The land question in Namibia has reached a stage where it needs to be answered and government needs to pay attention to the sudden rise of social movements in the country. One thing is certain, that social movements across the globe are influencing agenda setting in public policy because we live in an era where if people are unhappy about something they take to the streets in an organized fashion and remain steadfast to their cause until governments are prompted to meet their demands. Namibia is no exception and the unresolved land question is a ticking bomb because evidence of dissatisfaction with government efforts on land reform is visible in the rise of social movements in the past two years alone.
In 2019 (two years from today), Namibian citizens will once again cast their votes for a new government. This is what has been happening since independence and will hopefully peacefully occur again. However, the winds have changed and SWAPO as the ruling party is not what it used to be anymore. Central to this new shift in party dynamics is the defecting of its members who end up founding social movements challenging government efforts on one core issue which is land. There is no denying that an opportunity exists for these social movements to mature into political parties, which they should aspire to, simply because to directly influence decision making it is imperative to sit at the table where decisions are made. Fighting from the side-lines can create noise and get the attention of decisions makers but after some time no one really pays attention anymore. Presently there are two social movements of note with land on their respective agendas in the Namibian public space namely; Affirmative Reposition (AR) and the Landless People’s Movement (LPM). Whereas AR appeals to the youth with its call for affordable housing and access to land for all Namibians, LPM seems to be leading a specific cause for reclaiming ancestral land for the Nama, San, Herero and Damara tribes. Both movements hold merit in their different land related missions and what is obvious is that its founders as mentioned before hail from within SWAPO ranks and despite claims from both social movements that there are no political aspirations of sorts such as forming a political party, it would be immature to rule the prospect out entirely. If anything, a major challenge for social movements has always been ensuring that their agenda is considered at decision making level.
It is a known feat that social movements will infect fail to influence decision making if they do not structurally organise themselves, of which in our context maturing into a political party is perhaps the best way to effectively get organized and see results. AR has made some strides in this regard and has consistently managed to keep themselves relevant and afloat despite government efforts to discredit them at times and has since established platforms for dialogue on various issues as well as chartered (AR Housing Charter 31) its cause accordingly and this is great, however they too have since come to learn that oral agreements with government do not equate to immediate action if their recent distancing from government land servicing efforts is anything to go by. Hence more is needed then just organizational structures. As for LPM, as the new kid on the block, they too will come to realise that we have a leadership in place that would need more then demonstrations to change its land policy agenda focus. It is okay and allowed to want to be politically correct and meek for now however to sincerely get the land question answered, there is an urgent need for these movements to mature into political parties and run for public office because a window of opportunity currently exists and they have both managed to penetrate in the voter empathy that has been fuelling the winning streak of SWAPO in national elections since independence. Namibia is a democratic country and healthy political competition is needed, more so if it comes from within the current ruling party, it should be greatly encouraged.
Historically the land question in Namibia has its roots firmly embedded in colonialism as far as 1884, when the German imperial government laid claim to the South-West African country. Land was either forcibly seized by the Germans through conflict with the indigenous communities or it was battered off by the natives in exchange for western products such as guns and alcohol but to mention a few. After the end of WWI in 1915, Germany lost its colonial rights to Namibia and Britain mandated neighbouring Apartheid South Africa to facilitate the process of independence for Namibia. However, the South African apartheid regime opted to annex the country as a province instead, resulting in more land falling into the hands of white South Africans at the detriment of the Natives who were clustered in Bantustans and segregated grossly until as far as 1989. However post-independence, no reform efforts of note have materialised to re-distribute land equally and once again access to land has remain an elitist privilege. Academics such as Barba, L. (2009) wrote on the subject and documented that, “although the land reform in Namibia attempts to deconstruct the social infrastructure of apartheid rule, the process has inadvertently undermined national reconciliation and failed to reverse the growing socioeconomic inequality”.
Overall to conclude with the words of yet another SWAPO member (defector to some), Dr Tjitunga Elijah Ngurare who posted on Facebook that “Anyone in SWAPO party today deployed in government as President, Minister, MP or Councillor; or in the Party itself as SG, CC members or as Coordinator etc; who prioritizes condemnation of AR or other social movements etc instead of addressing unemployment, landlessness, poverty, hunger, lack of social amenities especially in rural areas, greed, corruption, tribalism, ignorance and disease etc; such a person or leader is an astronomical reflection of failure and incompetence and is a total disgrace to the ideals of SWAPO Party”. Hence the Namibian government (SWAPO to some) needs to recognise that the winds are changing and just as there was an era where independence was the agenda uniting Namibians against apartheid. The current agenda is land demands and we all know what happened with the apartheid regime.
Rakkel Andreas is currently an MA Development and Governance candidate at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. She holds an MA European and International Studies from Centre International de Formation Européen (CIFE) in Nice-France as well as BA in Media Studies and Political Science from the University of Namibia