Namibia: No Restitution for Ancestral Land Claims

Investigations into the claims of ancestral land by the commission of inquiry established by the government may not necessarily lead to restitution for the dispossessed communities.

The deputy minister of information Engel Nawatiseb made these remarks in a statement issued last week.

While condemning the critics and those boycotting the work of the ancestral land commission of inquiry, Nawatiseb said although the commission may be tasked to work out possible restitution mechanisms, a return of the land lost may not necessarily be the end-result. He added that at this stage, the commission and the government were only interested in establishing and defining ancestral land rights.

"It is also important to anticipate and note that for those whose ancestral land rights may be affirmed by the commission, restitution may not necessarily be the workable and practicable redress. But this does not mean that their ancestral land rights cannot and should not be affirmed".

"As much as the commission speaks of restitution, it is preposterous at this stage to speak of restitution. First things first, and it is to establish and define ancestral land rights," Nawatiseb said.

The establishment of the commission was part of the resolutions from the 2018 second national land conference to investigate ancestral land rights claims, and the issue of restitution.

The commission, according to its terms of reference, will make appropriate recommendations in a report that would be submitted to the government for the effective implementation of the resolutions of the second national land conference on the issue.

The Namibian reported earlier last week that the government will fork out over N$10 million to enable the commission to conduct countrywide consultations into ancestral land rights' claims.

Although the commission is already halfway with its work, several concerned groups, including the Landless People's Movement (LPM), have condemned it, saying the ruling party was not genuinely concerned about solving the ancestral land issue, but was just using it to gain political mileage, and will "discard the matter after the [national] elections" in November this year.

Other opposition parties, including Swanu and Nudo, have also expressed concern that other political parties had been "deliberately excluded" from the exercise, and that the majority of the members of the commission had limited knowledge of ancestral land rights.

The LPM has since refused to participate in the countrywide consultations being conducted by the commission.

Nawatiseb in his statement also dismissed claims that the appointment of the commission of inquiry was a political ploy for the ruling party to gain support.

He said people were not politically obliged to "attend and submit any oral or written presentation" to any of the public hearings that the commission is conducting countrywide.

"It is not strange that the commission, which emanated from the second national land conference, has, is and shall continue to invite negative and non-constructive comments. It has now become the business and fashion, especially by those who by their own conviction and choice shunned the second national land conference, to find every fault with the commission, whether to boost their egos [...]," he stated.

Nawatiseb is not the first government official to express his misgivings on the issue of ancestral land.

Last year, The Namibian reported how the government was reluctant to include the issue of ancestral land on the agenda of the land conference held in October, 2018.

Attorney general Albert Kawana was also on record during the land conference as saying that the implementation of ancestral land resolutions "could bring civil war" if not properly handled.

After he was briefed on the progress made by the commission at State House last Monday, president Hage Geingob echoed similar sentiments, saying the hostility by some concerned groups and "failed politicians" towards the government's efforts could "put this country at war".

One of the ruling party's wing - the Swapo Party Elders Council - is also against the implementation of the ancestral land resolutions.

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