the causes of problems and the challenges in a surgical way.