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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 December, 2002, 10:49 GMT
Namibia: The next Zimbabwe?
Rosie Goldsmith
Reporting from Namibia

Namibia has been a stable country with a promising economy since independence in 1990. But alarm bells rang when the country's President, Sam Nujoma, berated the West for meddling in African affairs. Will he follow Zimbabwe's lead and seize white-owned land?

Cattle ranching in this semi-desert country is often all the land can bear
Once, Namibia may have seemed a model of black-white reconciliation in Africa.

But today, resentment between the black and white populations is growing, with tensions focused on land.

Recently, a dispute resulted in over 100 demonstrators occupying a white farm for the first time.

White Namibia - mainly Afrikaners and Germans - makes up only 6% of the population. Yet whites own half the land.

Land denied

Irmgarter Zeth was abandoned by her husband. She looks after five children, a shop, a bar and 100 cattle.

Her ancestors, the Herero people, once owned the land she now wants to buy.

She recalls how the Herero were nearly wiped out by the German colonisers after they seized the land in the land appropriation of 1884.

She has applied to the government three times to take ownership of her own farm, but with no luck.

Third-generation German farmer Harry Schneider has sympathy for people like Irmgarter.

Looking out across his 40-hectare cattle farm in the stunning Waterberg area, north of the capital, he reminds me: "I'm a Namibian too!"

He understands that life for the white farming community cannot continue in the same way, so he has already sold 15 hectares of his land for resettlement.

But he is pragmatic. "This land is a real commitment," he said. "It is tough and drought-ridden. If the commercial farms are handed over to unskilled farmers will they cope?"

He sees the white community still playing an important part in strengthening Namibia's economy.

'Cult of Sam'

But Mr Schneider fears that even with making land sale gestures, reallocation of land will not work without further efforts.

Such efforts will be driven from the top. But that is where the international community has expressed concerns.

Phil Ya Nangoloh, director of the Namibian Society for Human Rights, talks of the "growing cult of Sam".

This refers to Sam Nujoma, the charismatic president who led his country to independence 12 years ago.

Today, the Namibian president's popularity is stronger than ever and loyalty among his voters is growing.

But recently, his policies and opinions have begun to cause widespread concern.

This was noted when he berated the West for meddling in African affairs during his speech at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg last September 2002.


His comments bore many similarities to the views expressed by his friend and ally, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

That may not be surprising, as the two men have a great deal in common.

Like Mr Mugabe, Mr Nujoma spent many years leading his country to independence.

And, like Mr Mugabe, he has now self-styled himself "president for life".

Some policies bear a resemblance too.

Mr Nujoma says homosexuality is "not African" - just like Mr Mugabe and he has also stopped state television from airing foreign programmes.

But will Mr Nujoma develop policies that bear a resemblance to the land ownership troubles witnessed in Zimbabwe?

For now, a fragile peace exists between Namibia's black and white communities.

And for as long as Sam Nujoma remains a popular president, he has no need to play the land card in the same way as Mr Mugabe.

But all Namibians are watching Zimbabwe closely.

Not necessarily to follow their example, but maybe to learn from mistakes.

Crossing Continents: Namibia: The next Zimbabwe?
Thursday 5 December 2002 on BBC Radio 4 at 1100 GMT
The programme is repeated Monday 9 December 2002 on BBC Radio 4 at 2030 GMT

Correspondent: Rosie Goldsmith
Producer: Caroline Pare
Editor: Maria Balinska
Online Producer: Andrew Jeffrey

Phil Ya Nangoloh, Namibian Society for Human Rights
"President Nujoma is a very good student of President Mugabe"

Harry Schneider, Farmer
"Land in Namibia is for Namibians - and that's what I am"

Robin Sherbourne, British economist - Windhoek
"The party is more popular now than when it came to power in 1990"

Crossing Continents


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