Long-standing land disputes and friction between community members of Dordabis and white farm owners in the area, exacerbated by the worsening drought and continuing scourge of poverty, hunger and hopelessness continue unabated in this sleepy eastern village. Prospects for a solution are bleak.
Despite constant demonstrations and petitions to the government over the years in hope of a solution to their misery, the community of more than 1,000 inhabitants at Dordabis, some 90 kilometres from Windhoek, find themselves in disparaging circumstances.
They say the government has abandoned them and dashed their hopes of ever solving land disputes with white farmers who have fenced off nearly all available land in the area, leaving the community caged on a small plot of about 10 hectares, where they cannot open small businesses, let alone graze animals or expand community services.
A resident at the town, Aletta Ruhl, said she lost over 140 goats and sheep due to the persistent hardships in the last few months where there is almost no land available for grazing.
“We have no land to graze on. The police chase us or stop us from grazing on the land that’s fenced off,” she said, adding that as a result, she has had to sell some of her livestock while others died of hunger.
Ruhl said if their livestock is found on the farm-owners’ territories, they are either confiscated or they have to pay N$300 or more to get them back.
Frederick Garobeb, a community leader in the area, said that government has done nothing to alleviate their situation and none of the Dordabis community members have benefitted from the resettlement program since its inception despite a lot of promises.
Recently, when President Hage Geingob held a town-hall meeting in Groot Aub, Garobeb said that he gave a letter to the President to inform him of the hardships encountered by his community, but nothing has come of that either.
“Day-to-day, we stare in hopelessness – there is no way out. They were here to talk about ancestral land, but they don’t accommodate our present situation,” he added, saying that the ancestral land issue is a long story.
He said that the foodbank has not reached them either, although from time to time they receive drought relief.
“We are in crisis,” he said, noting that a garden project that was supposed to uplift the community failed as there were no customers to sell the produce to, given the poverty levels of the residents.
Rev. Lazarus Awaseb, another community leader pointed out that if they had land they could have stamped out unemployment as many can farm with chicken and pigs.
“We want land. Why is the government selling land to others while we have no land?” asked Awaseb, saying that most of the residents are farmers who can manage projects if they are sponsored with the right equipment.
He said there were farms in the area owned by absentee landlords lying idle for almost all year until winter when it is hunting season.
Awaseb further complained about the shortage of water as there is only one borehole to serve all of the residents, while refuse and waste in the area is another problem as there is little space for sustainable dump sites.
Approached for comment, Mike Krafft, one of the white farmers who owned large tracks of land in the area said, “The influx of people who were not born in Dordabis after independence was the crux of the current problems.”
He said that besides families like the Ochurub, Xamseb, and Kavari who were there before independence, the rest cannot claim to have been born there or claim their ancestry to the area.
According to Krafft, “the farms in the area were purchased by German farmers from the previous government way back in the 1930s and the only area of about six hectares (now inhabited by the complainants) only hosted a church, police station, post office, and telecoms.”
Krafft said that he inherited the farm from his late father who bought it from his uncle.
“The whole area was just made up of farms. It’s because of politics that they now want to make it a town,” he claimed, saying that it was not a place that is supposed to have been expanded by bringing in more people.
The farmer said that after independence a lot of people coming from other farms moved into the area which caused overpopulation.
“Politics has been dragged in – it’s unfortunate,” he added, maintaining that he had title deeds to prove his ownership.
But Absalom Pieters, 44, a resident of Dordabis whose grandfather Willem Ochurub was one of the first in the area, said that if maps are to be scrutinised, the white farmers must prove where they bought the farms.
“How do they claim all the land? Behind the school there was an army base – all of a sudden it’s theirs too,” he questioned, saying that his grandparents could not be buried in the area where they were born because of the sudden privatisation of land after independence.
“There was no owner of this land. As children, we played and moved freely on this land, but after independence, they started fencing off the land, confusing everything,” claimed Pieters.
The Ministry of Land Reform’s spokesperson, Chrispin Matongela said that he had no knowledge of developments in the Dordabis area and could not establish what has become of the petition and promises made to the residents.
He said that the person in the ministry responsible for that was not available at the time of going to print.