Posted on July 21, 2006

Namibia Says Zimbabwe A Role Model For Land Reform

Mail & Guardian, July 21, 2006

Harare, Zimbabwe — Namibia’s justice minister has praised Zimbabwe’s controversial programme of farm seizures, saying newspapers that run negative stories about the country are taken over by forces opposed to the success of Africanism, it was reported on Wednesday.

Speaking during a tour of three Zimbabwe farms allocated to black farmers, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana said there was too much propaganda against the country, the government’s Herald newspaper reported.

“When I came to Zimbabwe I was looking for chaos, disorder, lawlessness and rampant human rights abuse. I was surprised to see people working, some of them on their farms,” the minister said.

Namibia has recently embarked on its own programme of land reforms, and says it sees Zimbabwe as a role model for the way land reform can be carried out.

President Robert Mugabe launched his programme of white land seizures in 2000. Only a few hundred white farmers are now left on the land, out of more than 4 000 six years ago.

The programme has been wracked with controversy, following allegations that well-connected members of the ruling party cherry-picked the best farms, often for use as weekend retreats.

Agricultural production has taken a nosedive, turning a country once known as the breadbasket of Southern African into a struggling food importer.

Mugabe blames the drop in production upon repeated drought, but some senior government officials — including vice-president Joseph Msika — have dared to suggest that land wasn’t always given to people with an interest in farming.

Namibia’s justice minister told the Herald she was very pleased to have been brought to see the farms.

“There is too much propaganda against Zimbabwe. I keep on repeating, our media from all over Namibia, South Africa are all taken by forces opposed to the success of Africanism,” Iivula-Ithana said.

The authorities in Zimbabwe also regularly allege that they are the victim of a hostile Western media plot, and there are strict media laws in place to try to control which reporters are allowed to work there.

Criminal charges have been laid against more than 200 Namibian companies which have failed to comply with the country’s affirmative action Act, which came into effect in 1998.

Namibia’s Employment Equity Commission (EEC), which is tasked by law to monitor the implementation of the Act in order to achieve a workforce representative of the broader Namibian society, said this week that the Office of the Prosecutor General and the police had been roped in to bring the culprits to book.

“Sooner (rather) than later, the relevant employers will appear before court. It’s not something we want to do, but once it happens, it will send the right message to the rest,” said EEC Commissioner Vilbard Usiku.

Those who violate the Act for the first time could be fined R4 000 or be jailed for a year, while second-time offenders face fines of up to R100 000 or a jail term of five years, or both.

Labour Minister Alpheus Naruseb announced that the threshold for companies to submit affirmative action reports has been lowered from 50 or more employees to 25 or more.

That means that all companies which employ 25 or more employees will have to submit affirmative action progress reports.

“I am informed by the Employment Equity Commission that some of the relevant employers identified in 1999 did not submit their affirmative action plan and report as required by the law.

“The ministry of labour will leave no stone unturned in its efforts to identify the culprits so that they are brought to book,” Naruseb said.

In a recent report tabled in the national assembly, the EEC identified 213 cases of non-compliance, of which 155 cases were opened with the police.

Most companies failing to comply with the affirmative action law requirements have blamed it on the lack of skills among the previously-disadvantaged groups.

Recently, ruling Swapo party parliamentarian and Minister of Youth John Mutorwa said the EEC needed to be given more teeth.

“We (government) shouldn’t be seen as helpless. We have the law but with certain limitations.

“Let us strengthen the hand of the institutions we have created to deal with the issues,” Mutorwa told the national assembly.

Usiku said it was becoming increasingly apparent that there were attempts to limit advances of black Namibians at management levels and that this “shows a blatant disregard for the spirit and provisions of the Act”.

Opposition Congress of Democrats leader Ben Ulenga said some companies were paying lip service to the implementation of affirmative action while others simply refused to comply with the law.

“In many of the positions where decisions regarding change are supposed to be made and where change is expected to be effected, no change is occurring.

“The same stagnation infects just too many middle management and professional occupations at many companies in the private sector,” Ulenga said.

Some of the “old traditional Namibian companies” have no single black person, woman or disabled person in their executive, senior and middle management, he said.

Many others, he said, employed blacks for window dressing.