Swartbooi cries foul over Shalli invitation

12 July 2018 | Local News

The Landless People's Movement (LPM) leader Bernadus Swartbooi has questioned the invitation extended to retired army general Martin Shalli to attend the country's second national land conference slated for October.

Swartbooi also accused the government of not only sidelining them, but also making efforts to intimidate and threaten participants to toe the line and not raise radical issues such as ancestral land.

In June this year, the LPM announced it would boycott the conference, if the lands minister Utoni Nujoma does not resign.

This followed statements made by Nujoma during an eNCA documentary about land reform. Nujoma was understood to have said that the poor would not receive land.

Yesterday, Swartbooi questioned the fact that so many ministers have been invited to attend the conference, adding it is rumoured to be a tactic to intimidate and threaten attendees to behave, while their talking time would also be limited.

“Our intelligence sources informed us that peculiar visits are being made to certain traditional authorities to toe the line of the regime on the land question. A major deployment of intelligence is planned to follow the caucus of participants at the conference. They have carefully deployed General Martin Shalli in order to send a direct message that the military will be deployed against those who wish to push ancestral land issues,” he said.

Swartbooi also accused the government of planning to use former PLAN fighters currently in the Namibia Defence Force (NDF) to intimidate radical participants.

When contacted for comment, Shalli said he is invited as a participant and “cannot see how his mere presence as a retired general can intimidate or threaten” participants.

Shalli, who said he was notified of his invitation before the land conference was previously postponed, said he supposes the invitation is still valid.

“I am a retired general. I am not on active duty. There is no reason why my mere presence must threaten people,” he said.

The lands ministry spokesperson Chrispin Matongela said it is unthinkable that the LPM could draw such conclusions.

“The general was invited in his capacity as the president of the veteran's association. What they (the LPM) are saying is not true at all. I do not even want to say anything more on this at all,” he said.

Towards the end of June this year, the LPM announced it would be hosting a grassroots land conference to “ensure that the voices from grassroots level are articulated and heard”, even if they are not invited to the government-led national land conference.

The LPM's conference was set for 8 to 10 September and would enjoy technical and advisory support from Namibian Non-Governmental Organisations Forum (Nangof).

It is not clear whether this conference is indeed going ahead. At the time, the LPM said it would need sponsors to come on board.

Matongela issued a press statement which said the second national land conference will deliberate on what more can be done to fast-track the implementation of the 1991 land conference resolutions and other land-related issues that have emerged during the implementation of the country's land programme.

The statement emphasised that the government wants to ensure inclusivity in the preparation for the conference and it has therefore established a high-level coordinating committee. The committee, which was inaugurated on 29 May, is comprised of 32 members drawn from the government, farmers' unions, trade unions and academics.

JEMIMA BEUKES

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