Namibia: No to Land Seizure Without Payment

NAMIBIA'S land question could trigger economic collapse, conflict and undermine peace and stability if it is not handled well, warned some white farmers.

The Namibian spoke to white commercial farmers since most of them did not attend the ongoing regional consultation meetings held over the last month ahead of the second land conference, scheduled for October this year.

Namibia's land ownership is made up of 32,6 million hectares of communal land and 37,5 million hectares privately owned.

The Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU), an entity which represents mainly white commercial farmers, last week said previously disadvantaged individuals as well as the government currently own 9,2 million hectares of all title deed areas in Namibia since 2016.

Several local white farmers believe that the government was pushing them into a corner to give over their farms to blacks as "presents", despite them having invested in the farms dearly.

The farmers also believe that the notion of land expropriation without compensation, proposed by some regions during the public consultation meetings, could undermine food security, as well as economic growth and investment.

One of the commercial farmers, Thinus Pretorius from the Otjozondjupa region told The Namibian last week that land expropriation should be done within the framework of the Constitution that guarantees property rights, and that "any action compromising this agreement will possibly compromise the tranquillity and harmony that prevail".

Pretorius said the call by President Hage Geingob for white farmers to be involved in the national land reform programme through negotiations could be the only way to solve the land question in the country, rather than taking the land "by brute force".

He added that the issue of land ownership could also see Namibia degenerate into the next Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe grabbed land from commercial farms in 2000 after the ruling party, Zanu-PF, had lost a constitutional referendum.

The chaotic and violent land grabs that were spearheaded by the war veterans triggered an economic meltdown that is still haunting the southern African country which was once regarded as Africa's breadbasket.

Pretorius added that white commercial farmers should not be blamed "for the government's incompetence" because the people were living "in an arid part of the world".

NAU executive manager Roelie Venter told The Namibian last week that they only support land expropriation "with fair compensation within the current legal framework provided for in the Namibian Constitution".

He said land reform in the country should be aimed at creating employment as well as the total agricultural output, as opposed to just ownership.

Venter said the union was supporting the government's target of acquiring five million hectares of land for resettlement, and 10 million hectares of land through the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme.

"It is, however, critical to realise that everyone in Namibia needs to find solutions for this national issue. Landowners cannot be held solely responsible for addressing this issue," he stated.

Another farmer, Hebert Schneider, who inherited a farm near Karibib, said the idea that white people own most of the farmland in Namibia was not true.

He blamed the failure of the land reform programme on the government's reluctance to buy the farms which some of the farmers had offered for sale.

"We must all remain calm, and look at the facts. Where are we today, and how has the land reform programme been implemented to date? Has the government done its part?" Schneider asked.

Fritz Hinterholzer, who also inherited a farm in the Erongo mountains in 1957 from his parents, said the government cannot pressurise them into giving farms away.

"We have done everything to make it work. There was nothing, and now there is something. We need to talk about it," he added.

Another farmer from Omaruru, Kai-Uwe Denker, told The Namibian that land ownership was not only about farming, but also about conservation, which is crucial to Namibia's economy.

According to Denker, the government should rather buy hundreds of farms on the market, as opposed to expropriating land that is owned by successful farmers who are contributing to the economy.

"If land reform is applied responsibly and not as a matter of political opportunism, there surely is a way forward without things turning nasty. I do hope that we are a nation capable of solving this issue in a way which serves a bigger picture," Denker said.

One female farmer from Erongo, who requested anonymity, said white farmers who own large tracks of land must allow government to sub-divide the farms for redistribution.

"I agree something must be done. There are many foreigners owning land, although they are not even on the land. Land should be available for all, and it should not be a race matter," she stressed.

Attorney general Albert Kawana yesterday said the proposals by some regions to expropriate land without compensation was just one of the many that the land conference would deliberate on.

Kawana added that the final decision would be taken by the conference and that whatever comes out of the land conference would be implemented.

"Let the nation speak on this issue of land so that at the end of the day, we see what is legal and what is illegal, what is constitutional and what is not constitutional. At the end of the day, whatever we agree will be the national mandate and will be implemented," he said.

Kawana further said people were free to challenge the land conference's decisions since Namibia has laws and an independent judiciary.

He, however, said the South African government's recent decision to expropriate land without compensation could not necessarily apply in Namibia.

Constitutional law expert Nico Horn told The Namibian yesterday that Namibia's Constitution does not allow land expropriation without compensation.

"You cannot just say that the white farmers stole the land and therefore they don't have the right to own the land unless we throw away the Constitution," he said.

Horn said the government should find a way to define just compensation that would not require it to pay market related prices when buying farms from white farmers.

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