The colonial pattern of land ownership still exists. About one-half of the land in Namibia is still owned privately by the white minority. Because in the past black Namibians were not permitted to own land, most lived on "communal" land administered by local tribal leaders. Occupants of communal land had no legal rights of ownership. They could not mortgage the land, sell it or bequeath it to their children. There was no assurance that they could continue to occupy it in the future and there was no incentive to improve it. This had a disruptive and destabilizing impact on families, jobs, the economy and society.
The need to shift land ownership from the white minority to the black majority is an emotionally and politically charged ideological, economic and social issue rooted in decades of apartheid discrimination. Land redistribution has been slow to gain momentum. For over fifteen years the government has pursued a "willing seller and willing buyer" policy for the reacquisition of land from white farmers, most of whom are descendants of the settlers who came to Namibia over a century ago. This policy enabled the government to buy-back land only as it became available for sale, and then only at the asking price of the seller. The process has crept along and only one-tenth of the commercial farmland has been re-acquired. Pressures to pursue different policies to speed-up the progress are increasing. Nonetheless, the process has been peaceful unlike some other African nations, where land has been seized violently by the government or farm workers.
The Ministry of Lands and Resettlement was established in 1990. It is charged with responsibility for eliminating the extreme disparities in land distribution, social reintegration, rehabilitation of disabled people and the resettlement of disadvantaged Namibians. The Ministry acts through four directorates: Directorate of Land Reform, Directorate of Survey and Mapping, Directorate of Resettlement and Rehabilitation and Directorate of Deeds Registry. The Ministry is committed to redressing past imbalances in land distribution by resettling landless, destitute and disadvantaged people and thereby providing them the opportunity to become more self-reliant and self-sufficient in food production.
The Directorate of Survey and Mapping is the national survey and mapping authority in Namibia. It provides advice to the government and private individuals and coordinates surveying and mapping activities for the country. Land surveyors submit plats of survey to the Surveyor-General for review and approval before they are registered with the Register of Deeds. Dr. Karim Owolabi is the Surveyor-General for the Directorate of Survey and Mapping.
With more than 240,000 landless Namibians currently awaiting resettlement, the government is now accelerating the process by expropriating land, a procedure similar to condemnation in the United States, in exchange for the payment of just compensation. It is essential that this lawful and orderly procedure succeed, both for the people of Namibia and to set an example for other African nations.
The redistribution of land ownership will play a key role in the future of Namibia. The accelerated development of legal descriptions for land, and streamlining of the entire conveyancing process, is vital to the transfer of freehold ownership to a broader range of people and would be a means for positive social and economic change. Nonetheless, resettlement alone is not a solution. There must also be training in land planning and development, farming and livestock production, development of financial management skills and an understanding of free-market principles. The Namibia Land Surveyor Scholarship Program will help to train land surveyors and other professional to assist in the resettlement of lands. It is about capacity building for the future, and the help these scholarships provide will enable others to go and do likewise.
Links to news articles about resettlement in Namibia: