Muundjua talks land

Journalist Jemima Beukes sat down with local historian and patron of the Ovaherero Genocide Committee Festus Muundjua to hear his views on the upcoming land conference. Muundjua is a former member of the Public Service Commission and a member of both Swapo and the Ovaherero Traditional Authority.

09 August 2018 | Local News

Jemima Beukes: What are your views on the upcoming land conference?

Festus Muundjua: The outcome seems predetermined and designed to create new opportunities for government's majoritarian base to benefit from the expropriated lands previously owned by affected communities below the red line. There are three types of land ownership in Namibia, the geo-political ancestral areas formerly known as 'Kaokoland', 'Ovamboland', 'Kavango' and 'Caprivi', the commercial farmland, ill-gotten and predominantly owned by white Namibians and the 'reserves', for which none of the inhabitants has a title deed. This land, according to the constitution, belongs to the state. Why should the state own reserves? Why not relinquish them to the inhabitants and bestow title deed rights to them?

JB: Would this not require a constitutional amendment?

FM: Self-enslavement instruments like our constitution and some of the articles under it are clearly meant to protect the ill-gotten property rights of exterminators, expropriators at gunpoint without compensation, to me, are not worth having. Article 131 is a recipe for a perpetual self-infliction, because it lacks a consideration for restitution for the rights of the dispossessed. So, if things were done in all sincerity and in consideration of those who lost their erstwhile property to colonialism, one should not hide behind constitutional technicalities and get away with murder.

JB: How would you suggest the amendment is done to address the land issue?

FM: I would suggest ill-gotten land and/or other property must be confiscated without compensation and, where possible, be restored to the original owners. Otherwise, I cannot understand how one could legalise or bestow a legal right to anyone on robbed, plundered and fraudulently acquired property? I won't even use the word 'stolen' in the case of the Ovaherero and Nama lands, because their properties were not stolen, as such, but were confiscated through the barrel of the gun. The constitution must be amended to stipulate that parliament may legislate for the prohibition of land ownership by non-Namibians and their Namibian proxies and legislate for expropriation of ill-gotten ancestral land without compensation. Otherwise, land conferences will be money-wasting events to create new opportunities for the neo-land usurpers and will not address the real issues of colonial land dispossession. Those who say they fought for the liberation of the land are not truthful. They only fought for the hoisting of the flag and jobs for themselves and their kith and kin. The people who fought for the land and lost it through the genocide are the Ovaherero and Nama.

JB: In your view, what would happen to those who forfeit what you call 'ill-gotten land'?

FM: Well, I wish the same question would have been asked of them when they took our ancestral land, but that would be wishful thinking. I would say that they should now try to make ends meet with the trans-generational accumulated wealth from our ancestral land, minerals, marine resources and our cattle.

JB: And what about those that may not have enough?

FM: You say, 'if they don't have enough …?' Our forebears were not left with even less; they were literally left with nothing and laws were made to prohibit them from owning livestock of any kind. So, think of that as well. As I have said they have accumulated wealth and are amongst the richest of the world. The trans-generational poverty of the black people we see today is directly linked to the original crime of genocide and land dispossession, so don't ask me about the hypothetical 'poverty 'of white people today.

JB: What do you want to see coming out of the land conference?

FM: First of all I think government must release the much sought-after master list of those settled on government farms.

Almost invariably, all regions have a land problem, unique to themselves and may not have the same demand as the Ovaherero, Nama and Damara people claiming ancestral land. Government should therefore treat each region separately. People should not cross regional borders to grab the land of others. I say so, because what have the people like those from the north of the red line got to do with expropriated land of the Ovaherero, Nama and Damara?

Which Ovaherero, Nama, Damara, would be allowed to meddle in land feuds in the north of the country? And why would the government want people from the north, beyond the red line, also to participate in discussions about ancestral lands of others since their ancestral lands have not been expropriated? This is not just a rhetorical question; it must be answered.

Questions like these should be answered sincerely and not simply or sarcastically be brushed aside as 'tribalistic'. Tribalism is what this government is busy with when it comes to the land question, especially when it refers to the ancestral land of the Ovaherero and Nama.

JB: Do you think with all the criticism, the land conference should be held at all?

FM: Well, I have a strong hunch that there will be no positive outcome for those dispossessed during genocide. It may be ideal to hold two sessions - one for the representatives of people north of the red line and another for those south of the red line and then compare the outcome or resolutions.

Those from the south of the red line cannot be any- and everybody, but must hail from those who have lost their ancestral land through colonial expropriation.

Heavyweight government representation is not necessary, because they had an opportunity to rectify the wrongs of the past the first-ever national conference but they did nothing.

It is conflict of interest to have cabinet members as part of the conference resolution exercise and then again as approving authority.

JB: Do you think Namibians will ever solve this land issue?

FM: No, judging from the way government is in cahoots with the German government, I have my doubts. I would rather have the involvement of people who have no vested interests or hidden agendas to also benefit from what should otherwise be for the beneficiation of those who have lost their land.

Examples of successful land reform abound in the world and we should learn lessons from some of these. We can learn from Cuba, Zimbabwe, Australia, China and also South Africa. They haven't yet solved their land problems, but they seem intent.

Our second land conference should not be a replica of the Berlin Conference where decisions about the African continent were taken, but without the participation of the Africans. That is why we say: 'It cannot be about us, but without us; anything about us without us is against us.' That is for those who lost their land.

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