14/05/2004 14:10 - (SA)
Windhoek - The Namibian government has told a first group of farmers they must sell their property under land reforms that some fear could wreak as much havoc with agriculture as a similar programme did in Zimbabwe.
Land Minister Hifikepunye Pohamba this week sent letters to about 10 white farm owners. The letter were hand-delivered by ministry officials accompanied by police, The Namibian newspaper reported on Friday.
In the letters, Pohamba told the farmers they were "cordially invited to make an offer to sell their property to the state and to enter into further negotiations in that regard," according to the report.
The farmers identified as Hilde Renate Wiese, a German-speaking Namibian, B Ruch, a German national who bought his farm in 1974, and a Belgian farm owner, were given 14 days to respond.
These were the first notices to be issued under the land reform programme launched in 1995 to redress the ownership imbalance stemming from the mostly white farmers who own much of Namibia's arable land.
"We have started implementing the law," the land minister was quoted as saying.
"We have issued many notices. I cannot remember how many, but I can tell you they are many", he said.
Opposition parties reacted with concern, with Ignatius Shixwameni of the Congress of Democrats saying: "There is simply no reason to ape the disastrous example of Zimbabwe by creating uncertainty in the economy."
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's controversial land reform programme in which white-owned farms were seized for redistribution to new black farmers is cited as a reason for food shortages and economic problems in Zimbabwe.
Siggi Eimbeck of the Namibia Farmers Support Initiative (NFSI) said the expropriation was "irresponsible and causing international damage to Namibia's reputation".
"It will cause economic and political destabilisation. There are about 35 000 farm workers in the country with about 135 000 dependents. If the farms get expropriated, where do the workers and their families go?" Eimbeck asked.
The National Agricultural Union which represents about 3 000 mostly white farmers will discuss the matter at a special meeting next week, an official told reporters. http://www.news24.com/News24/Africa/News/0,,2-11-1447_1527155,00.html