This distressing information came up in the Kahenge Magistrate’s Court last week during the prosecution of lesser-known communal farmers whom the traditional authorities forced out of the area, charging them not only with occupying the land illegally but also overgrazing and putting undue pressure on the land.
This disclosure sounds like an ‘if you cannot beat them, join them’ move from an otherwise frugal President who is seen as considerate of the less privileged citizens.
Sadly, the President joins other top national leaders who have taken communal land at the expense of subsistence farmers, promoting a trend that is nothing short of abuse of power and status by people entrusted to run the country, mainly in favour of the weak and most vulnerable.
Reports about government leaders owning or occupying huge tracts of communal land are often hushed up or brushed aside with remarks that the land was not stolen or that it was given by the traditional leaders who are the custodians.
If the matter is looked at closely, however, the entire exercise is heavily tainted, it is ethically and morally questionable and has wide-ranging implications for the country.
Since independence, dozens of the country’s leaders have received communal land from traditional leaders and treated it like private property. Ohangwena Governor Usko Nghaamwa confirmed to The Namibian this week that he saw nothing wrong with giving Chief Sitentu Mpasi a top-of-the-range 4x4 vehicle as a ‘thank you’ for getting two pieces of land for his farming purposes.
A couple of months ago, President Pohamba ordered an investigation into the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Tjekero Tweya’s ownership of 3 000 hectares of Hambukushu land where he was accused of fencing off an entire village and thus denying many families their sources of livelihood. Tweya was also accused of denying people access to boreholes and grazing area for the livestock of the communal farmers. Tweya’s aim in getting and fencing communal land, and that of many top leaders, is largely a lifestyle choice rather than a do-or-die survival exercise. The same for Pohamba and other top leaders.
Across the country this practice appears to be growing despite policy decisions discouraging it.
It is about time that the discussion changed from a mere issue of legalities to the practical factors and consequences for the country.
True, the law does not prohibit top leaders from getting communal land, but it prohibits fencing off more than 20 hectares. True, national leaders too need land, but they have money and other means compared to those who genuinely have no choice. True, the traditional leaders have the authority to decide who to allocate the land to. But what chance does a widow have against the elite after she had turned down the chief’s marriage proposal in return for remaining on the land she had lived on with her now-departed husband? What chance do unknown subsistence farmers have of convincing or influencing the chief to give them land against the wishes of Governor Nghaamwa who can give the traditional leader the best farming tools in a 4x4 workhorse?
For all the emotional blackmail and threats of expropriation that many government leaders make against whites for supposedly benefitting from colonialism’s grabbing of land from African natives, independent Namibia’s leaders are themselves undermining the process of land reform.
Our government leaders are derelict in their duty to control the prices of land. It is common these days to hear of South African, European, American and Chinese investors buying farms at what any Namibian would consider exorbitant prices. A 4 000-hectare farm, far away from the famed Maize Triangle, for instance, goes for N$9 million on auction; a 19 000-hectare farm was recently sold to South African ‘investors’ for N$35 million, while another 10 000-hectare piece of Namibia went for N$12 million. The buyers most likely bought them as mere ‘lifestyle investments’ – a phenomenon that threatens food security and denies young Namibians an opportunity to afford owning land (including in towns) because they just cannot afford it.
Politicians and other ruling elite need to think carefully about the consequences of their actions. By taking land in communal areas (and they always take the biggest and the best) they are stifling land reform and growth prospects for newer and younger farmers. They are also denying the poorer citizens an opportunity to eke out a respectable living.
Worst of all they are inculcating a selfish ‘I want it all’ mindset that will only spell disaster for the country in the short and long run. Think and lead with care.