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Dangerous to use land issue for 2019 election - land expert

Nov 29 2018 22:00
Carin Smith

Cape Town - Political stability is key for land reform and, with the 2019 national election coming up in SA, it is dangerous to draw on the land issue for election purposes, says Michael Iyambo, vice chair of Agribank of Namibia and chair of the Namibian Agronomic Board.

Iyambo took part in a panel discussion on land reform at the African Agri Investment Indaba in Cape Town on Wednesday.

"Zimbabwe is an example of what happens once one makes a mistake in land reform. Food production does not have a colour or a political alignment. Food is needed by everyone," said Iyambo.

"It is also very important that the people around the land reform discussion table have cool heads and that mega-commercial farmers to join in the process."

Iyambo emphasised that land reform in Namibia is guided by legislation "as it should be in any democracy in Africa".

'President sets the tone'

"Land reform is a very important issue that needs practical solutions for practical issues. At our land reform conferences, we found the tone of the president on the issue sets the tone going forward," he said.

"In Namibia we decided that, in the process of land reform, peace and stability in the country should be maintained, while recognising unity in diversity. Emotions were high, but that was bound to happen. Black and white were invited to the conferences and shared the threats and frustrations they felt."

Iyambo said it was important to realise that not everyone can become a farmer.

"Some people, like farm workers, just wanted a roof over their head at the end of the day of working on a commercial farm. We told commercial farmers to be proactive enough to see that farm workers can at least have a dignified life after work. We are even looking into establishing retirement farm villages," he said.

"We also said that, for just compensation, a farmer would have to prove that he has done some improvements on the farm. He also has to prove that he actually bought the farm."

Another resolution taken at Namibia's land reform conferences was regarding the expropriation of foreign-owned land, especially in relation to so-called "absentee landlords".

"We have certain farmers who own land that is not productive in Namibia. They are the targets for expropriations. Also, certain farmers have up to seven farms, while other people have no land. Those are the solutions earmarked for us to look at to establish fairness in land ownership," he said.

"Our president said it is a privilege to lead a nation that subscribes to dialogue. Political stability is another key element as well as buy-in from the legal fraternity, the banking sector, traditional leaders and civil society."

His message to SA regarding land reform is that, in any country you will find nationalists among white farmers who believe in land reform. "Those are the ones you should draw closer." But there will also be commercial farmers who have no idea what it means to be South African. "Those will destroy you."

"At the same time there will be black people who are positive about land reform and others who will be driving negativity in the industry. That is not helpful."

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