Ex-EFF MP calls for land first movement
Pretoria - Like South Africans, Namibians were let down on promised land ownership, but they are now mobilising, said Namibian activist Job Shipululo Amupanda, as land activist Andile Mngxitama called for a land first movement in South Africa.
Both were speaking at Wednesday’s round table discussion on land invasions organised by the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office on the importance of land and decent housing in restoring people’s dignity.
“We can’t look at housing and land from a perspective of affordability and finance… but a perspective of human dignity,” said Amupanda, who heads the land rights movement Affirmative Repositioning. Outlining slow land redistribution in Namibia, the lack of property sector regulation to protect tenants and steep house prices, he said about 800 000 of Namibia’s 2.3 million population lived “in dirty” homes.
“(Despite being a tourist destination) Cape Town house prices are 30 percent cheaper than in (the capital) Windhoek,” he explained.
Thus, late last year, mobilisation to occupy land to highlight disparities started with the invasion of municipal land in one of Wind-hoek’s poshest suburbs. After that government and the governing Swapo party insisted there were processes to be followed; 14 059 young people were mobilised to submit applications for housing on November 21 last year.
If the authorities did not provide such opportunities by July 31, their applications said, this would be taken as a refusal and land invasions would follow.
The campaign was taken to small towns and 50 000 applications were submitted by the end of February.
The deadline came and went – and on Sunday 1 000 people occupied land in Windhoek, said Amupanda, adding that although police were called in, they just stood by.
“There cannot be peace when you are homeless, when you are paying R9 000 for rent.”
It appears the strategy is bearing fruit: news reports from Namibian newspapers this year indicated that while Swapo and the government have repeatedly warned against land invasions, they are also meeting to discuss making housing and land more affordable.
Mngxitama said the discourse on land invasion was aimed at criminalising the poor. A land first movement “to decolonialise and deracialise” land ownership was needed.
“We are taking back what belongs to us,” he said. Waiting for land restitution, or “for Pretoria to give a piece of land” would mean waiting for 100 years. “Land occupation must become a legitimate programme for land restitution.”
However, politics is never far from matters land. Amupanda, who reportedly became the first Namibian to hold a political studies PhD in 2012, resigned from the Swapo Youth League over his land activism. He was subsequently suspended with three others – and this week The Namibian reported the Swapo top four would be meeting to bring charges.
Mngxitama, expelled from the EFF with two others for alleging abuse of funds and office by party leaders, has taken a dim view of the EFF’s decision to occupy what is described as unused and unproductive land.
“I won’t support a political or revolutionary movement (that takes such a decision)… that we must occupy land white people don’t want,” he said, cautioning against politicians who may want to stoke landless and homeless gripes before next year’s local government elections.
Yesterday’s land invasion round table discussions came as Parliament is gearing up for public hearings on the Expropriation Bill following the close of deadline for written comments.
The bill removes the current willing-seller, willing-buyer principle, which the government says has slowed down land reform, and permits expropriation in the public interest with compensation based on factors like land value at the date of the owner’s acquisition and improvements.
In 2008 a previous version of the bill was withdrawn after legal advice that its ban on approaching courts was unconstitutional.
This has been fixed in the current bill, which was finally tabled in Parliament in February this year some 18 months after it was initially expected.