Swapo politician Kazenambo Kazenambo has warned that if government is not careful in how it resolves the land redistribution issue, things may spiral out of control.
Kazenambo, whose remarks come at a time when the debate around land redistribution has reached fever pitch, was speaking during an exclusive interview with The Patriot this week in the run-up to the second National Land Conference that starts on Monday.
The ruling Swapo Party has been grappling with how to redistribute land to landless Namibians, with many analysts opining that the landmark conference is a “litmus test” for Swapo.
“It is a difficult one but it has to be tackled, especially the ancestral land claims. It is untrue that only Namas and the Ovaherero people lost ancestral land, in fact, the entire country was adversely affected by the colonial regime. Those who claim that only certain groups lost land are feeding on ignorance. The greed for land and other economic resources is the primary cause of our land problems and the subsequent commotion, we cannot build a society where the strong do not care about the weak,” he warned.
Namibia Statistics Agency, a few weeks back released a land audit which found that whites and foreigners own 70% of commercial farms in Namibia.
“Land management should be treated the same way we manage other spheres of the economy. From an economic perspective, land is undoubtedly a limited economic resource which must be utilised responsibly to satisfy the unlimited needs of our people,” said Kazenambo who agreed with sentiments that government had dropped the ball on land reform.
He did however indicate that the political will to redistribute land is there, but a different approach is required.
“We must not despair because it is not too late, hence must use the land conference as a platform for feedback and to chart the way forward.
The biggest challenge to land reform is the fact that we mix issues by insulting each other instead of critically dealing with the issues,” said the former cabinet minister who also indicated that Namibia’s land management policies are flawed. Kazenambo said three issues relating to land reform are fundamental to the entire country: food security, job creation and economic development.
He also wants government to change the way it selects beneficiaries of resettlement farms, saying proficient and competent black farmers who are already farming in communal areas should be afforded the first right to acquire land during redistribution.
Flawed resettlement process
Kazenambo also opined that land was one way of closing the ever-widening inequality gap in Namibia.
His remarks come at a time when many well-connected individuals such as ministers, regional governors, businessmen and directors in government continue to score lucrative farms through the resettlement process at the expense of landless Namibians.
“Until this stops, land redistribution will remain flawed and have little impact on the landless. We cannot have a situation where those with deep pockets get resettlement farms instead of going to Agribank or commercial banks to get a loan to buy a farm. This has become prevalent because politics is the overriding factor during land redistribution and not the economy. Productive commercial farms are turned into unproductive units that resemble communal farms simply because we want to be politically correct,” he charged.
“Landlessness in Namibia is not a side issue, it’s a reality that exists amongst us on a daily basis. But as long as those who have resources are allowed to queue with the landless for resettlement farms, we will continue having this problem,” he cautioned.
The outspoken politician-turned-businessman took particular issue with the fact that productive farms bought by government for resettlement purposes are turned into unproductive units.
“The way we manage land bought by government needs to be relooked to ensure that all resettlement farms contribute to the food basket of Namibia while at the same time reducing landlessness.
Farming(commercial) farming is capital intensive and it requires proper skills. This trend of communalising commercial farms is not helping either,” he said.
Although government is yet to break the silence on the practicalities of land redistribution, Kazenambo warned that resettlement farms will never prosper for as long as beneficiaries are denied the relevant support to succeed.
“Resettlement farms are dished out as if it’s a raffle, hence you see that the beneficiaries struggle to make any meaningful contribution. We are destroying productive farms because our people are not well-equipped. We must manage the process differently and the targeted beneficiaries should be different. I can say that we are currently throwing money into an open pit when it comes to buying farms for resettlement purposes,” he said.
All along, ordinary Namibians have been kept in the dark concerning the practicality, effectiveness and how government will redistribute land amongst land-starved Namibians.
Kazenambo says government should focus on developing virgin land, prevent people from owning large tracts of land and empower initiatives such as the Shack Dwellers Foundation.
“Government must be congratulated for buying farms in a bid to extend the communal areas which have in recent years become overcrowded. But we must embrace innovative agriculture while reflecting on the latest technological trends as well,” he suggested.
He also stressed the need to relook the country’s green scheme policy. “It is high time we address the element of greed when it comes to land ownership in this country. Is it really fair for me as Kazenambo, who worked as a minister and a current businessman, to stand in a queue for a resettlement farm with poor? Not at all. Why have we replaced our conscious with greed?” he said.
According to Kazenambo, the greed for land is the cause of the commotion surrounding land redistribution.
“Most of our land problems have germinated from the fertile ground of greed and it is a cancer that continues to spread within our body politics,” he said.
He also said there is a need to clearly define ancestral land.
“Government must not deny ancestral land claims because it is not government’s fault that ancestral land was lost. I am in no way saying that Namibians cannot live in all parts of Namibia, but we must remember that if you overlook the original people of a certain area and bring in someone from another area, there will be problems.
There is nothing wrong when it comes to dealing with ancestral land, both the US and Australia which are much bigger and advanced democracies are still dealing with it as well.
“Shoving it[ancestral land talks] it under the carpet is causing unnecessary commotion and it is derailing us from devising new strategies that will help us manage our land better,” he concluded.