Namibia’s President Hage Geingob on Sunday urged citizens to participate in land expropriation talks, as he seeks to ease political and ethnic tensions over the transfer of wealth to its majority black population.
The southern African country will hold a “national land conference” from October 1-5, for discussion of policies that will accelerate the land reform programme.
“I believe that we should have difficult conversations, as Namibians, with the aim of finding peaceful and sustainable solutions to the challenges of inequality, landlessness and outstanding pains of genocide,” Geingob said during Sunday’s heroes day commemorations in northern Namibia.
It is true that they came and stole the land 100 years ago, but a white boy who was born on that land has Namibian blood.
According to Geingob. the October conference would address the willing-seller, willing-buyer principle, ancestral land claims for restitution, expropriation in public interest with just compensation, urban land reform and resettlement criteria.
“If we don´t correct the wrongs of the past through appropriate policies and actions, our peace will not be sustainable,” the president warned.
Lessons from South Africa
Namibia’s neighbour and regional economic powerhouse South Africa is also in the process of amending land ownership laws, causing investor jitters locally and abroad, leading to a controversial tweet by United States President Donald Trump this week criticising the move by South Africa.
South Africa is considering plans to allow for expropriating farms without compensating the owners, largely the white minority which possess 72 percent of farms.
But there is also vigorous debate in South Africa about how land redistribution would work, and whether seizures could be economically damaging as they were in post-independence Zimbabwe.
How did Namibia get here?
Namibia was a German colony from 1884 to 1915. Apartheid South Africa then took over and ruled the country until 1990 when it gained its independence.
The government started the land reform programme in 1990 but opted to use the willing buyer-willing seller system to buy land, at market prices, from private farm owners who owned the land before independence.
Namibia wants to transfer 43 percent, or 15 million hectares of its arable agricultural land, to previously disadvantaged blacks by 2020. By the end of 2015, 27 percent was redistributed, according to the Namibia Agriculture Union.
‘Whites are Namibians too’
Geingob, who was the country’s first prime minister, was one of the drafters of the Namibian constitution which protected property rights of people who owned land prior to independence.
He is however facing increasing pressure to return ancestral lands to the rightful owners.
Geingob called for calm and insisted that white people who own farms are also Namibians.
“It is true that they came and stole the land 100 years ago, but a white boy who was born on that land has Namibian blood,” Geingob said.
The government announced in parliament two years ago that German citizens own 141 out of 281 farms which belong to foreign nationals. Over 108 farms measuring more than 450,000 hectares are owned by South Africans.