Posted on August 11, 2004

Namibians Prepare For Emotive Land Reform

Barnaby Phillips, BBC News, Aug. 8

Hilde Wiese’s farmhouse is cluttered with antiques and memories. The heavy wooden furniture and old stove belonged to her grandfather, Theodore, who came out to Namibia from Germany more than 100 years ago.

He built the farmhouse, and on the walls there are black-and-white photographs of him and his wife, Berta.

This is where Hilde has lived and worked for 68 years; raising cattle, growing vegetables and flowers for export to Europe.

But Hilde’s world is falling apart — she has received a letter from the Namibian government, telling her she must sell the farm and leave.

The letter, from the ministry of land, says that in line with the government’s policy of giving land to the previously disadvantaged black majority, the farm is going to be expropriated.


Hilde cannot bear to describe all the things she will miss.

“Everything . . . the nature, my garden,” Hilde breaks down in tears.

“We love this place”.

Three generations of her family are buried beneath simple stone graves behind the farmhouse.

“What will happen to these when we leave?” she asks.

“That is my greatest worry.”

But for a group of black labourers living on the edge of the farm, Hilde’s departure might be an opportunity.

They used to live on the property, but were evicted after a dispute last year.

When I ask them whether they would be happy if the Wiese family left, they were uncomfortable and evasive.

Cornelia Rooinise, in her 30s, has worked as a labourer on the farm all her life.

“We were born here, and our families are buried here,” she says.

“So if we were given this land by the government we would know what to do with it. We would work hard to succeed.”

Too slow

The Namibian government says that more than 200,000 poor black people need land.

It says the willing-seller, willing-buyer policy of the past 14 years has moved too slowly, and that it will now press ahead with the compulsory purchase of white farms.

Land Minister Hifikepunye Pohamba is likely to become Namibia’s president later this year, following his nomination by the ruling Swapo party to take over from Sam Nujoma, who has ruled Namibia ever since independence in 1990.

In fact, Mr Pohamba and President Nujoma have an uncanny physical resemblance.

They are both from a generation of freedom fighters who are still passionate about the injustices of the colonial era, and who have allied themselves closely with President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

The Namibian commercial farmers’ union, the Namibia Agricultural Union, says that about 600 white-owned farms have been acquired by black people since independence, and it says that more than 50% of arable land now either belongs to, or is being utilised by, the black majority.


But Mr Pohamba says he intends to acquire some 9m hectares of commercial farmland, equivalent to hundreds of individual farms, either by accelerating the willing-seller, willing-buyer process, or by expropriating farms where necessary.

He says the government will not break Namibia’s laws, and it will give white farmers fair compensation for their land.

But he says there is no time to waste.

“Otherwise the peace and stability that we enjoy in this country can easily be disturbed, and a revolution by the landless — that I don’t want to see — might come up, and when this happens it will affect everybody,” he warns.

Some white farmers believe this kind of language from Mr Pohamba amounts to nothing more than scare-mongering and veiled threats.

Zimbabwe parallels

Siggi Eimbeck raises livestock and wild game in the beautiful Khomshochland hills, west of the capital, Windhoek.

An unusually outspoken figure in Namibia’s small political circles, Mr Eimbeck says he supports the principle of land reform, but believes the way the government is now pursuing it is “immoral”.

He says land is being used as a political issue, and the white farmers are being turned into scapegoats, to obscure the government’s failure to bring jobs and better healthcare to ordinary Namibians.

Mr Eimbeck argues that in Namibia’s arid and harsh environment, it makes no sense to carve up huge cattle ranches, and parcel out land to poor black people, who do not have capital and technical know-how.

“At the moment white farmers are not investing on their land, they are waiting to see how this goes,” says Mr Eimbeck.

The parallels with Zimbabwe are obvious.

The emotions around land, and the arguments put forward by the government and the white farmers, are often strikingly similar to those in the neighbouring Southern African country.

But at least Namibia still has a chance to solve its land dispute peacefully, and without destroying its economy.