Namibia: Ancestral Land Commission Pledges Impartiality

HIGH Court judge Shafimana Ueitele, who is the chairperson of the presidential commission of inquiry into ancestral land claims and restitution, has pledged that its members will be impartial.

Ueitele made these remarks during a courtesy call by commission members to the //Kharas Regional Council on Tuesday afternoon.

"We assure you that irrespective of your contributions, the commission will never pursue sectoral interests, and would not disadvantage anybody," he told the regional council's political office-bearers.

He said the commission has only six months to fulfil its mandate and submit the findings to president Hage Geingob by 8 February next year.

The commission only commenced its work in March, following the appointment of its members by the head of state in January.

"We already have lost two months, and as you know, almost everything came to a standstill (in the country) between November and December," Ueitele stated. The commission thus intends to complete public hearings scheduled to be held from 17 June to 19 July in all 14 regions before political parties embark on their election campaigns for the November national elections.

"The political parties' election campaigns may divide the communities' attention, and they might lose focus," he added. The judge said 12 commission members, excluding the chairperson and his deputy, will be divided into teams of three, and each group will be assigned to specific regions to conduct public consultations. Commission member Uhuru Dempers urged the regional political leaderships to make sure the platform is set for the commission to engage the community on what should be in the Namibian context the understanding of ancestral land.

"We will engage in a difficult debate of questioning a national issue beyond politics, tradition and religion. Therefore, I am appealing to the regional leaderships to assist us in carrying out this difficult but critical mandate," he added. He furthermore stated that the perception that only traditional leaders have the final say on ancestral land and restitution is "misplaced".

//Kharas Regional Council chairperson Jan Scholtz thanked the commission, which was represented by the chairperson and members Anna Fredericks, Neels Cooper and Dempers, for sharing the modalities of their work with the regional political leadership.

The commissioners were expected to meet other stakeholders such as traditional leaders, farmers and leaders of non-governmental organisations before returning to Windhoek.

The commission was established as part of the resolutions of the second national land conference held last year to investigate claims of ancestral land and restitution, and make appropriate recommendations for implementation.

It was tasked with studying and identifying communities which lost ancestral land, establish the size of land lost, and its boundaries, amongst other things.

It is also expected to look into the possibility of establishing alternative measures to restore social justice, and to ensure the economic empowerment of the affected communities.

Such a report, according to the commission's terms of reference, would assist the government and the affected parties in implementing the resolutions of the second national land conference effectively.

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