Land is a strange thing.
A couple of weeks ago, the Namibian Minister of Land Reform caused an outcry when he urged resettled black emerging farmers to ‘farm like white people’.
He later clarified that what he meant was that they should ‘adopt modern farming techniques’ and avoid over-grazing.
For a moment, we were wondering if Nujoma had meant, buy stolen land for a song from a colonial government in the wake of a genocide, benefit from years of generous state subsidy and artificially cheap black labor, and then, in 2019 nog al, come up and say things like ‘we all have the same 24 hours’.
‘White farmers are modern and efficient’ is also a lie, in any case. If you actually believe this, please look up all the Ministry of Environment and Tourism reports about how severe bush encroachment and other forms of land degradation are on commercial farms generally.
Namibians since colonial days have been fed a fairly constant diet of the myth that white people are ‘best at everything’, so perhaps we should be saddened, but not surprised, that that even a leader in a supposed liberation movement has said what he did.
As Frantz Fanon wrote, ‘The oppressed will always believe the worst about themselves.’
What’s scary, however, is how many white opportunists were ready to jump on the bandwagon and suggest that, yes indeed, all their success was simply due to hard work and innovation, and the races we have oppressed should just ‘get on with life’, ‘forget about the past’ and ‘work hard like we do’.
I’ve seen quite a few disgusting social media posts of this sort. I have re-written this column three or four times, and I still can’t express how angry this nonsense makes me. We have no excuse to be taken in by our ancestors’ propaganda.
In neighboring South Africa, the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture released its final report last week. Among others it called for return of land to the State as representative of the people (expropriation is the technical term), without compensation, in certain cases.
These cases include land abandoned by its owner. Land held purely for speculative purposes (doing nothing useful on your land in the hope that the price of the property will one day go up). Land already occupied and used by labor tenants and former labor tenants. Inner city buildings with absentee landlords.
Needless to say, this has provoked and will no doubt continue to provoke all sorts of outcries among paler South African and their lackeys. Suddenly it was talk of ‘white genocide’ and ‘let’s pack for Perth’ all over again.
If I were to get a chance to speak to some of these delusional mzungus, I would say that, in not backing widespread calls from black South African communities for much more wholesale taking back of stolen land, the Panel was very restrained. I’d ask them to remember that South Africa’s Mandela-era constitution, contrary to popular belief, expressly allows the return of land with no compensation in certain circumstances.
We’ve all got a lot of work to do.
I don’t envy my black compatriots in that they may have to educate even supposed ‘revolutionaries’ in a majority black government about where white ‘prosperity’ really comes from.
But then, there’s only one Minister of Land Reform and, seemingly, thousands of white opportunists ready to use the words of black conservatives to excuse their own lack of generosity towards the majority, as well as their own complicity in colonialism. So I guess we have the harder task, as it should be.
Land ownership is a strange thing, that makes people act in strange ways.
I’m routinely told ‘you stole our land’ by taxi drivers and street merchants as an excuse for overcharging me. I expect the experience is a common one. Part of me is tempted to say, ‘by all means take back Apartment 40A, before the rent is due, and complete with the spiders, expropriation would be an act of charity!’
But I don’t say that, because I understand where such impulses come from, despite the fact that I personally have never been, and will never be, a white landlord in Africa. They come from the fact that we - I - have not taken on the white opportunists. Because people like me have not said often enough, ‘No. We got rich because others were made poor. End of story.’
Hugh Ellis is a lecturer in the Department of Communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views he expresses here are personal views. Follow him on Twitter @ellis_hugh