World View: Namibia May Follow South Africa with Land Confiscation Without Compensation

US judge defers ruling in Berlin-Namibia genocide case

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Namibia may follow South Africa with land confiscation without compensation
  • Namibia government opposition calls the land reform proposal a ‘sham’
  • Brief generational history of Namibia

Namibia may follow South Africa with land confiscation without compensation

Namibia white-owned farm (Pixabay)
Namibia white-owned farm (Pixabay)

Namibia’s president Hage Geingob announced on Monday that he would push ahead with “land distribution,” following the example of the announcement by its close neighbor, South Africa.

According to Geingob, the practice of expropriating land with “fair compensation” will be revisited, since it has not delivered results, and that 43 percent of farmland will be transferred from white farmers to “disadvantaged blacks” by 2020. In making the announcement, Geingob said:

Many Namibians were driven off their productive land. The fundamental issue is the inequality. We also share a burning land issue and a racialized distribution of land resources with South Africa.

This comes from a common history of colonial dispossession. What we also agree to is that the status quo will not be allowed to continue.

The phrase “colonial dispossession” refers to genocide and ethnic cleansing by German colonists of tens of thousands of ethnic Herero and Nama people from roughly 1895 to 1907. According to published statistics, white Namibians today own 70 percent of agricultural land and blacks 16 percent. The rest, about 250 farms, are under foreign ownership, mostly by Germans.

Geingob added that by redistributing land from white farmers to blacks, it will reduce inequality, and will be “an investment in peace”:

We need to revisit constitutional provisions which allow for the expropriation of land with just compensation, as opposed to fair compensation, and look at foreign ownership of land, especially absentee land owners.

It is in all our interest, particularly the ‘haves,’ to ensure a drastic reduction in inequality, by supporting the redistributive model required to alter our skewed economic structure. We should all be cognizant of the fact that this is ultimately an investment in peace.

According to Geingob, the “willing-buyer, willing-seller” approach has not worked to redistribute the land, and now a more aggressive approach must be used. Deutsche Welle and The South African and Al Jazeera

Namibia government opposition calls the land reform proposal a ‘sham’

The proposal for land confiscation without compensation is being made at the Second National Land Conference, held in the capital city Windhoek. Opposition figures have called for a boycott of the conference because documents leaked prior to the conference indicated that the outcomes were predetermined and because opposition parties, including representatives of white farmers, were not even invited. Prime minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila denied that the outcomes were predetermined because all delegates coming to the conference will “share their honest views towards the debate to help our country make progress towards the land reform program.”

None of the news reports that I read about this proposal even mention the Zimbabwe experience, so apparently that experience has been forgotten. In the 1990s, Zimbabwe used to be the breadbasket of southern Africa, growing much more food than the country needed and exporting the rest. Then, in 1999, Robert Mugabe instituted a “land reform” plan just like the one that South Africa and Namibia are planning. Within ten years, Zimbabwe was an economic disaster, with mass starvation, a worthless currency, and massive million percent inflation.

The lack of transparency, and shutting out of the opposition are signs that Zimbabwe’s experience will be copied in another way. When Mugabe confiscated the white farmers’ farms, they were supposed to go to poor blacks, but instead went to Mugabe’s wealthy political cronies, people who did not know how to farm. That is why Zimbabwe faced such a financial disaster.

Namibia’s new land reform program is supposed to confiscate white farmers’ farms and give them to “disadvantaged blacks,” but the lack of transparency and shutting out of the opposition indicates that Geingob will do what Mugabe did: give the farms to his élite wealthy political cronies, who know nothing about farming. Why would anyone expect anything else? Those cronies worked hard to get Geingob elected, so shouldn’t they be rewarded with all the farmland? It is only fair.

So that is what happened to Zimbabwe when it was a relatively wealthy country in the 1990s. But Namibia is not a wealthy country. As of the second quarter of 2018, Namibia’s economy had shrunk for nine consecutive quarters. This year, the government had to stop feeding the army, or paying the water and electricity bills for its military bases.

Namibia is a mineral-rich country and was considered to be stable and democratic. But when president Hage Geingob took office in 2015, he borrowed money and went on a spending spree, greatly expanding the public sector, with a huge wage bill for 100,000 civil servants. Geingob has also taken on billions of dollars in debt from China, where the terms of the deal are being kept secret, raising fears of yet one more Chinese debt trap.

Namibia has been hit with other problems. A drought across southern Africa has been disastrous for the Namibian economy. The fishing industry has suffered due to overfishing and depletion of fish stocks. The mining industry suffered because of the fall in the prices of minerals, particular uranium, which Namibia relies on.

So Geingob is going to solve all of Namibia’s economic problems by confiscating the farmland from productive people who produce food for people to eat and give the farms to his cronies who do not have a clue. Sounds like a great plan. Namibian (21-Sep) and The Villager (Namibia, 24-Sep) and Deutsche Welle (1-Feb) and Namibian (14-Sep)

Brief generational history of Namibia

Archeological evidence shows that people inhabited Namibia for at least 25,000 years. Little was known about life there until the colonists arrived and started writing things down. The first known European to visit Namibia was the Portuguese Diogo Cao in 1485.

The most valuable real estate in Namibia to the colonists was Walvis Bay, a large deepwater port on the Atlantic Ocean. The Dutch Authority took control of Walvis and Britain took control of it in 1797.

The Europeans in Namibia lived in relative peace with the dominant tribe, the Herero, until the “Scramble for Africa” among the European colonists occurred in the late 1800s. In 1886, Germany and Portugal negotiated the border between Angola and German South West Africa. By 1890, the German colonists had been a military fort in Windhoek, which became Namibia’s capital city.

Things changed in 1897 when the rinderpest, an ancient plague dating back to at least Roman times, arrived in South West Africa and devastated the flocks of cattle owned by the Herero, who depended on cattle for their livelihood. Many Herero sold their land to the Germans for a very low price. This situation backfired in 1904, when there was a Herero uprising against the German colonists, killing over 100 Germans. This triggered a generational crisis war, and genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Herero.

Another tribe, the Nama, rose up in support of the Herero, but the Germans rounded them up and sent them to labor camps to work on the railways. All in all, about 80 percent of the Herero were killed, and 50 percent of the Nama. It is sometimes called the first genocide of the 20th century. Germany only lost control of South West Africa at the end of World War I, when the Treaty of Versailles gave control to South Africa.

The Herero have filed a lawsuit in the U.S. against Germany over the genocide and demanded reparations. Germany acknowledges that a genocide occurred, but the government denies that it is under any legal obligation to reparations. Deutsche Welle (28-Jul) and RhinoAfrica and SAHistory and HistoryWorld

Related Stories:

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Namibia, South Africa, Hage Geingob, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, Portugal, Diogo Cao, Walvis Bay, Angola, Windhoek, Germany, German South West Africa, Scramble for Africa, Herero, Nama, rinderpest
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