April 4, 2002

Farmers question land tax

Commercial farmers will have to pay a special tax from April on to facilitate the government's land redistribution programme, but say they are concerned about the way in which the revenue will be used.

Minister of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, Hifikepunye Pohamba, told IRIN on Thursday, April 4, that the tax was intended to prevent farmers from owning excessive amounts of land. "In most cases non-citizens own excessive tracts of land. These tracts of land are either completely neglected and held for speculative purposes, or are grossly underutilised," he said. The government has proposed a 0,75 percent tax on each hectare of land owned by commercial famers and a one percent tax for each hectare owned by absentee landlords.

Dean Swarts of the Namibian Agricultural Union (NAU) told IRIN the union opposed the tax because it was concerned about the way in which it would be implemented. "What is government's definition of excessive land? The NAU is worried that people see the tax only as a way to buy up farms for redistribution, while the money made from the tax should be used for the redevelopment of the land. "Beneficiaries who are settled on farms often lack skills, and the resettlement of such people on a large scale could bring the commercial farming sector to its knees," he said.

Namibia's commercial farming sector is predominantly white. The government has put the number of taxable commercial farming properties at 12,350, although the NAU says this number includes smallholdings which are not commercially viable. Commercial famers have been exempt from such a tax since Namibia's independence from South Africa in 1990 because of a lack of legislation. However, a regional political economist told IRIN on Thursday, April 4, that the tax would pre-empt what "could quite possibly become an explosive issue if not addressed".

"The revenue from the tax is negligible. It would seem that the Namibian government does not want a situation similar to what happened in Zimbabwe to develop," Majakathatha Mokoena said. (IRIN)

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