How to address historical injustices due to land dispossession
Directors of Ceremony and Chair of the 2nd National Land Conference, Right Honourable Prime Minister
The land question has evolved from what it was in 1990, and it is important to acknowledge the changes.
The land question is fundamentally about power and political economy, and therefore it must be attended with the highest consideration. When it seemed that we lost momentum after the first Land Conference in 1991 CSOs organised the National People’s Land Conference in Mariental in September 1994. Resolutions of this national gathering attended by more than 400 delegates from all over Namibia were shared with the Ministry of Land Reform and other stakeholders.
When Government announced in August 2016 that a 2nd National Land Conference would take place, the Civil Society Organizations group was reactivated under the Working Group on Land Reform and have been working hard over the past two years to prepare for this historic gathering. We commend the President in particular and the Government leadership in general for accepting our plea for the postponement of the 2nd NLC from last year to this year. We believe that as a country we have gained from this additional time, and we have also constructively engaged at the High-Level Committee. Although not all our demands were incorporated, we continued to engage in good faith in the common interest.
We have developed our position paper with recommendations, and we would like to submit this for consideration formally. Our cadres will be deployed in the thematic working groups to share our positions and recommendations. However, let me highlight a few issues contained in this position paper.
One of the key points in today’s land question is how to address historical injustices due to land dispossession. Historical land dispossession has caused generational poverty and destitution, the effects of which are lived by young generations today. If this dispossession is not addressed, we may find a much more difficult situation in the future. We are glad that our President this morning committed that this situation is unsustainable and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Land acquisition for land reform has been slow and costly. According to most recent statistics by the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA), more than 70% of the productive agricultural land is still owned by a small white minority at the expense of the vast majority of black Namibians that were dispossessed by German and South African colonial regimes, including those affected by genocide. The slow pace of land acquisition subjects the majority of black Namibians to social and economic injustice every day.
The urban land crisis is one of the key issues today. A recent count by the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia (SDFN) indicates that there are 228,423 shacks in 308 informal settlements nationally, housing an estimated 995,000 inhabitants. This represents about 40% of the national population, or 86% of the population in urban areas; which will increase further due to the rapid urbanisation we are experiencing. And yet, up to this point, this does not appear to be a national priority. However, it may be the unique opportunity of this Presidency to eradicate shacks and transform informal settlements into liveable, decent neighbourhoods.
There is also a crisis regarding local authorities financing, which impacts development in urban areas.
The question of ancestral land would not have come to such a subtle point if the compromise position reached at the 1991 National Land Conference would have been implemented in full; in particular the recognition of historical injustices and the fact that land dispossession has affected Namibians to varying degrees. Despite discouraging advice and proposals from the Founding Fathers on the topic of ancestral land, we are pleased that our President considers the matter for further debate and discussion and we trust that we will reach consensus on this critical matter.
Therefore, here are some of our key recommendations to the 2nd National Land Conference:
URBAN LAND REFORM
• The magnitude of the urbanisation challenge must be acknowledged as a priority in the 2NLC resolutions.
• Establish Urban Land Reform as an integral part of land reform through a transparent process of public engagement with civil society. Urban Land Reform to be directed to improve the situation for the urban poor as a priority to have the widest possible impact.
• Commit to the transformation of Namibian urban policies, legal frameworks, strategies and actions
at the national, regional and local levels to enable inclusive, sustainable and prosperous towns
• Enshrine the UN-defined ‘right to adequate housing’ in Namibia’s legal framework
• A Commission on Ancestral Land Claims to be established and an Independent Ancestral Land Claims Tribunal to be established.
COMMUNAL LAND REFORM
• Development of a master plan for public land development as part of national development plans with a focus on agrarian transformation.
• Undertake a detailed assessment and investigation on underutilised communal lands including virgin lands and those captured by bush encroachment and development a plan to develop those areas.
• Develop land markets in communal areas through improvement in security of tenure and providing access for financing for small scale farmers.
• Establish a Judicial Commission of Enquiry to assess existing disputed fences in communal areas to determine their status and to recommend whether to remove or legalise.
• Establish group tenure an option to improve the security of tenure in communal areas.
COMMERCIAL LAND REFORM
• Land reform must become a central policy priority in national development plans.
• ‘Willing buyer, willing seller’ policy must be abolished.
• Compensation must be defined in the interest of the landless and with colonial injustice in mind, and must not be assumed to be market value.
• Expropriation without compensation refers to the value of the land; compensation should be considered for the infrastructure on the land.
• An urgent assessment of unutilized and underutilised farmland and implement recommendations of this assessment in both resettlement and freehold areas.
• The draft Revised National Resettlement Policy 2018-2027 must be reviewed through broad-based public engagement to eliminate gender and elite bias. The resettlement list released by the MLR doesn’t reconcile with the total number of farms purchased by government, and therefore we need a full account.
• Establish an independent evaluation commission for the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme (AALS).
• Re-visit the Kameeta Report which looked at the situation of farmworkers and establishes a commission to follow up and update recommendations on the security of tenure for farmworkers.
In conclusion, we recommend that given the limitations and the failure to do the thorough groundwork to ensure a successful outcome of the 2nd National Land Conference, the Conference not be conclusive but rather to recommend processes that must be undertaken to resolve the critical issues to be identified.
Namibians from all regions have proposed through the regional reports, recommendations and resolutions that require further investigation, for example on expropriation of land for restorative justice or giving low income and urban poor free or highly subsidised land for housing.
There is no way we will gather the required information before the 2nd NLC and even after the late release of the NSA and the Ombudsman reports, the short time needs us to postpone decision-making and instead establish processes that allow seeking solutions in partnership and with time.
The 2nd NLC should be seen as the start of an inclusive and robust land education and reform process with clearly stated deliverables with a set time frame. We reiterate our call that in the meantime, the President issues a moratorium on the land resettlement program and all major land transactions and programs.