Namibian court halts expropriation of farms

A Namibian court on Thursday halted the planned seizure of four farms owned by German citizens, saying the government had acted unconstitutionally.

German land owners Guenther Kessl and Martin Riedmaier last year took the Lands Ministry to court, arguing that expropriation orders served on them in 2005 discriminated against foreign investors and had not followed procedure.

Kessl owns two farms in the arid and sparsely populated Southern African nation, and Riedmaier one. The fourth was in a trust owned by German citizens.

“The reference to a ‘foreigner’ can never be a criterion for ... expropriation of the land of that person,” high court judges Louis Muller and Annel Silungwe ruled.

“The according law [Commercial Land Reform Act], the only legislation that Parliament has produced so far ...
did not prohibit a foreigner from acquiring land.”

They said the applicants’ fundamental rights were infringed, adding: “The court has no option but to declare such decision by the lands minister to expropriate the four farms invalid.”

The farm owners were not in court on Thursday, but their lawyer hailed the judgement as “a great relief”.

The ruling shows that expropriation must be followed according to the letter and spirit of the law and the Constitution,” said Ulrich Etzold.

” ... it gives confidence that citizens are not totally at the mercy of authorities, but can successfully turn to the judiciary.”

Etzold said the ministry was likely to start the expropriation process afresh, but would this time have to comply “fully with all the law’s requirements”.

The government of the former German colony started land expropriations in 2005—aiming by 2020 to acquire 15-million hectares of farmland, the vast majority owned by white people, for redistribution to landless black Namibians.

Five white-owned farms have been seized so far—three from Namibians and two from German national Klaus Schindler. In each case, compensation was paid and the expropriation was not challenged.

Expropriation has been a hot topic in Southern Africa since Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe launched a land reform programme which has seen about 4 000 white farmers lose their property.

Unlike Namibia, Mugabe’s regime has refused to compensate farmers for their land. - AFP

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