…as Iivula-Ithana breaks silence on Erindi
By Staff Reporter
Former Minister of Land, Resettlement and Rehabilitation (now Land Reform) Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana has cast doubt over government’s seriousness to reform the structure of land ownership in Namibia.
Latest statistics indicate that the country’s majority population, black Namibians, own the smallest percentage of the country’s agricultural commercial land when juxtaposed to their white counterparts, who own 70% of the land.
According to the parliamentarian, the fact that the 169 resolutions that emanated from the second national land conference are busy collecting dust eight months after the second national land conference is in itself an indication that there is no urgency to resolve the land puzzle.
She made the remarks in an exclusive interview with The Patriot this week which covered a covered a wholesale of issues, including the waiver she granted to the owners of Erindi Game Reserve in 1999.
“Even last year when the [land] conference was taking place, parliament [National Assembly] was in session. We met again earlier this year, we went on recess and we came back but up to now there is nothing pertaining to land matter on our desk so there is no urgency,” the seasoned lawmaker remarked.
She continued, noting that so far, from the 169 resolutions of the land indaba, only one has seen the light of day, referring to the commission of inquiry into ancestral land claims and restitutions. “I don’t see any urgency [to reform land] as a Namibian because even while the conference was going on, there were still farms being sold to foreign nationals,” she said in reference to the four farms government sold to Russian billionaire Rashid Sardarov.
Last year, The Patriot reported that Sardarov paid N$ 207 million for the four farms and not the N$ 43 million, as was claimed by Government. The former home affairs minister then likened the disputed sale of Erindi to Mexican mogul, Alberto Bailleres to that of Sardarov. “It’s in the same vein,” she said.
Last week, Geingob, accompanied by several Cabinet ministers and advisors met Bailleres at State House where he endorsed his potential Erindi purchase behind-closed-doors.
The billionaire is set to buy Erindi for N$ 2 billion.
“[Endorsing the sale] is a major decision taken with serious implications particularly at this present moment when there seems to be hunger for land in the country and communities are urging government to do what it can to give them land,” she said.
Iivula-Ithana added the land conference was supposed to have given government the oomph to do whatever it can to answer the land question, but the current state of affairs leaves much to be desired. “It’s a disappointment truly because we have cried so much about lack of land,” she lamented.
The contested sale of Erindi is before the Namibia Competition Commission for rejection or approval.
Further, the MP indicated that the current economic situation facing Namibia may have placed the country’s leadership in a mode of desperation, where they are forced to agree to deals, even if they are not in the country’s best interest. “Namibia is faced with too many unpleasant events which are beyond our control, like the drought and the economic slowdown. These two are not necessarily on account of bad governance. But this one of Erindi, we could have dealt with it differently,” she said.
Iivula-Ithana is at the heart of debate in the sale of Erindi, with President Hage Geingob also coming out to remind Namibians that a certificate of waiver to sell Erindi was granted 18 years ago, by Iivula-Ithana.
However, Iivula-Ithana indicated that the waiver granted to the owners back then is not a permanent document.
“A certificate of waiver is just a document to say I [the government] am waiving my preferent right to buy. But a waiver is not a permanent document. If for whatever the circumstances for which Erindi was found unsuitable for resettlement have changed and the government has found a good reason to use Erindi for, it could cancel the waiver. It is not cast in stone,” she said.
More so, she claimed that the mandate and priority of the ministry she headed between 1996 and 2001 was different from what is today called the Ministry of Land Reform.
Its chief priority was to resettle two groups, liberation struggle fighters returning from exile as well as generational farmworkers who were dumped in the corridors, she said. “In terms of Cabinet that time, we agreed that Erindi, a game reserve was not suitable for the two groups we had identified for resettlement. And therefore, the law provides that if the land is not suitable, either because it is too expensive, too barren or something then you can issue a certificate of waiver,” she reiterated.
This week, the Presidency indicated that the sale commercial agricultural land to foreigners will continue for as long as there are no laws to the contrary.
Ironically the same government that was at full speed to amend the constitution in 2014 to enlarge parliament and create the position of vice presidency is now hiding behind the law.
It further indicated that the resolutions from the land conference remain just resolutions until such a time that they become legally binding. “The position of the Head of State and the circumstances surrounding the sale of Erindi Private Game Reserve in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Namibia should be restated for the broader public not to be misled,” Alfredo Hengari, the presidential spokesperson said this week.
“It should be said that notwithstanding the recommendations by the Land Conference convened by President Geingob in October 2018, specifically the recommendation calling for foreigners not to buy by land in Namibia, it deserves to be mentioned that the recommendation remains just that, a recommendation until the relevant institution of the State enact laws to that affect,” Hengari stressed. The envisaged sale of Erindi has been met with great resistance from various traditional authorities and opposition political parties alike.