How is agrarian reform similar in Namibia and South Africa? || The Southern Times



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By Ronak Gopaldas and Menzi Ndhlovu *

While land reform has dominated South Africa's headlines, it has also emerged as a major polarizing issue in Namibia ahead of next year's national elections. Populist pressure fears the economy's trajectory and uncertainty about how the process will be managed in Namibia has caused alarm, particularly among investors.

With last year's downgrade to underinvestment and depressed growth prospects, Namibia's economy remains vulnerable. Nervous investors are now expanding on two particular issues – whether Namibia's manipulation of the land issue bears some resemblance to that of South Africa, and deserves the same level of concern.

First, it is important to understand the similarities between the two countries. Both have segregationist history and inequality is still dominated across racial lines. Both countries have major elections in 2019, with incumbent governments facing dissatisfaction about the slow pace of transformation (many of which can be attributed to their own inefficiency rather than legislative bans).

It is in this context that the current clamor about the respective debates on the land needs to be understood. Current land policies have not been launched in both countries – evidenced by land ownership statistics, which remain racially distorted.

In South Africa, according to the government's 2018 Land Audit Report, whites own 72% of farms and farms, people of color 15%, Indians 5% and blacks 4% (all individual ownership). These figures – and indeed the report – were called into question. Commentators say that baseline measurements have been manipulated for political gain. However, this does not change the underlying notion that the individual property distribution is misaligned with the country's demographics.

Namibia is no different. According to the Namibian Territorial Statistics report of 2018, white and foreign national citizens hold about 70% of commercial or private agricultural land.

In both countries, whites account for less than 10% of the total population. Statistics also show that despite commitments to transform the nature of land ownership in both countries to better reflect the demographics of the population, enough has not changed.

Agrarian reform is not the only initiative that has not been launched, but the expropriation of land was fundamental to the segregationist policies that dominated the past of both countries. Many of its ongoing socio-economic challenges can be attributed to this. In both countries, the issue is less about the land itself and more about inclusion, dignity and the need for general redress.

Earth is the lightning rod representing dissatisfaction with the status quo and unhappiness with the lack of economic opportunity and the racialized economic structure of both economies. The issue also carries political currency in every context, particularly as the elections draw closer.

However, there are crucial differences in how agrarian reform fits historically into the discourse of government parties and the kind of land people want. In Namibia – much like Zimbabwe – a largely ethnically-denominated liberation movement now ruling the SWAPO Party has waged a "people's war" overland.

In contrast, given the elitist urban multi-ethnic composition of the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, there was little mobilization for people's land warfare, but for broader political and economic inclusiveness, of which land was a part .

In South Africa, according to the government's 2018 Land Audit Report, whites own 72% of farms and farms, people of color 15%, Indians 5% and blacks 4% (all individual ownership). These figures – and indeed the report – were called into question. Commentators say that baseline measurements have been manipulated for political gain. However, this does not change the underlying notion that the individual property distribution is misaligned with the country's demographics.

Namibia is no different. According to the Namibian Territorial Statistics report of 2018, white and foreign national citizens hold about 70% of commercial or private agricultural land.

In both countries, whites account for less than 10% of the total population. Statistics also show that despite commitments to transform the nature of land ownership in both countries to better reflect the demographics of the population, enough has not changed.

Agrarian reform is not the only initiative that has not been launched, but the expropriation of land was fundamental to the segregationist policies that dominated the past of both countries. Many of its ongoing socio-economic challenges can be attributed to this. In both countries, the issue is less about the land itself and more about inclusion, dignity and the need for general redress.

Earth is the lightning rod representing dissatisfaction with the status quo and unhappiness with the lack of economic opportunity and the racialized economic structure of both economies. The issue also carries political currency in every context, particularly as the elections draw closer.

However, there are crucial differences in how agrarian reform fits historically into the discourse of government parties and the kind of land people want. In Namibia – much like Zimbabwe – a largely ethnically-denominated liberation movement and now ruling the SWAPO party has waged a "people's war" overland.

In contrast, given the elitist urban multi-ethnic composition of the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, there was little mobilization for people's land warfare, but for broader political and economic inclusiveness, of which land was a part .

This lack of political pressure allowed Geingob to circumvent contentious measures like expropriation without compensation. As resolved during the October 1 earth conference, Namibia will discontinue the voluntary buyer's principle in favor of an expropriation policy that is permitted by the existing constitution.

The government may also try to redefine "fair compensation", but so far this will not necessarily include a denial of compensation. Although addressed during the conference, Namibia – unlike South Africa – made no firm commitment to a constitutional amendment.

While there may be differences in pressure from extreme measures, this possibility is limited in both countries by market considerations. In South Africa, a technical recession predominantly agriculturist impedes any radical expropriation policy and sends negative messages to exhausted markets.

It is possibly why Ramaphosa spoke against the arbitrary appropriation of land and the nationalization of the land. Instead, he argued that his administration would undertake a considered approach that would prioritize state land for redistribution.

Faced with similar economic stagnation and an exacerbated climate-related threat to agriculture, Namibia has followed suit with its own "considered" approach that seeks to minimize disruptions in the vital sector, albeit with some fundamental differences.

On the one hand, the government undertook to follow a "one Namibian, one farm" policy that discourages the ownership of several farms by individuals. In addition, foreigners will be prohibited from buying underdeveloped residential land. This will not include purchases for commercial and industrial use – a testament to Geingob's knowledge of the possible reaction to a definitive ban.

In South Africa and Namibia, land reform is central to socio-economic and political stability, but investors are anxious about how that will change the landscape of countries. As both governments focus on appeasing investors' concerns and rectifying historical injustices through equitable redistribution of land, it will be critical to the region's economic well-being and political stability.

For investors, a proper diagnosis of the issue is important to ensure that they do not panic or overreact. Central to this is an understanding of the drivers behind the debate on the land of each country, the political considerations at stake and the meaning of the historical context. – ISS

* Ronak Gopaldas, Consultant and Director of ISS, Signal Risk and Menzi Ndhlovu, Signal Risk

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