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Furore over foreign-owned communal lands

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Political players, analysts, and traditional leaders have reacted negatively to the Ministry of Agriculture, Water, and Land Reform’s promotion of a draft bill that would allow foreigners to lease communal land for 99 years.

While some traditional leaders in the north say they will meet to discuss the problem, Job Amupanda, the leader of the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement, labels the law “imaginary,” and Kalimbo Iipumbu, the deputy leader of the Namibian Economic Freedom Fighters (NEFF), deems it wrong.

According to Iipumbu, a priority should be given to equitable land allocation among residents.

Ongandjera Traditional Authority spokesperson Sakeus Shangula said the authority is not aware of the matter.

“We will have to sit … and look at it, and we will have proper feedback on it. Currently, I cannot say anything,” he said.

Oukwanyama Traditional Authority spokesperson Elifas Wuandja echoed these sentiments, saying the authority would discuss the matter at the next meeting.

Meanwhile, various political parties and analysts have spoken out against the new land draft bill.

Amupanda said the director of lands has “only rehearsed what the minister has written” and that the bill is not known by parliament.

“Leasing land for 99 years is not different from owning land forever. They have already sold the country by making promises to foreigners,” he said

He said claims that most communal land is unproductive and is a lie.

“We will not allow things like this to happen. We will fight them, and even if they win now, that will not last,” he said.

Meanwhile, Iipumbu says it is “impossible” to allow foreigners to own land while Namibians are struggling to obtain land.

“Where will the future generation get land from if we are giving land to foreigners?” he asked.

The director of land reform in the ministry, Petrus Nangolo, during a parliamentary standing committee session last week, said foreign nationals would be allowed to own communal land once the draft bill is finalised in September.

Nangolo said this in response to proposals in a petition addressed to the ministry by the AR, calling for the regulation of foreign land ownership in Namibia.

“The ministry is not in support of the idea to have separate legislation addressing land ownership by foreign nationals,” he said.

He said the current land bill has extensively covered all issues raised by the AR, adding the ministry would maintain the current draft bill as is.

“The proposal from the ministry is broader than that of the Affirmative Repositioning movement … Their views are covered under the current draft,” Nangolo said.

He said the proposal is that communal land is governed through customary land rights, which are guaranteed by the Constitution.

“Non-foreign nationals are allowed to utilise the land for any purposes. The ministry supports the utilisation of communal land by non-Namibians, but strictly through lease and partnership,” he said.

The director said the ownership of communal land by foreigners would help accommodate various economic activities.

“Communal lands are not all products, and our call is to make all our land different in terms of economic activities,” he said.

“We believe that allowing only Namibians to access communal land may exclude good investments for the benefit of the country,” he said.

“Foreign nationals may only lease land, as mentioned in Section 1 of the land bill, for commercial purposes, and are specifically prohibited from leasing any agricultural land,” he said.

Nangolo said Namibia needs to improve food security, and in some cases, major agricultural projects are inevitable.

“For economic growth, agricultural land must be accessed by foreigners, but strictly through leasing,” he said.

He said Namibians must admit they cannot do everything on their own.

“In terms of urban land, it is not under our mandate,” he said.

Nangolo said the expropriation of land is also covered in the draft bill, allowing the minister to expropriate any land at any time.

Political analyst Ndumba Kamwanyah said there is nothing inappropriate about foreigners owning local land, as it benefits the economy.

He says it creates employment for the locals.

The ministry must, however, be clear on the terms of the provision that allows foreign land ownership as the bill could have unintended consequences, Kamwanyah said.

“These foreigners in many aspects are people with money. They will be able to buy whatever land is available. The consequence is that we may end up in a situation where they dominate the ownership of communal land,” he said.

He says this provision should be clear in terms of limitations.

“These consequences may negatively affect our local communities. They may end up being disadvantaged as a chunk of land could end up in the hands of foreigners with resources,” Kamwanyah said.

“Leasing the land for 99 years is a lifetime, and the foreigner can pass the land to his/her children and grandchildren,” he says.

Kamwanyah said the bill could cause many issues in the future.