November 15, 2002

Dispute within Namibian Agricultural Union about land reform

In what is seen as a major difference of opinion among commercial farmers, retired politician Dirk Mudge (formerly entrusted by the then Apartheid South African government with the running of the territory before Independence) has rejected a call by the leader of the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU), Jan de Wet, to white farmers to come up with a plan of action before February next year to solve the land issue. Mudge’s letter and De Wet's subsequent response brought into the open simmering differences among farmers on how NAU should deal with the land question. Sources said the NAU was split into two camps - one for De Wet and one led by Mudge.

Mudge said November 13 it was unrealistic of NAU President Jan de Wet to put pressure on commercial farmers when his union had failed to do its work. The former DTA leader, who now farms in the Kalkfeld area, has written an open letter to De Wet questioning a statement he made at a Kaizerstraat Boere Vereniging (Kaizer Street Farmers' Association) gathering outside Windhoek two weeks ago.

Mudge's letter signals a division among white farmers on how the NAU should approach the land issue. Mudge said he did not like De Wet's "threats" that commercial farmers should change their attitudes or face the consequences of a decision that the NAU might take jointly with the Government. "That threat is uncalled for and unfair and creates the suspicion that the negotiations at the highest level did not succeed and that the ball is now back in the court of the farmers," Mudge said in the letter, written in Afrikaans.

The veteran politician said frustration and impatience were increasing on both sides because of a lack of a clear answer on how to solve the land issue. He said it was unfair for De Wet to demand that the farmers now solve the land issue before February. "Now the farmers are sitting with an unwanted baby just before the holiday season starts," Mudge said.

De Wet told white landowners to stop bickering and complaining about land reform, and "face reality". He said they should suggest solutions on land reform to Government rather than reject the land redistribution programme. He warned that farmers had to take the initiative to prevent the chaos that has engulfed land reform in Zimbabwe. By the end of February, NAU will submit a plan of action to Government with a host of proposals, plus answers to accusations that white farmers were not interested in reform and seeking guarantees in dealing with land reform. De Wet said Namibian farmers had a major opportunity to help prevent Zimbabwe-style land seizures. He said Government had assured the NAU that law and order would be maintained, but that order could be maintained only if political stability existed.

In a first reaction, Jan de Wet agreed that the land issue was not discussed in detail during the union's recent congress and offered to resign if that is what NAU members want. De Wet said he takes full responsibility for the superficial debate on the land issue during the congress. However, he emphasised that it was important for white commercial farmers to meet Government halfway or face the consequences. De Wet said NAU has planned a series of meetings across Namibia in February at which farmers will have a chance to air their views on the land question. "According to me, this is the most responsible and transparent way to give landowners, and not just the delegates to the congress, the chance to have their say as farmers," De Wet said in a reply written in Afrikaans.

De Wet said the NAU held a strategic planning session after the congress and was addressed by both Prime Minister Theo-Ben Gurirab and Deputy Lands Minister Isak Katali during that meeting. "Their statements emphasised the seriousness and intensiveness of land reform. The message was clear that the land reform process needed a faster momentum. They asked pertinent questions about how commercial landowners want to contribute to a lasting land reform process," De Wet said. He said the Kaizerstraat Boere Vereniging meeting was the first opportunity he had to brief farmers about the strategic meeting and its outcome. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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