Ex-cabinet minister, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, has called on her comrades in the ruling SWAPO Party and former colleagues in government to stop blaming her for granting a waiver to the foreign owners of the N$2 billion Erindi Private Game Reserve.
In an exclusive interview with the Windhoek Observer, Iivula-Ithana said it should be made clear that she has nothing to do with the impending sale of Erindi to Mexican billionaire Alberto Baillères.
“I have nothing to do with what has happened because for any sale to go through it requires the consent of the Minister of Land Reform which I am not. I was not involved in the negotiations….why are they pulling my name in this matter?” Iivula-Ithana said.
She said people have been using her name for political expedience when the truth is that government would have cancelled the waiver she granted to the owners of Erindi in 1999 if there was an inclination to do so.
“When Erindi was offered to government at that time, it did not fit the purpose for which the ministry was created for, but this did not mean that it could not be used for other purpose. Perhaps the farm could have been offered to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism for tourism purposes, but not for the purpose of resettling former war veterans.
“People should remember that a waiver is not cast in stone. In my time as the Minister of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, I cancelled many waivers when they no longer served the purpose for which they were granted.
“I left that ministry a long time ago and several ministers have come after me so why didn’t they cancel the waiver?”
Her comments come as President Hage Geingob said last week that Namibia does not have any law prohibiting foreigners from buying land.
The president said this shortly after meeting Baillères at State House.
Geingob emphasized that a waiver was in place for Erindi Private Game Reserve, granted when Iivula-Ithana was still serving as Minister of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation.
He said government wanted to purchase the farm for purposes of resettlement at a time when the farm was back on offer in the market. The farm was not suitable for resettlement, but in an attempt to keep the farm in Namibian hands, government offered an amount of N$230 million to purchase.
“Unfortunately, this was deemed unacceptable by the owners who wanted N$1.9 billion. Government went to court and took note of the fact that a waiver had already been issued and agreed to settle the matter outside court,” Geingob said.
The sale is currently awaiting approval by the Namibian Competition Commission (NaCC).
Iivula-Ithana, who was also Home Affairs and Immigration Minister before she was relieved of her duties by the president in February 2018 after she opposed Geingob’s camp at the 2017 SWAPO Congress, said many people do not know that the main mandate of the Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, for which she was the political head between 1996 and 2001, was to resettle returnees and generational farm workers.
She said Erindi did not fit that mandate at the time.
Asked why she was being targeted by her former colleagues in cabinet and others in the party which she is still a member, Iivula-Ithana jokingly said it was because of her beautiful name.
“They love my name so much so they cannot let it rest. I have a nice name which means “Wake up” in Oshiwambo so they cannot let it rest. The former colleagues in government are missing me so much. I am around, we are still going to the POT, and they know what to do.”
This was in reference to the party’s Electoral College which is set to take place in September.
The Electoral College is a gathering which selects the party’s parliamentary candidates. It is attended by about 280 delegates, including 85 central committee members, SWAPO members of Parliament, 15 delegates from each wing of the party, and six from every region.
Iivula-Ithana said she is available anytime to make a positive contribution to the party and the nation “not this nyaka nyaka business,” referring to the continued onslaught against her on social media.
“I know for sure there are many comrades in my party missing my contribution that is why they keep talking about my name. I was very effective as the party Secretary General. I served at a very critical moment when the party was faced with a real threat, but we succeeded because we had a strategy. The party was winning with high percentages, things were working.”
She said people were wasting time talking about her when the party should be devising a winning strategy.
“I know some of the people who are causing havoc in the party. Someone once remarked in Parliament that SWAPO is now behaving like the former DTA, and we know who is from DTA. Now they are writing fake news about me, which is coming from someone’s very fertile imagination.
“Looking back at our performance in Ondangwa they should leave Pendukeni alone and concentrate on coming up with a winning strategy for the party. If I am to stand as an independent candidate they must first destroy SWAPO Party properly, but as long as there are still a few committed SWAPO members, they must add me to their number.”
Several concerned groups and political parties, including the Namibia Ancestral Land Foundation, have urged the government to stop the sale of Erindi while a Commission of Inquiry into Ancestral Land Claims completes its investigations.