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Geingob and the land question

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THE death of Namibian President Hage Geingob on February 4 was a devastating loss not only to the people of Namibia but the rest of Africa and the developing world’s aspirations for total economic emancipation.

President Geingob represented both the founding principles of Africa’s quest for prosperity through culling colonialism, neo-colonialism and giving back to the masses land and means of production as well as the looming shift in global political and economic power. 

“We don’t have to fight over land because there is (enough) to go around,” he said in 1993.

That stance became the hallmark of his political career.

In October 2018, President Geingob attracted the wrath of Western countries when he called for a change to the Constitution to allow the Namibian government to repossess land from whites and redistribute it to the masses.

“Many Namibians were driven off their productive land. The fundamental issue is the inequality. We also share a burning land issue and a radicalised distribution of land and resources with South Africa,” he said at the opening of a conference to push for new land policy in Windhoek.

“This comes from a common history of colonial dispossession. What we also agree to is that the status quo will not be allowed to continue.” 

He wanted to transfer half of Namibia’s arable 15 million hectares of agricultural land to black Namibians.

Statistics from the Namibia Agriculture Union show that 27 percent of land had been redistributed by 2015.

White farmers owned 70 percent of prime land in Namibia.

“The willing-buyer, willing-seller principle has not delivered results,” said President Geingob, stressing there would be no compensation for the land given to Namibians.

That conference was naturally boycotted by civil society organisations and opposition political parties that claimed that it had ‘predetermined outcomes’.

Zimbabwe has faced a similar situation where opposition parties and civil society have been working in cahoots to derail and ultimately reverse the country’s Land Reform and Resettlement Programme of 2000 which has led to the imposition of illegal sanctions by the West.

And President Geingob, together with the rest of progressive SADC leaders, has been lobbying for the total removal of those sanctions.

Unlike his dreadful battle with cancer and other ailments, which, unfortunately, he could not conquer, it is his fierce fight against apartheid and imperialism that duly made him a champion of the African cause that will linger large and long in the minds of the people of Namibia and the rest of the African continent.

As Namibia’s founding Prime Minister when the country gained independence in 1990, President Geingob became actively involved in the fight against apartheid in his early schooling years.

He would be forced into exile by the brutal colonialist regime where he lived for three decades; first in Botswana before he went to the US where in 1964 he dutifully represented the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), now the ruling party in Namibia, at the UN and across the globe.

For the record, President Geingob joined SWAPO at its inception in 1960.

After returning to Namibia in 1989, he would chair the board that drafted his country’s first post-independence Constitution.

Those ugly scars of colonialism were visible in his speeches. 

“There were no textbooks to prepare us for accomplishing the task of development and shared prosperity after independence,” he said in 2018.

“We needed to build a Namibia in which the chains of the injustices of the past would be broken.”

He never wavered.

Recently, he endorsed and supported South Africa’s complaint against Israel under the Genocide Convention and condemned Namibia’s former colonial master, Germany, for opposing the case.

“The German government is yet to fully atone for the genocide it committed on Namibian soil. Germany cannot morally express commitment to the United Nations Convention Against Genocide, including atonement for genocide in Namibia, whilst supporting the equivalent of a holocaust and genocide in Gaza,” he said in one of his last speeches on January 13.

Germany, he said, had been ‘unable to draw lessons from its horrific history’ and accused it of ‘defending genocidal and gruesome acts’.

Germany murdered more than 70 000 Herero and Nama people in Namibia between 1904 and 1908 in what has been described as the first genocide of the 20th Century.

Under pressure from President Geingob’s relentless pursuit for justice, in May 2021, Germany finally acknowledged committing genocide in Namibia, a country it colonised from 1884 to 1915. 

“President Geingob was one of Namibia’s founding fathers and rendered great services to the country’s democratic development,” said Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz in his condolence message.

“Germany is losing a partner who was committed to the process of coming to terms with Germany’s colonial history with great openness.”

Away from hustle and bustle of politics, President Geingob was also instrumental in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

A 65 percent decline in the number of new HIV infections and 74 percent fall in AIDS-related deaths since 2004 was recently recorded in Namibia by the Global Fund.

This has resulted in a high life expectancy from age 51 in 2001 to 63 in 2020.   

While the death of President Geingob is, without doubt, a huge loss to the progressive world, the people of Namibia must never waver on the issue of land reclamation and redistribution.

This was the essence of their various struggles against colonialism and now neo-colonialism and echoes for the process both in Namibia and South Africa to be expedited come at an opportune time and are the perfect cap on President Geingob’s heroic career.

Let those with ears listen.  

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