Communal land must fall

01 June 2020 | Opinion

Helmut Stolze



Is communal land ownership keeping the legacy of colonialism alive?

The colonial policy confined the majority of Namibian citizens to former bantu lands (homelands – now communal land) and barred homeland residents from owning land in such areas.

The majority of people were thus not able to obtain security of title to the land they lived on.

About 38% of Namibia is designated as communal land. The remaining land is allocated for freehold farmland (44%), national parks (17%) and declared urban areas (1%).

Some 1.1 million people live in communal areas. This is just over half the total population, while the remaining people live in urban areas (42%) and on freehold farms (6%).

Matters pertaining to tenure in communal areas thus concern a high proportion of Namibia's land and people.



Discriminatory practice

As a former British administrator of the then South West Africa once put it: “Ovamboland for many years to come must be administered by the chiefs with as little interference by the white man as possible, except, of course, when demanded in good order and humanity. Its chief value to us is the large supply of labour it affords for the needs of the European community in the protectorate”.

This system is still kept in place by our current government. While the previous colonial forces no doubt utilised the workforce of cheap labour from the inhabitants of the communal land, the Swapo government seems to be happy to keep this discriminatory practice in place in order to secure votes from the tribal authorities.

In terms of Section 5 of the Constitution, all Namibians must be treated equal, however, with regard to communal land, the Swapo government is still keeping Namibians in a system which does not allow them to own the land they occupy legally.

Most notably, the majority of black people are not able to leverage their land to access finance, a crucial enabler for individual and national economic advancement.



Poor and uneducated

If the Baster Kaptein is now no more than a master of ceremonies, why do traditional leaders still exist with all their rights regarding the allocation of land? This aspect of “allocating land” was and still is a strong political tool.

According to the study 'A place we want to call our own' by the Land, Environment and Development project, black Namibians will remain poor and uneducated as long as the communal land system remains in existence in Namibia.

The new Flexible Land Tenure Act, has to facilitate ownership of land for poorer Namibians, freehold title to land as its main aim.

The starter- and landhold title can be upgraded to a freehold title; freehold title being the most secure land tenure there is.

This feudal system of communal land must fall so that half of Namibia's people can have an equal opportunity to own land and create wealth for themselves.

* Helmut Stolze is a practicing conveyancer with more than 10 years of experience.

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