Namibia’s white farmers hold out hope

Namibia’s white farmers are hopeful of a negotiated solution to a crisis over land reform despite recent moves by the government to expropriate farms and hand them over to blacks.

The Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) has been trying to resolve the tangle with President Sam Nujoma’s government, which in the middle of May served notices on 15 white farmers giving them 14 days to offer their land for sale to the state.

The move raised concerns that Namibia may follow the path of Zimbabwe where thousands of white farmers were forced to give up their land to new black owners, often without farming experience, with disastrous consequences for the economy.

In an interview, NAU leader Jan de Wet said the 14-day notice was bound to cause trouble.

”To give [a farmer] 14 days for such a decision, which for some cases is going to change their whole life, is very short notice,” said de Wet (77).

”We want to prevent court cases, try to find a consensus and not destabilise the country,” he said.

”Court cases are not a solution … Negotiations and consensus are the only way,” he said, adding: ”Agricultural production is very important to this country because 75% of our people are dependent on agriculture.”

De Wet, a former MP when Namibia, then called South West Africa, was under apartheid South African rule, evoked several ”grey areas” in the government’s plans to expropriate land, including a lack of ”clear, transparent criteria” and compensation.

”What criteria is going to be used to expropriate in [the] national interest?” he said, evoking a term used by Land Minister Hifikepunye Pohamba to justify the acceleration of the expropriation process.

”The other grey area is just compensation. What does just compensation mean? There must be a criteria to determine what is a market price,” he said.

The government has repeatedly stressed that land reform will be carried out within the context of the law, that just compensation will be paid and that the move is necessary as most of Namibia’s arable land is in white hands.

The NAU has asked Windhoek to extend the deadline and that negotiations be opened on a document compiled by experts proposing guidelines to land reform.

The document is to be presented to the lands minister next month.

The deadline in the government notices issued to farmers expired on Monday and the NAU has not received any response on its plea for discussions based on the expert recommendations.

But De Wet said he was optimistic about prospects for a negotiated settlement, saying Prime Minister Theo Ben Gurirab had himself pledged to allow the NAU to submit its proposals and to examine them carefully.

”At this stage my total hope is still on government, that they would give us the extension and that we can sit down and consult. I don’t panic because you cannot address critical issues like this with emotion.”

Namibia, a former German colony that came under South African rule until its independence in 1990, has been ruled since then by President Sam Nujoma, who has sent strong signals on the land issue.

Nujoma told a May Day rally that a few ”racist farmers” were firing their workers and leaving them homeless.

”It is a slap in the face of my government and it will not be allowed! My government will expropriate such land as an answer to this insult,” Nujoma said. — Sapa-AFP

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