Land Reform

SA and Namibia’s drive for more ‘radical land reform’

Hage Geingob, Namibian president

Namibian President Hage Geingob, also contemplates a more drastic approach to his country’s lingering land question while the issue heats up in South Africa.

If it was by design is unclear, but in the wake of President Jacob Zuma’s latest crusade to solve the land reform quandary by forcing “land expropriation without compensation,” Namibia’s President Geingob has found traction with a similar view.

Namibia, as SA does, face challenges regarding land redistribution, with limited progress, according to Geingob.

Namibia wants to transfer 43%, or 15 million hectares, of its arable agricultural land, to previously disadvantaged blacks by 2020. By the end of 2015 only 27% was redistributed.

A more radical option

To speed the process up, the Geingob government is looking at a more radical option of land expropriation, including expropriation of commercial farms.

The Namibian leader, under pressure from a slowing economy, also revealed plans for a second land conference in September 2017 to discuss, with white farmers owning vast tracts of land, how to best share it with the black majority.

Geingob is also under pressure from factions within the ruling South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), to accelerate the land redistribution programme.

Prime Minister Theo-Ben Gurirab explained that current legislation includes two options.  

Until now, "the willing-seller-willing-buyer approach" was followed, but government now concluded that this is cumbersome and ineffective, and not keeping up with the high public demand for agricultural land.

According to Gurirab, more than 240 000 landless Namibians are currently awaiting resettlement. Therefore, government had now decided to enhance land reform by also turning to forced expropriations, against due payment.

Tempered approach

The more radical approach might be disconcerting, to especially existing white land owners, but at least both Geingob and Gurirab followed the same line, speaking out against unlawful land grabbing and illegally land occupation. Both avoided inflammatory statements.

Geingob is quoted saying: “I was born under a tree with no village. I bought a farm in the area where I was born so that I can have a place I can call home. I didn’t grab land.”

Gurirab in turn, insisted that the Namibian government will "complete this exercise in a legal, stable, transparent and peaceful manner," and warned land owners and the landless "to exercise patience and not to engage in unlawful actions during the implementation of the land reform process."

Geingob recently, at Namibia's 27th independence celebrations, said expropriation would be done with fair compensation, indicating for at least now, an approach less radical than the Zimbabwean one, also punted by more extreme elements in South Africa.

Like what happened in Zimbabwe and in South Africa, white organised commercial agricultural – through the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) – try to engage with government to find common ground, maintaining the willing-seller approach should not be regarded as a failure.

NAU emphasises that already, "about 10%, or 700 commercial farms have been transferred to historically disadvantaged Namibians." It also aired concern about the absence of clear selection criteria for expropriated with no information on how many farms are targeted and when exactly the process is to start.

False note   

President Geingob’s apparent more moderate approach to the issue was somewhat tainted by the admiration he expressed for President Mugabe during a recent visit to Zimbabwe.

Denying that he took advice from Mugabe on how to settle Namibia’s land question, however, did not ease the concern after he hailed Mugabe as his “mentor.”

He praised Mugabe “for standing on principle and setting a remarkable example for the rest of Africa,” and said ”Namibia can learn valuable lessons from Zimbabwe.”

Arguably, Mugabe’s biggest mistake has been a land reform policy based on illegal land grabbing and expropriation without compensation.

Admittedly natural factors, like drought and flooding, did play a role. However, Mugabe’s ill-considered policy turned Zimbabwe from a breadbasket into a bread-beggar nation, from food an exporter to a food importer.

Zimbabwe today has an unemployment figure of close to 90%, with little sign of improvement.

Thousands of Zimbabweans fled to neighbouring countries to escape harsh conditions at home, in which the land policy played a pivotal role.

Geingob must certainly have noticed many Zimbabweans in the streets of Windhoek and other towns.

A recent survey found Namibia is the third wealthiest country per capita in Africa after Mauritius and South Africa. Why Geingob sings the praises of the man who pushed Zimbabwe down to twentieth position in the same survey, begs belief.

South African “war talk”

But, at least, Geingob did not hint at the option of “taking up of arms” to enforce “radical economic transformation,” as the economic advisor of SA’s finance minister, Prof Chris Malikane, did.

It is remarkable how often draft dodgers and cowards later in life becomes proponents of war as an alternative to solve problems, ignoring the consequences.

To mind springs George W Bush whose presidency was characterised by war while he himself avoided the Vietnam draft.

Donald Trump is cut from the same cloth – four student deferments and a medical disqualification saved him from fighting for, “freedom and democracy” in Vietnam. 

Now, as US commander-in-chief, he poses as “brave warrior,” wanting to solve problems using America’s military might.

The suggestions by Prof Malikane of “taking up arms” to achieve ‘radical economic transformation,’ if the constitution cannot be changed, falls in the same category.

It is irresponsible of him to even suggest that war and violence is an option to solve economic disparities and the land issue. He is correct in saying that ”taking up arms is one thing, but building a country is another.” 

The devastation in Syria is a perfect example of the consequences of war and what is require to re-build a country.

But, Prof Malikane either does not understand or care, because he also said: “It’s true that this country (South Africa) will plunge [into crisis] and become like Venezuela and Zimbabwe. India went through the same pain,” suggesting that if need be, it is a price worth paying.


 As Wits professor of economics, he enjoyed freedom of expression, never mind how radical or bizarre.

However, the position of the minister’s advisor brings different responsibilities and discipline – he is now in the realm of the real world of politics and the consequences that come with it.

In context of what he said, a ‘throw-away’ remark that he “does not like war,” is not good enough. War and violence is just too destructive to even contemplate.              

No objective person will dispute the merit of rightful land restitution and redistribution, and the need for economic transformation – if addressed lawfully.

Bur, it is an extremely complicated and delicate matter, with the issue of land always having been and remaining an emotive issue.

It is precisely for this reason that the land issue should be handled with great care, sensitivity, responsibly, and with statesmanship of the highest order.

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