October 8, 2018: Namibian Land Conference bans willing-buyer, willing-seller principle

The just-ended land conference resolved to discontinue the willing-buyer, willing-seller approach and develop as well as implement an accelaretd land delivery method or approach.

Under the willing-buyer, willing-seller policy, the government bought farms at market prices, and had the “right of first refusal” for every farm that comes on the market.

This approach, however, was costly for the government, and slowed down the pace of resettlement.

Following numerous complaints, delegates to the five-day second national land conference which ended in Windhoek on Friday resolved to end this policy.

The conference also agreed to adopt a “one Namibian, one farm” policy to discourage multiple ownership of agricultural land by individuals, and that the government should expropriate underutilised farmland and those owned by absentee landlords with just compensation as guided by the Constitution.

Regarding ancestral land rights and restitution, the conference directed the government to establish a commission to investigate the matter and make appropriate recommendations.

The government was also tasked to identify alternative methods to restore social justice, and to ensure the economic empowerment of affected communities.

Reparations from former coloniser (Germany) will be used “for such purpose”, the resolution states. The erection of statues for remembrance and dignified burials for the genocide victims were also among the decisions taken under this topic.

The government would likewise review all policies related to the resettlement programme, and develop pre and post-settlement support programmes for farmers.

This means the allocation of farms will now favour and consider the dispossessed communities, and veterans and their dependants first before any other Namibian is resettled.

The conference further resolved that the criteria used for the resettlement programme be changed to allow farmers to have security of tenure to enable the bankability of the allotments/farming units.

The conference also resolved that the government should develop a national valuation model to address high land prices.

The government will develop an urban land reform programme and policy to address the proposed strategic intervention. This includes the policy to be developed which would prohibit the sales of urban land for residential purposes to foreigners, implement rent control, the government’s subsidy towards housing to increase affordability, and sustainable funding for local authorities and deal with property tax, among others.

During his concluding remarks on Friday, president Hage Geingob said the government was committed to implementing all resolutions, recommendations and proposals made at the conference to change the “status quo” to restore the dignity of all Namibians.

He urged current landowners to make more land available for sale, and “not only barren land”, adding that the government will come up with enabling legislation to allow for the expropriation of the farmland of absentee landlords.

“The conference gave us a clear mandate to proceed with the expropriation of land owned by absentee landlords, as well as underutilised land. We will unpack and define just compensation to deal with the stumbling blocks we experienced in the past. Enabling legislation and policies will accompany this process in the coming months,” Geingob said.

While acknowledging that the claims for ancestral land rights and restitution were legitimate, the President also promised the participants that significant changes will take place soon, and that “there will be a break from the past”.

“The message from Namibians is clear. Enough is enough. We can no longer afford a market that is only efficient for the few. We can no longer afford a bureaucracy that only works for the powerful,” he stressed.

Geingob added that the government would interrogate all ancestral land issues “extensively to ascertain what statutory and policy reforms will help buttress our efforts to give redress to communities which may have been subjected to untold injustices which dispossessed them of both their ancestral land and dignity”.

He further said the government would continue consulting before and after the expropriation plan is finalised to ensure “accountability and transparency”.

The national high-level committee on land reform, he said, established before the land conference, will remain intact until the exercise is completed.

Political analyst Fanuel Kaapama said nobody went home “empty-handed”, since the conference did not end in a “winner takes all or a win-lose situation”.

“The most important thing is that the closing statement of the president was also an opening statement for the next stage – that of implementation, and I think in that process of implementation, there should be an opportunity of participation by all. We have talked the talk. The next stage is to walk the walk,” he added.

Constitutional expert Nico Horn said Geingob’s speech dispelled critics’ mistrust, while the Council of Churches in Namibia acting secretary general, Ludwig Beukes, was also impressed with the event, saying “the needs of the people were represented and heard, and people are satisfied and are happy”.

He added that “now lies the big task of commitment and implementation of what we have agreed upon here. As people are committed, and the government is committed, we feel there will be new dawn”.

Human rights lawyer John Nakuta said he was impressed with the level of tolerance and the open participation that was afforded the delegates.

He admitted that although he had his reservations about the conference, he was convinced that no pre-fabricated resolution was adopted.

“I was one of the people who thought the conference will be fake because people did not have the necessary information to make informed decisions, that concern still stands, but regarding the conference being fake, I think most of us have been proven wrong,” he said.

He added that he was also impressed to note that most of the recommendations made by civil society organisations and pressure groups, such as the issue of ancestral land, were put “firmly on the agenda and accepted”.

Nangof’s Uhuru Dempers said most of the recommendations put forward by the civil society forum were accepted. He added that their organisation would conduct a post-conference meeting to look at ways on how to get involved in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of resolutions taken at the conference.

Damara King’s Council representative Rosa Namises, who initially indicated that they would not participate at the conference, said she was satisfied with the outcomes of the conference.

“I think I can surely say that what we were afraid of has been what has come out of this conference. Most of what we gave in has been included, especially on ancestral land. I feel that after this conference, we have gotten to know a little bit of each other as Namibians,” she said.
City of Windhoek mayor Muesee Kazapua also expressed satisfaction with the conference, saying the event made good resolutions in addressing the problem of urban land. He was also satisfied with the proposal to compel the government to subsidise local authorities.

A delegate representing the Khomas Regional Council, James Uerikua said the resolutions taken were inclusive of young people, and that young people must now take responsibility to make sure that the recommendations are implemented. (The Namibian, Windhoek)