The issue of land redistribution in Namibia is one that, like any other country in Africa that went through historical injustices, raises emotions among the previously disadvantaged and indeed the previously advantaged.
This land issue is one that has key questions still awaiting a solution that satisfies the majority of the population.
Research shows that the backdrop to the land question was a process of land dispossession which brought approximately 43% of all agricultural land into the hands of white settlers during colonial times.
In view of the fact that the contribution to GDP of commercial agriculture is less than 10% and taking into consideration the risks associated with commercial farming in an arid or semi-arid environment, the question arises why land reform continues to be such a hotly contested issue. The answer to that difficult question is that land is a basic life NEED and it somewhat defines who you are so everyone will always want to have it.
Several explanations can be summed up. On the one hand, the spectre of land redistribution stirs up emotions of land owners who fear losing their land. To justify the retention of the status quo, they oppose the current land redistribution programme on the grounds that a programme which subdivides large scale commercial farms into smaller farming units for the benefit of small-scale farmers will lead to a loss of economic output and hence impact negatively on the economy of the country.
Concerns about production, economic output and the viability of small scale farming have dominated public debate on land redistribution in Namibia.
With such a background, the Government has adopted a ‘Willing buyer, Willing seller’ model since attaining independence 24 years ago to deal with issue of commercial land redistribution to the landless Namibians while in metropolitan towns, Namibians have to deal with high auction prices to attain land and have somewhere they call home.
Perhaps the noblest sentiment that the Government has passed on the issue of equitable land redistribution is to admit that the system has not worked and also drawn comparisons from other countries including Zimbabwe where it never worked.
President Hifikepunye Pohamba admitted a few years back in a gripping interview with Aljazeera network that Namibians need land with great urgency and that the situation is the most challenging for Government. He argued that the Government’s biggest headache is to come up with an agreeable distribution formula that will satisfy the needs of the majority and at the same time not create animosity with those who benefitted from the land through historical injustices such as colonialism.
Finding a lasting solution
It is pretty obvious that the government will not be able to ignore the need for land to the landless for a longer time than anticipated. It is also equally worrisome that the time of consideration might come when tempers of the landless reach boiling point and might be difficult to make a rational decision. Going forward, the government needs to completely disengage from pumping billions in areas that will not change anyone’s plight.
The government needs to invest a fortune in servicing of urban land. This model will eventually see some sort of subsidy into the price of land in urban areas. The idea of Government being involved in the actual development of land for accommodation also cuts out the private land developers who have been making a fortune out of the industry resulting in municipalities passing the effect to the consumer.
Other Governments that have made strides in making urban land available to their people followed this model and categorized the serviced land into four stratas.
The stratas will see any Namibian acquiring serviced land in an area that best suits their pocket and eventually doing away with the land auction system which seems to benefit a few affluent individuals who have the financial muscle to bid for land.
In the era of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Libya used the same model and managed to accord most of its citizens housing at an affordable rate. The same model has also been used in countries such as Malaysia and the housing gap has been drastically cut. Considering that Namibia has the resources, Government could further develop the land and build houses which will then be given preference on those married and with responsibilities.
In the same wave, while Government has admitted that the ‘Willing buyer, Willing’ seller does not satisfy the thirst for land to the previously disadvantaged, perhaps it is time to try other methods that can see reasonably fast-paced land redistribution. Such modalities need to be done with a calculated policy that does not degenerate the country into the way the Zimbabwean people plunged a well-functioning agriculture sector into something which is a pale shadow of its former self.
It is also pretty obvious that anyone who needs land will not want to wait for a decade to get his/her own piece to call home. However, the Government needs to come up with supporting legislation that will make every land-seeking Namibian understand that the issue is being handled in the best possible manner. Creating a vacuum or being too silent about the issue, no matter how sensitive it is, will make others believe that nothing is being done and they will eventually feel the need to go it alone. The issue of land, be it in urban areas and in communal or commercial areas, needs to be addressed in a way that benefits both those losing the land and those getting the land.
It is also a sad reality that time does not seem to be a commodity that Namibia has in terms of addressing the need for land to Namibians. Perhaps Government needs to empower institutions such as AgriBank with resources so that they can continue to pump into the market for Namibians to be able to buy land.
While the price of land both urban and farming keeps escalating, the average Namibian who needs land lives on a flat income which makes it difficult for them to buy land.
Such a scenario again would need government to keep digging into its pockets to produce the resources needed to acquire land.