18 February 2013

Africa: Afrika: The Other Side of the Coin - Land, the Ultimate African Ownership and Belonging


IT is precisely 100 years today in 2013 since the Native Land Act of 1913 provided some 13% of barren land to indigenous black Africans in South Africa and 87% of good quality land, rich in a host of resources, to whites, originating from colonial-settler occupation.

Today, South Africa has the largest white population in Africa, but they make up only 11% of the total population.

As the Union of South Africa was awarded the former German colony of German South West Africa immediately after WW1 as C-Mandate, the same laws applied to its newly received addition, today's Namibia.

Namibia's president Hifikepunye Pohamba acknowledged the land problem in an interview with the television news network, Al Jazeera, "Inequality exists and people are not happy. When you talk about people not being happy, what do you expect? ... When they react, then those who have the land will not have the land (much longer). People will take over the land."

When asked about the national land issue, Namibia's retired and founding president, Sam Nujoma, impatiently pointed out in an interview with the SADC weekly newspaper, 'The Southern Times': "We thought when we adopted the policy of national reconciliation, those whites who remained with us in Namibia, would also accept our policy of land reform, but we see now they are sabotaging land reform."

After WW1 during land negotiations with the South African representative in South West Africa (Namibia) and the local population groups, the late Chief of the Herero people, Hosea Kutako, explained his frustrations in his interview with the revered South African journalist and political leader, the late Ruth First in her book on Namibia simply titled, "South West Africa": "How is it that when we inhabited South West Africa, and the Coloured people (Rehobothers) were wanting land and came to Chief Samuel Maherero, he gave them a country to live in which had open water. Now you (a certain official from South Africa, Mr Cope) want to drive us to places where there is no water. When the Coloured people came they were only a handful, but because they had a land given them by us they are becoming a big people. Why do you not do for us what Chief Samuel Maherero did for them?"

In her research Ruth First established that "The South African government had never displayed the slightest intention of conceding any African claim to their land. It had initiated instead White settlement (from South Africa) with feverish speed, contrived the submission of the tribes with one makeshift after the other, and meanwhile manipulated the alienation of their land."

Land ownership creates not only national stability, but also economic growth, reduction of unemployment and commitment to one's country. It is also essential for the national food supply in order to ward off starvation. So too is it an integral part of freedom, democracy and basic human rights. Without land ownership there is simply put, nothing at all.

The foreign "Contact Group" consisting of the UK, US, Canada, Germany and France at the return of Namibia to its original people under a democratically elected SWAPO Party, had created that irresponsible land condition of "willing- seller, willing-buyer". This was done to ensure that SWAPO as the majority people's movement having fought against colonial-apartheid occupation would not be able to deliver on one of its main grievances of national land redistribution. It was clear then that the West backed colonial-apartheid South Africa.

Since then a disingenuous and dishonest sector of Namibia's privileged owners of its economy, land and media have been badgering the SWAPO Party led government, blaming the administration in Windhoek for all the shortcomings such as high unemployment, inadequate educational and medical care systems and a host of other 'non-deliverables'.

Yet, the restrictive obstacles including foreign land ownership of prime land, 'willing-seller, willing-buyer', foreign ownership of mineral rights, are never researched and criticised, particularly not by the corporate mainstream media. According to Namibia's Land Tribunal, it is obvious sabotage, which could lead not only to national frustration, but also to national unrest and food shortages.

To add insult to injury, many commercial farmers as well as foreign mining magnates threaten economic warfare, legal actions and huge discreditation campaigns against the ruling party leaders and structures, while nefarious legal transactions of land ownership "from one close-cooperation to another without seeking clearance from the state", as advocate Dirk Conradie explained to New African's correspondent in Windhoek, Mabasa Sasa, in the newsmagazine's latest February 2013 edition.

Meanwhile, not only Namibia's, but Zimbabwe's and South Africa's corporate mainstream media ignores this crucial issue and misleads its buying clientele about the seriousness of the land problem.

In the case of South Africa, the much-hailed constitution and the judiciary are abused in favour of neo-liberal racist actions against any form of redistribution, particularly in Zimbabwe.

One of South Africa's NGOs, Afriforum, for example acted on behalf of a disowned Zimbabwean land baron. The acting judge accepted that charge and cleared the way to attach one of the official government houses of Zimbabwe in Cape Town to enforce the return of the land to its former owner.

The warnings issued by Namibia's former, and current, head of state and the frustrations of the original land owners would have to be taken seriously and addressed with urgency, or else face not only national unrest, but regional instabilities and eventual food and other resource shortages.

Progress could be made which would bring about a win-win situation for all involved without any threats of local and international disinvestment and already discredited court actions.

It is said in old-fashioned Latin, "Quit sit illegitimi carbor undum" - translated into English, "Don't let the bastards wear you down."

• Udo Froese is a non-institutionalised, independent political and socio-economic analyst and columnist, based in Johannesburg, South Africa and Windhoek, Namibia.

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