The night of 25 February 2004 will go down in Namibian history as a watershed moment. Speaking on behalf of the Namibian government in a special live TV and radio broadcast, the prime minister, Theo-Ben Gurirab, informed the nation that the government had decided to accelerate the land reform process by way of expropriation.
For Namibia's landless masses and land reform activists, it was like music to the ears. Alfred Angula, the leader of the Namibian Farmworkers Union (NAFWU), said he was "the happiest man on earth" when he heard the good news. Equally elated was Risto Kapenda, the president of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), the largest trade union in the country.
Angula and Kapenda have been the most vocal persons in Namibia with regard to land reform, particularly because the farm workers, who make up a sizeable portion of their constituency, have been the victims of unfair labour practices such as illegal evictions from white-owned farms. The evicted workers are normally dumped by the roadside, with all their families and belongings.
The latest example of such behaviour came from the Ongombo West farm in the Windhoek district when the white owner re-evicted the workers in defiance of a court order to re-instate and compensate them.
The reaction of white farmers to the government's new move was predictable. Their umbrella body, the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU), lashed out at the government, accusing it of disguised revenge against white farmers because some of them had a record of unfair labour practices. They challenged the government to come up with a specific timetable and criteria for expropriation.
The Minister of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation (MLRR), Hifikepunye Pohamba, who is the vice president of the ruling SWAPO Party, responded by saying the government was doing everything in accordance with the law. According to him, any farm in the country, and not only those owned by foreigners and absentee landlords, "can and will be expropriated in the public interest, subject to payment of just compensation in accordance with Article 16(2) of the Namibian constitution".
This is a crucial moment for Namibia, which, come December 2004, will hold four elections to elect a new president, new parliamentarians, new regional councillors, and new local authority councillors.
This year will also witness a new presidential candidate for SWAPO, following President Sam Nujoma's announcement that he would not seek a...