Namibia‘s president has called for a change to the country’s constitution to allow the government to expropriate land and re-distribute it to the majority black population.
“The willing-buyer, willing-seller principle has not delivered results. Careful consideration should be given to expropriation,” President Hage Geingob said on Monday at the opening of the Second National Land Conference in the capital, Windhoek.
The willing-buyer, willing-seller policy depends on commercial farmers offering to sell their land to the government.
However, many farmers are reluctant to sell and those who were willing often inflated the prices, making it difficult for the government to acquire adequate land for resettlement purposes.
In a proposal that echoes the fierce political issue in neighbouring South Africa, Namibia now wants to transfer 43 percent, or 15 million hectares (58,000 square miles) of its arable agricultural land, to previously disadvantaged blacks by 2020.
Namibia, which was ruled by colonial Germany and then apartheid South Africa until 1990, has large swaths of agricultural land, as well as major diamond and platinum mining industries.
Statistics issued by the Namibian Statistics Agency last month showed that white Namibians owned 70 percent of agricultural land and blacks 16 percent. Out of some 250 farms under foreign ownership, most were held by Germans, it showed.
“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 landowners,” Geingob said.
“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,” he said.
“The fundamental issue is inequality … We also share a burning land issue and a racialised distribution of land resources with South Africa,” Geingob said.
“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,” he added.
Namibia’s neighbour and regional economic powerhouse, South Africa, is also in the process of amending land ownership laws – a move that has shaken investor nerves locally and abroad, leading to a controversial tweet by United States President Donald Trump in August criticising the move by Pretoria.
As in South Africa, thousands of black Namibians were driven off their land in the 19th and 20th centuries, banished to barren and often crowded homelands known as Bantustans while being denied official ownership or tenure rights.
While Namibia is looking at the possibility of land expropriation with compensation, the South African government has voiced controversial plans to introduce expropriation without compensation.