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NAMIBIA: Special report on land reform and resettlement

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


The Drimiopsis resettlement area in the Omaheke region

WINDHOEK, 14 Jul 2004 (IRIN) - Namibia's land reform programme hit the headlines in recent months after the government announced it would expropriate farms, as too few had been offered for purchase and an estimated 243,000 "land hungry" Namibians need to be resettled.

This year 19 landowners received notices from the government to "come and negotiate the sale of their farms", said Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) president Jan De Wet.

The NAU has secured an extension of the deadline by which owners whose farms were identified for expropriation must respond, to clear up "grey areas" around the process.

These grey areas include the method of establishing "just compensation" for expropriated farms, how the farms will be valued, how government had determined which farms would be targeted for expropriation, and which criteria would be applied in future.

While these issues are being decided, the process of resettling landless Namibians who were 'previously disadvantaged' during the colonial era and South Africa's apartheid rule continues.

According to official figures, about 4,000 mostly white commercial farmers own almost half Namibia's arable land. Since independence in 1990, the government has purchased 118 farms for US $105 million and resettled 37,100 individuals.


IRIN visited one of Namibia's oldest resettlement projects, Drimiopsis, in the large Omaheke region east of the capital, Windhoek, where some 500 inhabitants are struggling to be self-sufficient on nine hectares of farmland.

There is simply not enough land for them to become self-reliant, they lack access to offset markets and the expertise to manage a communal farming project.

Gerard Gebbes, local coordinator and a Drimiopsis resident, has been with the project since inception, as has Adelaide Karabo, who runs an adult literacy programme and kindergarten. They have differing views on how the project is fairing.

Gebbes told IRIN the resettled community was successfully farming maize, carrots and other vegetables, and some Drimiopsis residents had qualified for loans to purchase nine head of cattle each. They had also planted cotton on a small scale.

But Karabo pointed out that a poultry project had failed and said the community's vegetable farm was on the verge of collapse.

Residents of Drimiopsis resettlement area have little income from farming
"At the moment there's no income [from the vegetables]. Also, not all the people benefit from the [vegetable] garden - some people work, some don't. Those who do work sell the vegetables cheap - they don't know how to sell!" Karabo said.

Drimiopsis had had a coordinator running the farm project for a number of years, but this had not been the case for a while and the community was "no longer working hand in hand", she said. There had also been no treasurer for over a year and "people complain they are working hard but don't know what their incomes and outcomes [expenditures] are".

"They have to start from the beginning again, and Oxfam [the British NGO] conducted a project development training [programme] from 16 to 28 June this year," Karabo noted. Gebbes added that Oxfam would now "come every three months to check how the project is going, what the hiccups are, and offer more training".

However, it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to be totally self-reliant from the little they are able to grow on just nine hectares of land in conditions not suited to intensive horticulture - the Omaheke region is semi-arid and the main agrarian activity in the region is cattle farming.

Gebbes admitted that many Drimiopsis beneficiaries lived on the resettlement project but did piece-work on commercial farms in the area to earn money.

Drimiopsis came into being after Namibia's independence from South Africa in 1990, when "the boers [farmers] started to chase away the San community from the farms - it was because of politics", Karabo explained. An informal settlement began to grow and "NGOs came to help with food. Then the government came with tents, then prefabricated houses, then brick houses".

Willemina, 39, said her father, Justice Doeseb, thought to be over 65 years old, had worked on a farm in the Omaheke region for 21 years, where two of his children and a grandchild were born. When the "baas [owner] sold the farm he did not pay the old man his pension. The boer [farmer] was saying, 'you have to find a place to stay'", as the new owner did not require Doeseb's labour. The family were homeless until the government started the Drimiopsis project.


An official from the Ministry of Land, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, Simon Kanyemba, told IRIN the Drimiopsis settlement was not a planned project, but government's response to an emergency.

"These people were dumped on the roadside from different farms just immediately after independence. They had nothing, not even a chicken - we found them living on the side of the road. That's how we started that project - it was not planned, it was an emergency. So we put up tents until we got funds to put up brick houses with toilets, showers and kitchens," he said.

"Currently there are two donors [supporting the project] ... some people were given livestock by donors through the Roman Catholic Church, and they have increased their cattle stock. This year another donor came in and bought some goats for the people. Then they are also coming in with a feedlot for the cattle, [and] will supply them with more cattle," Kanyemba commented.

Drimiopsis was meant to be a transitory settlement, allowing the beneficiaries to gain knowledge and experience of farming before "graduating" to a larger plot of land.

"That is the position of the government - we are helping them acquire livestock, large and small, and encouraging them to work very hard so they can reach a stage where they graduate and move to an Affirmative Action Scheme. When they graduate they [get permission] to go to Agribank and get an [Affirmative Action] loan, with which they can buy a farm and carry on with their lives," he explained.

Responding to criticism that 14 years on, the Drimiopsis beneficiaries are unable to be self-sufficient through farming because they lacked resources, training and skills, Kanyemba said: "These people were never given an opportunity to think for themselves - it will take time to teach them literacy and other things. Development does not happen in 10 years; development is a process - even [neighbouring] South Africa is still a developing country."

Kanyemba said there were currently between 10 and 12 resettlement projects underway countrywide and "some of them are even producing for the market".

The Omaheke region is known as cattle country
In the northwest region of the country, which enjoys higher annual rainfall than the Omaheke region and is therefore more suited to intensive horticulture, resettlement beneficiaries had been able to sell their surplus produce in the nearby town of Grootfontein.

"We supplied them also with cattle and taught them how to produce - now they have big, big commercial land. And we have supplied transport for when they produce a surplus that they can take to [towns] in the north/northwest of the country," Kanyemba added.

These beneficiaries were in "an area with high rainfall - it's a good area. It was vacant land that is being utilised now, and they are not living like those in Drimiopsis; they are living in small villages of three or four houses and have huge open land to use".

Although there were challenges to overcome, said Kanyemba, the resettlement of landless Namibians would continue. "We are still buying farms and resettling people - those who have nothing at all, we put them in the projects."

According to the Namibian government, Kanyemba explained, "the three main criteria are people who have no land, no income, and no livestock; people with livestock but they need land; and then you have those who have [some] livestock and income and they need land".

Only Namibian citizens aged 18 years or older from "former disadvantaged groups" could be considered for resettlement.

"We are also looking at addressing gender balances, and we have to address people with disabilities, [and make sure] we are not just resettling people from one region," Kanyemba noted.


Jan De Wet, president of the NAU, told IRIN that resettlement without taking into account the "agricultural environment" would mean that "you can never achieve the objective that the resettled family must eventually be self-reliant".

"The biggest part of Namibia receives low and variable rainfall - 80 percent of the land is only suited to extensive livestock farming, where you need enough land to graze 200 head of large livestock (cattle) to be self-reliant, or at least 800 head of small stock (sheep/goats) to be independent and make a living, create work and to produce," said De Wet.

Small-scale farming was only possible in areas receiving at least 500mm of rainfall, such as the north and northwest of the country.

Unlike neighbouring countries - Angola, Mozambique, large parts of Zimbabwe and some parts of South Africa - intensive horticulture was impossible in most of Namibia.

"The lack of water in our country is our greatest obstacle - Namibia is a land of two deserts. There are only two perennial rivers, [and those are] on our northern and southern boundaries. We remain reliant on underground water, but we must be careful not to overexploit this resource, as replenishment from rainfall is negligible," De Wet noted.

Although a large country, Namibia has a relatively small population of just 1.8 million people. "Water is the restrictive factor. In Africa we are by far the most sparsely populated country," De Wet added. "That is why the land reform programme must take note of the low productive potential of the country - land reform must form part of wise land use."

De Wet, himself a farmer near Gobabis in the Omaheke region, said the people in Drimiopsis "cannot make a go of it out of nine hectares".

"You can only farm [crops] intensively if you have a high-yield product and good average rainfall. The Omaheke region's average rainfall of 300mm means you can only farm livestock - it's impossible for them to make a living. They use that piece of land as a residence and go and work on farms in the area." In Angola, with rainfall of between 500mm and 1,000 mm "you can make a good living out of 20 hectares through intensive farming", De Wet concluded.

 Theme(s) Democracy
Other recent NAMIBIA reports:

OVC population to double in 15 years,  19/Dec/05

Farmer to challenge expropriation of land,  13/Dec/05

Bilateral talks on development aid postponed to 2006,  8/Dec/05

National assembly approves 'Founding Father' status for Nujoma,  2/Dec/05

Germany's Herero reconciliation efforts rebuffed,  2/Dec/05

Other recent Democracy & Governance reports:

IRAQ-MIDDLE EAST: Street children face hunger and abuse, 26/Dec/05

YEMEN: World Bank cuts support by a third citing slow progress, 26/Dec/05

AFGHANISTAN: ADB approves US $55 million for post-conflict country, 23/Dec/05

NEPAL: UN welcomes Maoist statement on aid and development, 23/Dec/05

WEST AFRICA: IRIN-WA Weekly Round-up 309 covering 17 - 23 December 2005, 23/Dec/05

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