Namibia: Land reform picks up steam

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
WINDHOEK, 5 August (IRIN) - The Namibian government is expected to serve 18 white commercial farmers with final notices of expropriation next week as the land reform programme gathers pace.

"This is the way to go, as there was no other solution," Lands Minister Jerry Ekandjo said on Thursday, noting that the government had failed to reach agreement with the farmers on the price of their land.

Speaking to senior diplomats in the capital, Windhoek, Ekandjo said the government was preparing to tackle the issue in the courts.

The land reform process in Namibia is based on the 'willing-seller, willing-buyer' principle, with the government having first option on any commercial farmland that comes onto the market. Farmers who are not satisfied with the government's offer can contest the price before the Land Tribunal.

The 18 farmers are among a group of 20 white commercial farmers who were the first to receive letters last year notifying them that the government intended to purchase their land under its reform programme, and was willing to pay "just compensation".

According to Ekandjo, only one farm owner accepted the offer made by his ministry.

"We offered N $3.7 million and the owner, Hilde Renate Wiese of the farm Ongombo West, just recently accepted the price, although she originally wanted N $9 million", Ekandjo explained.

Raimar von Hase, president of the Namibia Agricultural Union, which represents about half the country's commercial farmers, said although the process thus far had been transparent, the government had failed to clearly explain the criteria for expropriation.

"Nobody has challenged the price set by the government at the Land Tribunal, but I believe some of the 18 farmers intend to do that," von Hase told IRIN on Friday.

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 people on them.

Critics have argued that the country's piecemeal land reform has moved far too slowly and delivered far too few tangible benefits to its land-hungry citizens.


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