As the calls for ancestral land claims gets louder, fears that such calls may be more divisive than unifying rear its ugly head.
Namibians have during public meetings held in recent weeks witnessed the backdrop against which some of the most dramatic evidence of the potential division played itself out.
The affected groups feel the much anticipated Land Conference will serve no purpose unless ancestral land features significantly on the agenda of the watershed indaba. They also feel that communities north of the redline, have no basis to make comments on ancestral land because quite simply, they were not affected.
In what can only be described as a sharp contrast to this sentiment, Oshana’s Chief Regional Officer Martin Elago said ancestral land claims for restitution should not be supported, “because every Namibian should get land wherever they want in Namibia.
The delegates who attended the discussions[Oshana consultative regional meeting] feel that talks on ancestral land are divisive at a time when an independent Namibia should be united. It will divide the people, cause civil fights will lead to instability. We need peace in the country and calling for ancestral land claim will have serious repercussions on the economy,” said Elago.
Elago further highlighted that the country cannot head into a direction where any piece of land is exclusively reserved for a specific tribe.
“Namibians should be able to settle anywhere in the country. After all, where do you draw the line? Who do you give the land to when there are other ancestry generations?” he queried.
Hopeful that the national land conference will lay the foundation of a new beginning, Elago said views from all sides need to be heard when the time comes.
“Namibia in itself is our ancestral land and it is for all of us, regardless of tribe. So if we are talking about geographical divides, we are simply taking the wrong direction. This is exactly what we fought against. But the conference must come and hopefully put an end to the land wars.”
While the nation is divided on this rather sensitive matter, a member of the affected group, Rirua Komeheke, said those living on the north of the red line have no right to talk about ancestral land as they are comfortably settle on their ancestral land.
“Oshana, Ohangwena, Omusati and Oshikoto regions are inhabited by people who speak the same language. They are on ancestral land and they are telling everybody not to talk about ancestral land. In fact, they have no right to tell us or talk about ancestral land,” said Komeheke.
While addressing the vexing, complex and emotive matter of land, it is safe to put the realities in context. The simmering issue of restitution for ancestral land dispossession, which had contentiously been shelved aside since 1991, calls for immediate intervention of some sort. Activists and analysts who have weighed in on the matter say a further delay on ancestral land discussions may birth political instability and fuel tribalism.
German occupation in 1904 destabilized Hereroland, and inflicted immense human suffering while expropriating land and livestock, resulting in a general decline in the socio-economic conditions of both the Ovaherero and Nama people.
Both tribes’ land was dispossessed and sold to European settlers, whose descendants still live on these farms today, growing up as the Namibian offspring of people who bought the land from German authorities, although it was not theirs to sell.
It is thus more complex in terms of balancing opinions from the directly affected groups versus the faction that alleges possible tribal and political instability, and in some way find mutual grounds – which the land conference desires to address. Analysts say, the Namibian government just like its South African counterpart, will be caught unprepared when emotions over the land question boil over.
Komeheke said the upcoming land conference is devoid of clear intentions to solve the ancestral land issue, calling it the second extra-ordinary ‘Swapo Land Congress.’
“Ancestral land cannot be discussed at a place where you have people with conflicted interests. Everybody coming to the conference is coming because they want to be settled on the land of the Ovaherero. They want to weaken the source of the income that is left of the Ovaherero and to become relevant in this country. The Owambo should not come to a conference that speaks about ancestral land because they are sitting on ancestral land. So who are they to tell us not to talk about ancestral land?”
“The extra ordinary ‘Swapo Land Congress’ should not discuss things that have to do with other people. Ancestral land cannot be up for debate. Everyone has their place. We know where our land is. It is here and we are just asking for our land back. We cannot talk about ancestral land when you have my land,” he added saying the affected communities on the ground are tired and storms could emanate it the issue is not solved.
Political analyst Phanuel Kaapama also weighed by saying all Namibians have the right to talk about land in general as the commodity has the potential to benefit all Namibians regardless of ethnic origin.
Delving into the matter, Kaapana called for a holistic approach on the matter saying both sides should be heard should the country desire to reach consensus. Kaapama calls for recognition of the two realities under which Namibia was colonized.
The first is the fact that under the colonial system there was indirect rule where native commissioners was appointed and the colonial rules were enforced but the people remained intact with their land.
The other is a Namibia that was colonized through direct colonial rule where people were driven off their land and like others, suffered like those in the first Namibia.
“Those are the realities. However, because people have different experience, they will have different opinions, interests, personal and economic interests and what we are seeing is a manifestation of those interests,” he said.
He added; “Currently, a substantial percentage of Namibian land is in white hands and they took it from someone. If we deny that, then let the white man keep the land because they took it from someone.”
It has become evident that it is time that government should relook at the redistribution process because it appears that Namibians are growing frustrated with the delay. Sharing the same sentiments, and cognizant that the dispossession of ancestral land is a reality to some of communities, Kaapama calls for a thorough debate.
“In the process of debating, that is where we found out how best we are going to solve this. It is a complex issue so let’s discuss it so that those making claims can be convinced by facts rather than sweeping the issue under the carpet.
Let all of us talk about it because the loss cannot just be looked at from one angle because once it is given back we would like to develop it and derive its benefits,” he said.
On claims of possible tribalism, Kaapama downplayed the idea saying there are counter fact against the very same claims. Kaapama made reference to the existing traditional authorities that are actively involved in land allocations.
“We have traditional authorities but there are no tribal fights at all. That argument is a smokescreen. So there is not such a thing to emanate from ancestral land discussions.
However, if we become very dogmatic and lose sight of the interest and pain of others, it could get out of hand.
That is why I think the land conference could give us an opportunity to discuss this issue and look at all the angles around the question,” he said.
In 2016, the lands ministry confirmed that a total of 1.2 million hectares of Namibia’s agricultural land is still under foreign ownership, with the majority being in German and South African hands.
This is despite a decision that was taken at the landmark 1991 national land conference that non-Namibians must not own farmland.
Kaapama added that the discussion on absentee land owners should also feature on the program, if the conference seeks to dignify the people of Namibia.