13 February 2017

Namibia: Evicted, Not Resettled, and Squatting

IT'S nine in the morning, and the #Khimaxas family is gathered at their home in the informal area of Epako at Gobabis.

Some are seated, while others are standing around the fire. Adults, teenagers, toddlers and children surround the fire on which two black pots are cooking.

While it is common for people to leave their villages and other places to do odd jobs and stay in informal areas of towns, this family has a different story. That small place is all they have. That is home to them. They have no family land.

“Preparing breakfast?” I asked out of curiosity.

“No, we are preparing lunch,” said Getrud Naobes, the 52-year-old woman who claims her mother worked at the farm since her youth until she died at the age of 82 in 2014 – a tragedy which ended the family's stay at Farm Ovikango.

Yes, at 9 am, the preparations for lunch had started already for this family, and one can understand it was fine for such a big family to prepare lunch way in advance.

Jan Kekuemang, Naobes' son, relates how the family left Farm Ovikango in the Omaheke region after his grandmother passed away.

Letters seen by The Namibian from the farm owner's attorneys BN Venter Legal Practitioner show that the threats started in 2007, but became serious in January 2014 when their grandmother was still alive but very sick.

One of the letters dated 24 January 2014 and written to the then terminally-ill 82-year-old Christina #Khimaxas states that she was ordered in 2013 to keep not more than 45 cattle at the farm, including calves, but had accumulated 60 animals at the time.

The letter further reads that #Khimaxas had failed to pay N$1 000 per month in 2013 for maintenance at the farm, which she had known as home since she worked there for all her life.

“We are aware of the fact that you are terminally ill, and our client (Eric Gatzweiler ) shall thus tolerate your presence on the farm, but the cattle should be reduced immediately to 45,” reads part of the letter from the farm owner's lawyers. Three months later, the 82-year-old #Khimaxas died.

While Gatzweiler maintained that he never evicted anyone, his attorney, Barend Venter, refused to comment on the issue.

“I will not comment on that,” Venter said after he was provided with full details on the case as he had requested.

Gatzweiler further said the late #Khimaxas never worked for him, but he was just assisting her by giving her a place to stay on the farm.

“The late Christina's son is still working for me at the farm,” he noted.

Admitting that they had a conflict, he said the agreement he signed with the late #Khimaxas made it clear that her cattle would be taken off the farm when she died.

“The said (45 maximum) cattle be removed from the farm one month after her death, and not to be attributed to her children presently on the farm,” reads part of the letter from the owner's attorney signed by #Khimaxas on 23 August 2013.

He further denied a claim by Kekuemang that he is based in Germany and only comes to visit Namibia, stating that he only goes there (Germany) to visit.

Kekuemang sits with his one-year-old son on his lap as he relates the painful ordeal which the family went through. His wife takes a small piece of meat still cooking in one of the pots, and gives it to the boy, who is seemingly hungry.

They have four children, but the other siblings have more than 10 children. They all sat around the fire or nearby watching the proceedings of the interview in awe.

On 19 July 2007, Kekuemang wrote a letter to the lands ministry, begging for his family to be resettled, and stating that threats of eviction started in 2007, whereafter the farm owner demanded that the elderly woman pays N$1 000 per month, or vacate the place.

“We humbly cry on you to look into our situation for a possible solution,” reads part of another letter by Kekuemang to the land reform ministry dated 9 September 2015.

Kekuemang's mother, Getrud Naobes, sits quietly and listens, waiting for her turn to speak. She reveals to us how her mother, the late #Khimaxas, lived the last years of her life with headaches because of threats of eviction and a farm rent bill she was not able to pay.

“My other brother worked at the farm for 30 years. He was notified that when he turns 60 years soon, he should leave,” said Naobes sadly.

Kekuemang's wife, Selma Kekuemang, tells our team that her brother-in-law is not the only person to be facing eviction lately. Others who turned 60 years recently were chased from the farm too, with nowhere to take their cattle.

She said they had moved their 64 head of cattle to another farm, but sold a few to pay rent there.

“Only six cattle are left now. The other cattle died because there was no water and food at that farm,” said the depressed Kekuemang.

The remaining six animals were then moved to another farm, according to Naobes.

“But the owner of the farm where the remaining six cattle are, told us yesterday (last Friday) to find another place to take them to as he recently sold the land where they are being kept,” said an emotional Naobes.

Where do they plan moving the cattle to?

“We don't know,” said Naobes, spreading her hands in disappointment.

Despite several letters seen by The Namibian addressed to the ministry between 2007 and 2015, the land reform ministry's spokesperson, Chrispin Matongela, denied any knowledge of the #Khimaxas family's situation.

“No, the ministry is not aware, as the case has not been officially reported to our offices,” Matongela stated.

He added that due to the overwhelming demand for land, the Land Reform Advisory Commission and the regional resettlement committees use set selection criteria which includes a requirement that the applicant must not have more than 150 large stock, or 800 small stock.

The #Khimaxas family only has six cattle after more than 50 died.

“Applicants must not own other land (except residential). Beneficiaries should have a background in agriculture. Beneficiaries should be prepared to hold land under leasehold tenure arrangement, and to relinquish any agricultural land rights elsewhere,” read other basic requirements for one to be resettled on a government farm.

According to the #Khimaxas', they meet all these requirements.

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