… as Swapo withdraws Land Bill for consultation
Several lawmakers have threatened to break the law by grabbing land around the country if Government does not ensure equitable land provision, as well as transparency, in the allocation process.
Although today it is seen as mere political rhetoric by the ruling party’s members, who laughed off the veiled threats in Parliament on Tuesday when lawmakers discussed the contentious Land Bill, those sitting in the opposition benches warned the rhetoric could turn into tomorrow’s reality.
Rally for Democracy and Progress MP Agnes Limbo, a former town chief executive officer at Katima Mulilo, led the chorus of those that sang the land grab song, as she narrated how she struggled for years to acquire land and subsequently accused officials responsible for allocating land of being dishonest.
“For the past 26 years, some of us still have no land…why did I waste my time fighting for Independence if I do not have any land to call my own? I was a CEO years back and I am proud that I did not use the position to help myself because I was honest. We are not trying to be funny, this is real. There are people who will continue suffering if the land is not addressed. We have people in villages do not have land while others have a lot of land. We need to change before land-grabbing takes place and I will be one of those grabbing because we fought for the land but we still have nothing,” warned Limbo.
The heated debate forced the ruling party to withdraw the Land Bill for further consultation.
The tough stance could be politically costly for the ruling Swapo Party, which overthrew decades of white-minority rule 26 years ago, with promises to provide a ‘better life for all’, backed by a constitution that enshrines the right to ‘adequate housing’. Limbo’s threats come two years after the Affirmative Repositioning movement grabbed land in Windhoek’s posh suburb, Kleine Kuppe in a bid to force Government to prioritise affordable land provision and allocation.
Land provision is a challenge in both urban and rural areas. The national housing backlog currently stands at 300 000, while people living in rural areas continue to live on land without any ownership documents.
Most members of the opposition wanted the Bill referred to the standing committee for further consultation and input while others simply called for its withdrawal.
Others feel it should be shelved until the country holds its second land conference saying there is no need for changing the law now because there might be recommendations made at the long overdue conference that might require further amendments.
The land conference was supposed to take place before the end of this year but the Ministry of Lands has since called it off.
Swapo backbencher and former justice ministry permanent secretary Lidwina Shapwa, in her contribution, said the allocation of land, especially communal land, is marred by many challenges, adding that there is need to limit the involvement of traditional authorities in land allocation such as ensuring that their involvement should be made very minimal and of advisory nature.
“Some of the challenges are related to the involvement of the traditional authorities in the process allocation of communal land process. There are many people in the communal land areas who are not able to access land simply because their traditional authority are either deliberately decide to sit on the application for one reason of the other,” she noted.
Shapwa said she noticed that at times traditional authorities would refuse to allocate to certain people and the reasons advanced in most cases is that there is not sufficient space as what is left is only for grazing or in some instances if an application is granted, it would interfere with the existing rights of way such as roads.
“However, in some instances weeks or months or days later, one would be surprised to find that another applicant is allocated the same piece of land by the same traditional authority. All these are happening because traditional authorities have turned the allocation of land into a lucrative business venture,” she claimed.
She said for as long as the traditional authorities are not limited to advise on matters of customary and traditions only, including those that are related to land, the allocating of land in communal areas will remain a challenge. “We need to be bold enough to release the traditional authorities’ authority from the bureaucracy of land allocation and leave it to the State machineries to deal with it,” she said much to the delight of her fellow MPs. “It is much easier to question and control government employees, for example, if they are causing delays or are conducting dubious activities as far as allocation of land is concerned. We know full well that culturally it is not easy to reprimand a traditional chief, for example,” she said.
Nudo MP Meundju Jahanika bluntly said if the Land Bill does not prioritise Namas and Hereros, it is pointless, adding that it should make provision for Namas and Hereros to reclaim their ancestral land.
“They know where their forefathers and mothers used to live, as most farm names south of Oshivelo to the south are either in Otjiherero or in Nama languages. In Namibia, you cannot talk about land without talking about Hereros and Namas genocide.”
Jahanika warned that if the government does not amend the Bill to prioritise Namas and Hereros in the resettlement programme then they will be left with no other alternative than to start land grabbing “as part of the first phase of the struggle for economic freedom in our lifetime”.
“I hope that the Land Bill has done away with the allocation of 20 hectares, as the 20 hectares were originally meant for mahangu field but not for grazing purposes, it has created more problems than solutions, especially in the following regions Omaheke, Otjozondjupa, Erongo, Kunene, which are mainly for livestock farming,” he stated.
Nudo MP, Asser Mbai, wants the powers of traditional authorities and that of land boards to be separated so that the custody right of a traditional authority or a chief are not misunderstood.
“It is, therefore, important that the two legislations speak to one another, namely the Land Act and the Traditional Authority Act. The powers and functions of boards are well defined in the Bill, but it does not provide for the enforcement of these powers,” he said.
Mbai added that: “Even if the land board puts down decisions on certain issues, there is no enforcement capacity to make sure that those decisions are observed. Taking them to court is time consuming and a costly exercise but customary courts can deal with land disputes, because they have power enforced already.”
Workers Revolutionary Party’s MP Salmon Fleermuys said land expropriated should lead to food security and not merely owning land and underutilising it.
“The proposed Bill should emphasizes on sustainable land use and not merely contribute to food insecurity and at the end of the day to depending on government handouts,” he said.
He stressed that land resettlement is an important activity and all forms of land reform should be encouraged and supported. “Of all the gifts that children can inherit, nothing compares to land, therefore land is an important right.”