Land-A Tale of Two Countries: As Was the Case in Zimbabwe, Redistribution of Agricultural Land Is a Burning Issue in Both Namibia and South Africa. Both Countries Have Taken Steps to Reverse the Current Situation but in Different Ways and with Very Different Results. Tom Nevin Reports

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New land restitution tremors are shaking southern Africa. In Namibia the government, frustrated at the slow rate of farmland handovers, have announced the expropriation of a number of white-owned farms. In South Africa, a furore has erupted over land rights for traditional leaders, and a budget squeeze is dimming hopes that the government will meet its land restitution goal of 2005.

Shockwaves rocked the Namibian farming community with a government announcement that a number of white-owned farms would be appropriated to accelerate land reform. The Namibian government is to abandon the "willing seller, willing buyer" land reform policy and will begin expropriating white-owned land to resettle landless blacks.

Theo-Ben Gurirab, Namibia's Prime Minister, blames white farmers for the shift in government policy. "The process has become slow because of arbitrarily inflated land prices and the lack of availability of productive land. More than 240,000 people are currently awaiting resettlement," he maintains.

Not so, counter the white farmers. It is the government that has been dragging its heels on land reform, and is now turning up the pressure because of looming elections.

Gurirab did not name the farms to be expropriated, but the government recently released a list of 192 farms owned by foreigners, mainly Germans and South Africans, earmarked for takeover. He insisted that farmers will be fairly compensated adding there is no possibility of Namibia's land reform programme descending into the chaos that characterised the Zimbabwe farmland exercise.

The Namibia Agricultural Union reacted with outrage. "It is shocking," said the union's president Jan de Wet. "It causes sorrow and disturbances in the farming community."

Agriculture Minister Hifikepunye Pohamba notes that at independence in 1990, white farmers made up about 5% of the population, yet owned nearly 95.6% (18.8m hectares) of agricultural land. Between then and now, he says, that proportion has dropped to only 95.4%.

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The National Society for Human Rights argues with the government's assertions. Its director, Phil ya Nangoloh, says over the years the government has bought several farms and settled black farmers on them, but most have gone to waste because the farmers had been placed on the land without knowledge of farming or with any capital. Claims Nangoloh: "A false impression has been created that once you have land then your poverty is over."

EMERGENCE OF SA'S BLACK LAND BARONS

In a dramatic change of fortune, a traditional leader in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, has jumped from boilermaker to commercial farmer at a stroke of the land restitution pen. Chief Inkosi Douglas Zondo, along with some 300 homesteads in his Empangisweni community in northern Zululand, now controls close on 7,000ha of prime agricultural land, valued at more than R17m ($2.56m).

For Zondo and his community it has been a long, uphill nine-year struggle. It ended when the deeds to the land, comprising eight white-owned farms, were handed over in February this year and the process of moving into the homesteads and onto the land began. Zondo now occupies a farmhouse near to where his grandfather and great grandfather are buried. The estates, located near the agricultural centre of Vryheid (Freedom), produce commercial amounts of maize, beef, timber and game.

Some 400ha of barley is being planted on a contract-farming basis for brewing giant South African Breweries (SAB). The crop of nearly 2,000 tons will fetch about R1m ($150,000) later this year. The deal makes Zondo one of SAB's biggest black barley suppliers and the first in KwaZulu-Natal.

Zondo is the first to admit that he needs further agricultural training to produce on a large scale. Supplying the commercial farming skills is independent agricultural commodity project manager, Andre Botha, whose non-profit company, Quantum Leap, provides traditional leaders and emerging farmers with the technical and practical skills to produce crops on a commercial level. …