EDITORIAL, THE NAMIBIAN – We sympathise with non-governmental people, who believe that to stay away from the upcoming land conference is to lose a golden opportunity in shaping Namibia’s long-standing debate on who owns the land.

However, with a week to go before the second national land conference begins in Windhoek, evidence is overwhelming that there is nothing national or broad-based about the meeting. If anything, civil society stakeholders should worry more about being used to legitimise a sham conference.

The list of delegates that was leaked this week is only one in a string of indictments that the government’s motives for holding the conference are dubious. More than 90% of the 500 people chosen to attend are governmental officials, including traditional leaders, who are nothing but agents of the ruling authorities.

Worse, just about everything being circulated in connection with the land conference is being leaked, clearly by government officials themselves concerned that important stakeholders have been completely ignored, or their roles so reduced that they are simply going to be participants.

The list of delegates is leaked. The programme of what will be discussed is leaked. Even a report of the public meetings held a couple of months ago is leaked. A list of the government’s land resettlement beneficiaries is leaked.

If the government is not deliberately trying to hijack the important debate of land, then what we are seeing is a sign of incompetence. And that should worry Namibians even more.

Else, how does anyone explain that with only a week left, the government has not even released what the leaked programme states as presentation of “scientific and technical” reports covering “27 years of land reform” and the implementation of policies since the last land conference in 1991?

A week is not enough for anyone, including experts, to analyse quantitative data about 27 years of land reform and prepare well to provide meaningful input at the conference that will be held from 1-5 October.

The government has taken two years to prepare for the conference, and even with the state resources available to them, officials have had to postpone hosting the conference because they were simply not ready. Then they expect outsiders to have a glance at the work they bring to the conference and make knowledgeable contributions?

Some of the main objectives is to “review progress” in the implementation of the 1991 land conference decisions. It will also address new land reform issues. Still, a lot of questions linger as to what the conference really aims to achieve with no documents yet publicly available for people to formulate their positions clearly.

The Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA) last week released high-level data showing land ownership patterns. Such quantitative information can point to 70% of the commercial farms (south of the red line) being owned by whites. It can tell us that government turned down an opportunity to buy five million out of eight million hectares of farms on sale between 1992 and 2018.

The statistics show that nearly N$800 million has been used through the Agribank’s affirmative action loan scheme to help blacks buy farms; and that more than 1 000 families have received free farms through the government’s resettlement programme over the past 26 years.

But when are we to look at what the targets were, and whether they have been met or not? When will the discussion dissect whether there has been productivity gain, or whether only the well-connected few have gotten largesse with taxpayer funds and turned farms into toys?

What about even the reclassification of the farmlands in northern Namibia that have been privatised, but continue to be called “communal” or state land?

And then there are the sticky issues of people demanding to get back “ancestral land” and “expropriate without compensation”, which government has clearly shown they want to keep a lid on.

We call on civil society, or non-governmental stakeholders, to smell the coffee. Your voices might be heard through the confines of the conference calls. But without knowing about the criteria that will be used to arrive at decisions made, you are as good as non-existent.

Our advice: boycott the conference, and rather put your position through outside the shackles of the conference that the government has stage-managed.

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