Why We Should Give the Land Back to the People

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An aerial view of the spacious farmlands surrounding Windhoek, Namibia.

On the question of urban housing and land rights, I’d like to make a few observations and a recommendation. Firstly, there is no doubt a total mismatch between average earnings and house prices in Namibia. Most people simply cannot afford homes. Hence the growth of shack-lands.

Take into account:

  • According to the NDP5 report, only 15% of the population earns more than the minimum domestic workers wage (N$1353 per month).
  • The average household size according to the last census was around 4.4 persons per household.
  • There is 50+% unemployment among youth between the ages of 20 and 24 years, according to the NSA’s 2016 report on the workforce.
  • The FAO reported last year that in Namibia around 43% of the population is chronically undernourished.
  • UNICEF says a quarter of all Namibian children are stunted in their growth due to lack of protein, some reports suggest one-third are stunted.
  • The official figures on the mass housing programme show that only one in ten households can afford what they call a low-income house.
  • To afford a simple three bedroom house in Khomasdal or Katutura for 750,000 a household must have a combined income of over 23,000 to get a bank loan, but only 5% of households are in that income bracket.

The fact is that an average house in the mentioned areas now goes for above a million dollars. This means a very large number of people — even graduates and professionals — are simply priced out of the housing market.

It has also been noted in official projections that by 2030 around 75% of the population will live in urban centres. This suggests that in terms of resolving the land question, dealing with urban landlessness is a key factor.

Consider also that the high cost of rent is the single biggest expense on most household budgets, with some spending more than 60% of income on rent. High rent and mortgage repayments are thus a major contributor to poverty at household level.

Looking for solutions

The solution in my view, is to abandon the notion of selling the land to the people. There are many reasons to do this besides the fact that it is illegal to buy and sell stolen property, but the proven fact is that a large share of the people are in any case too impoverished even too afford healthy nutrition, never mind market related and inflated land prices.

What we should do is give to every natural born citizen the right to a piece of land to live and build a home on. Councils should only charge for the cost of servicing residential land, not for the land itself.

What I know of administrative law is that an entity may only reasonably apply a charge where it has incurred a cost. If council did not incur any cost in acquiring the land then it is applying an unfair charge in selling it — in this case to the original owners.

The land they need to live on should be restored to the citizens as a lawful entitlement, as their birthright. It can also be given on a 30, 60 or 90-year transferable lease.

Land and housing rights and security of tenure should not depend on who has the most money. Every citizen who comes of age should by law be entitled to a piece of land to build a home on — no matter the race or colour.

In this way, by allocating the land freely and according to a rational plan every family can begin to build at their own pace and within their means, with a positive spinoff effect on the construction industry, so stimulating job creation.

In this way — by giving the sacred land back to the suffering people — we can end homelessness, break the lingering curse of stark inequality, reduce poverty, and relieve the massive stress and financial burden on the people.

To attract professionals to the smaller towns those municipalities can offer larger erven and residential plots than in the bigger, more congested cities. This would solve the problem of landlessness for two-thirds of the population.

It may mean that large farms bordering the cities may have to be expropriated in the public interest, but it’s clearly a far worse sin to force the black and brown people to live in unhealthy, crowded concentration camps called townships, when there is so much land in the hands of the few.

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Go deep: How Namibia’s housing shortage became a humanitarian crisis

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