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Forgotten farmworkers still waiting

Monday, August 24, 2007
Brigitte Weidlich
The Namibian

RUDOLFINE Hoaes looks across the fence of her little yard and her eyes rest on a lush green hedge just a stone's throw away, hiding a red-painted farmhouse where the owner she worked for had lived until 18 months ago.

Marburg, about 60 kilometres northwest of Otjiwarongo, is now a resettlement farm and one of the beneficiaries, to whom the farmhouse was allocated, has rented it out to an employee of a nearby mine.

"I was born here, like most of us, and I worked for the previous owner, I saw their children grow up," Hoaes says as her grandchildren mill around and play.

Hoaes has been a worried woman since the farm was expropriated by Government in August 2005.

She is surviving on her small state pension of N$370 a month.

"I have to hitchhike each month to Otjiwarongo to get my pension payout," she told The Namibian last Friday.

Her employer, Heidi Lacheiner-Kuhn, who owned Marburg and the adjacent Okorusu farm, had to leave in December 2005.

The Ministry of Lands served a notice of expropriation on her for both farms on August 16 the same year.

"Take notice that the State shall take possession of the expropriated property on December 5 2005," the notice said.

Hoaes and five other workers were left in limbo - they were neither resettled, nor do they know whether they can stay on Marburg or will be told to go.

The farmworkers are caught between Government red tape and a land reform policy moving at a snail's pace, which over the past 24 months has not managed to solve their problem.

Ironically, farm owner Lacheiner-Kuhn had offered one of her two farms, Okorusu, to Government in January 2004, but after five months had not received a waiver.

A waiver is a certificate the Ministry of Lands issues after inspecting a farm and finding it unsuitable for resettlement purposes.

All commercial farms up for sale must first be offered to the Ministry and it must make an offer or issue the waiver within 60 days, which was not done.

Lacheiner-Kuhn took the matter to the High Court, where a judge ordered the Lands Ministry to immediately issue the waiver in July 2004.

The State was also ordered to pay the costs of her court application.

She decided to sell Okorusu after it became clear that farming activities clashed with those of the mining company Okorusu Fluorspar just a few kilometres away from the farmhouse.

Although she had received a monthly payment of N$25 000 from the mining company, she found it best to sell Okorusu to that company and received an offer.

However, out of the blue, the Ministry served the expropriation notice for both farms in August 2005.

It offered her N$750 155 for the 3 410-hectare Okorusu and N$2,5 million for Marburg's 5 000 hectares, but Lacheiner-Kuhn found this too low.

After lengthy correspondence between her lawyers and the Lands Ministry, the latter paid her a staggering N$8 million as compensation 11 months ago.

The plight of Hoaes, her sister-in-law Gustafine Hoaes and their grandchildren needs to be addressed, they say.

"We must know our fate, but we want to stay here on the farm in the houses the farm owner built for us," the two women told The Namibian.

Some of their grown-up children now live and work in towns, but the two women don't want to move there.

Also affected is Mateus Toivo, who came from the North to Marburg as a young farm labourer back in 1961 - 46 years ago.

"This farm has become my home; I've spent nearly half a century here," he says.

The families of the six former workers living there consist of approximately 30 people.

They say their situation has worsened since five resettlement beneficiaries moved to Marburg a year ago - among them former Police General Fritz Nghiishililwa, now a law lecturer at the University of Namibia.

He and the four other resettlement farmers were originally allocated land on Cleveland farm, a few kilometres outside Otjiwarongo, in 2000.

"Last year the Ministry of Lands told us to move out since Cleveland would be used to set up a cement factory with a Brazilian investor," Nghiishililwa told The Namibian.

The factory has still not materialised.

Some of the newcomers allegedly threatened the farmworkers that "big trucks would come and remove them" and their few head of livestock, and they locked several gates so that the animals did not have access to water or grazing.

The Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), which represents the former farm labourers, sent a letter to the Ministry of Lands on June 21 this year, requesting officials to tell Johannes Damaseb and Jonathan Haufiku, who came from Cleveland farm, to unlock the farm gates.

The LAC is still waiting for a reply.

Nghiishililwa, who has a 99-year lease on a portion of the farm, has put up a signboard 'F Nghiishililwa Farm' at the entrance to Marburg, creating the impression that the farm is his property.

"I was allocated Unit A on Marburg, an area of 1 610 hectares, including the farmhouse."

He showed The Namibian the lease agreement with the Ministry of Lands, which allows subletting with the written permission of the Minister.

"I was informed telephonically that permission was granted and that the letter would still be sent to me."

Nghiishililwa rented the house to an Okorusu official, because he lives in Windhoek.

The Ministry of Lands has expropriated three more farms from German nationals recently, arguing that they were "absentee landlords".

On the other hand, the Ministry allocates land on resettlement farms to people who are working and living in towns and only visit the farms on weekends.

Nghiishililwa also showed The Namibian receipts of payments he had made to the electricity company Cenored, running into several thousands of dollars.

The payments are for electricity, including power for a pump which supplies water to all residents on the farm, he said.

"The Okorusu mine recently held a meeting with all farm occupants and offered to fund a separate borehole for us on the farm," he added.

Approached for comment on the farmworkers' future, Otjozondjupa Governor Theofelus Eiseb - in his capacity as Chairman of the region's resettlement committee - said the committee could only advise the Ministry.

"The Minister is the one to act and decide," he told The Namibian on Tuesday.

The public relations officer at the Lands Ministry, Crispin Matongela, said "a solution will be found".

"The Ministry will buy more farms and temporarily resettle the Marburg farmworkers," he said on Wednesday.

Asked how long that would take, he said he could not give a time frame.

He could also not say why the people would only be resettled temporarily.

The National Farmworkers' Union (Nafwu) is optimistic that Government will soon deal with the issue.

"We were told more farms in the area would be bought and that the Marburg farm labourers will be considered," said Nafwu Secretary Alfred Angula.

It can only be hoped that bureaucracy does not forget that Rudolfine Hoaes and her group are people waiting for a human solution.

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