10 February 2016

Namibia: Govt Refuses to Help 'Landless Resettled Farmers'

Government says it is not responsible for a stand-off involving two resettlement beneficiaries and a previous farm owner who is refusing to vacate land that has been sold to the state.

The two resettled farmers, Christof Tjikongo and Herman //Garus-oab, have been landless and stranded with their livestock since April last year because the land they had been allocated by government on farm Suurverdien in the Otjiwarongo district is still occupied by the previous owner under a usufruct, which is a right to continue using a property.

Martha Smith, the daughter of the previous owner, is refusing to vacate the farm and has been granted an interdict by the High Court preventing anyone else from occupying the land.

Smith's occupation of the farm under a usufruct has rendered it impossible for the two farmers to move in their livestock and the two are now forced to keep their animals at rented plots at exorbitant fees. Smith is the rightful occupant of the property along with an unidentified owner who allegedly sold the farm to government without her consent.

The farm was acquired by the government under the land reform programme and subdivided into two sections to accommodate both //Garus-oab and Tjikongo.

//Garus-oab was allocated a farming unit measuring 3 395 hectares while Tjikongo was allocated a unit measuring 3 519 hectares, each with a homestead.

The Ministry of Land Reform explained to The Namibian on Monday that, legally, a farm with a usufruct can only be sold once both owners of the property agree to sell it, which did not happen when farm Suurverdien was sold to the state.

However, the ministry has denied any responsibility for both Tjikongo and //Garus-oab's predicament, saying they were not aware there was a usufruct over the farm when it was sold to them.

Both //Garus-oab and Tjikongo said attempts to get the ministry to find an urgent solution proved futile as they were simply told to be patient.

"We have incurred many expenses [as a result]. Our cattle have also started to die where they are in the communal areas," a letter addressed to deputy minister Bernadus Swartbooi by the two farmers reads.

An attempt in December to occupy the farm by //Garus-oab resulted in what he described as a "life-threatening" incident after he was detained at the farm for five hours by the farm owner's husband for "trespassing".

"The occupants called police who arrived with guns as they were informed that he [//Garus-oab] was an intruder despite having a lawful agreement with yourselves [government]," said a letter from the two beneficiaries dated 15 December.

"We have on several occasions unsuccessfully attempted to settle on the farm, however, the current occupants refused to let us do so. They are currently occupying the farm on account of a usufruct [...] the police have, as a result of their lack of knowledge, refused to assist us. They content that the occupant holds a High Court interdict preventing us from occupying the farm," the letter further said.

The ministry's permanent secretary, Peter Amutenya, on 17 December acknowledged receipt of their letter and advised them not to go near the farm to avoid confrontation with the occupants while the matter was being resolved.

"We had suggested that the ministry gives us an unoccupied farm in the meantime while they resolve the issue with the Smith family, but they refused and said they cannot settle us on a farm that was already advertised," said //Garus-oab.

Government has denied responsibility over the issue, saying "the two parties should negotiate on the way forward and get the owners to agree to sell the farm".

The ministry's spokesperson, Chrispin Matongela, said what happened to both Tjikongo and !Garus-oab "was unfortunate", but said they will have to wait.

"There is no way these two people can move onto the farm with a usufruct. It is not government's fault that the farm has a usufruct. The usufruct was not attached to the deeds of sale so we had no way of knowing this," said Matongela.

Matongela further explained that until the matter is resolved, both resettled farmers will "just have to wait" although he did not explain how government was planning to solve the impasse.

"They [Tjikongo and //Garus-oab] are not the only ones waiting to be resettled. We receive thousands of applications almost every day. They should just wait," he said.


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