Namibia warns white farmers as land reform stalls

WINDHOEK- Namibia’s land minister has warned the country’s white farmers that laws may be amended to speed up land reform, saying the current voluntary sales approach was failing to put land in black hands.


Minister Jerry Ekandjo, in comments carried by loca

l newspapers on Thursday, said “land hunger” in the southwest African country was building and new steps would be considered to speed up the reform process.


Land remains an emotive issue across southern Africa, where despite the end of colonialism and apartheid huge ownership imbalances remain with much land still in white hands.


Ekandjo did not elaborate on what measures were being considered to speed up land reform, which has sparked political tensions in both neighbouring Zimbabwe and South Africa.


In Namibia, which gained independence from South Africa in 1990, whites make up just 100,000 of the 1.8 million population but continue to own some 80 percent of the farmland.


Ekandjo told parliament this week it was clear the “willing buyer, willing seller” method, under which farmers are expected to voluntarily sell land to the government, was not working.


“The farmers are not forthcoming,” he was quoted as saying.


Ekandjo said the demand for prime farming land by the black majority was increasing, with as many as to 3,000 people applying for farms.


“Requests for land and resettlement are recording an increase. We are continually confronted by a multitude of competing interests and claims for land. We continue to receive thousands of requests for advertised allotments. This is perhaps the clearest indication of the extent of land hunger in Namibia,” Ekandjo was quoted as saying.


In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe’s government in 2000 launched a programme of land seizures, stripping white farmers of their property in a move critics say is partly responsible for the near total collapse of the country’s once thriving commercial agriculture sector.


South African officials this month warned they were moving toward ordering the first expropriation of white-owned farms, although they underscored that, unlike Zimbabwe, this would be done as a last resort and that farmers would be offered what the government considers a fair market price for the land.


Ekandjo said Namibia had acquired 19 farms in 2005-6, including three that were expropriated. The government has set a target of acquiring 133,333 hectares (330,000 acres) of farm land per year over the next three years for resettlement.