Ngurare calls for referendum on land

25 March 2017
Author   Sonja Smith
Former SWAPO Party Youth League (SPYL) Secretary, Elijah Ngurare

Former SWAPO Party Youth League (SPYL) Secretary, Elijah Ngurare, has called for a constitutional referendum on Article 16 in Chapter 3 of the Constitution, which deals with, among others, the protection of property rights, as a precursor to land expropriation by Government.

Ngurare’s comment comes after President Hage Geingob said on Tuesday, during his speech at the country’s 27th independence celebrations in Rundu that Government is considering land expropriation, with fair compensation, as the willing buyer, willing seller concept had resulted in a staggered land redistribution process.

Article 16 of the Namibian Constitution states that “all persons shall have the right in any part of Namibia to acquire, own and dispose of all forms of immovable and movable property individually or in association with others, and to bequeath their property to their heirs and legatees, provided that Parliament may by legislation prohibit or regulate as it deems expedient the right to acquire property by persons who are not Namibian citizens.”

This clause was highlighted by former Head of State Hifikepunye Pohamba this week as hindering Government’s land reform efforts since independence.

Government wants to transfer 43 percent, or 15 million hectares of its arable agricultural land, to previously disadvantaged blacks by 2020. By the end of 2015, 27 percent of this land was redistributed, according to the Namibia Agriculture Union.

“We have exhausted the concept, because after 27 years, the process is slow in satisfying the wishes of the majority of Namibians. This means we need to refer back to our Constitution, which allows for the expropriation of land with fair compensation, and also look at foreign ownership of land, especially absentee landowners.

“If we are committed to achieving further economic growth and maintaining peace, then everyone should be open to new approaches,” Geingob said in his speech on Tuesday.

Ngurare, who has been at the forefront of calls to expropriate farms from absentee landlords, referred the Windhoek Observer back to a 2002 SPYL resolution, which had identified 194 Namibian farms that were owned by those who live overseas.

“Twenty-seven years after independence it is not too late to resolve the land question. Let us start with a referendum on the Constitution. Allow people the opportunity to have their say on whether the supreme law of the land truly speaks for their hopes and aspirations, or if it is a construction engineered to favour a few in society and to satisfy others beyond the oceans,” Ngurare said.

“Consider this, in 2014 young people, who symbolically marked some land in Klein Kuppe in Windhoek, were suspended and expelled from SWAPO. But in communal areas, some people that are today in the (SWAPO) central committee, politburo, Cabinet, and are high-ranking Government officials have illegally fenced off land. Who will punish these important leaders in our society, who are grabbing land in communal areas?

“In other words, fairness and equality in the administration of the Constitution on the matter of land would yield sustainable results, not the skewed distribution of land, as per classes of the powerful versus the poor.

“Under what clause in the Constitution does it say that some blacks in Government must buy land through affirmative action loans and others not?” Ngurare said.

The former youth leader also called for an amendment to the 1992 Local Authorities Act, so that it can allow young people to acquire and own land.

“Land expropriated in the public interest must be equitably distributed to all Namibians for them to derive a livelihood and decent housing etc. But that is not enough; we must include urban land too.

“The 1992 Local Authorities Act must be amended to make special provisions for Namibian young professionals to acquire and own land. On this note, I am aware that when we raised this matter in the past, a committee was set up at the level of the (SWAPO) politburo, working together with Cabinet, to suggest some measures in this regard. I have seen that report and recommendations; it is my prayer that it be implemented. Proposed solutions should not gather dust,” Ngurare said.

Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria and the University of Free State’s Center for African Studies, Henning Melber, argued that Geingob’s statements on land expropriation are not groundbreaking, as the same have been uttered before, but without implementation.

“The president refers back to the Constitution… It is entirely legitimate to proceed accordingly, given that the political will exists to implement what is within the constitutionally defined framework.

“The first responses from the local farmers (the Namibia Agricultural Union) also seem to suggest that they are not in panic, because of such a statement, as long as the procedures follow the stipulated regulations.

“One should also note that so far more farmers were actually willing to sell, than the Government was interested to buy. It is not the case that there are no willing sellers. More so, the Government has very often not been the willing buyer,” Melber said.

He also said that Government should consider using the current genocide negotiations as an opportunity to raise the issue of redistribution of land.

“While the German Special Envoy, Ruprecht Polenz, has just said in an interview that Germany will only support a willing seller, willing buyer policy, this was of course not the colonial way of grabbing land, which caused today’s dilemma,” Melber said.

“The Namibian Government should bring this up and stress that if Germany is willing to recognise the consequences of the genocide and to offer a serious apology, which implies more consequences than only offering words and the allocation of money for specified development projects the Germans decide upon, then Germany has to offer substantive amounts to allow for the purchasing of land first from absentee landlords, and then also from local commercial farmers, within the frame and confinement of the constitutional principles. The land issue should be at the core of the current negotiations,” he said.

Affirmative Repositioning leader, George Kambala, accused Geingob of using land expropriation as a campaigning tactic.

“We heard this statement from both previous statesmen (Geingob and former President Hifikepunye Pohamba); in fact the former went as far as Al Jazeera to cry foul about the failing willing buyer, willing seller system.

“But what did he do? Nothing, not even a change in policy, just mere talk. This will remain rhetoric and electioneering, until we see implementation. Expropriation of land should be implemented hugely to the benefit of our people.”

He further said that land should be expropriated to the benefit of the majority of Namibians at whatever cost, adding that until that happens, expropriation talk remains rhetoric.

“For as long as the majority of our people are not benefiting from the fruits of what some call peace and stability then we have failed as a nation. Land should be expropriated to the benefit of the majority at whatever cost. In fact, the law provides for land to be expropriated, if it’s lying idle, and the owners are not being productive, but yet again no one seem to notice it or even attempts to do it, because of the sake of peace and stability, which only exists in their (elite) bellies, ” Kambala said.

To date, only three farms have been expropriated from absentee landlords, which happened in 2006. For this, Government paid N$4.9 million, according to the Minister of Land Reform, Utoni Nujoma.


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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