What the Commission of Inquiry into Ancestral Land Rights and Restitution Claims Found

May 2021
Legal Assistance Centre (The Namibian)

The restitution of ancestral land rights in Namibia has  divided opinions since independence. Some argue it is a fitting process in dealing with colonial era land dispossessions, others are concerned about the complexity of implementing this kind of restitution. At independence, the Namibian government adopted the viewpoint of the latter group, arguing that the restitution of ancestral land rights is not possible because of historical complexities in establishing land occupancy by indigenous people at the time of Namibia’s colonisation. Subsequent policy and law on land reform therefore excluded the restitution of ancestral land rights; but the public debate on restitution remained alive among those mostly affected by historical land dispossessions. After a 2018 conference, President Geingob established a commission of inquiry into claims of ancestral land rights and restitution. Testimonies presented to the commission expressed deep-seated dissatisfaction, frustration and disillusionment. There were complaints about illegal fencing. The commission concluded that ancestral land has different meanings to different communities and in different contexts, and that the purpose of ancestral land restitution involves correcting the historical injustices of land dispossession. It recommends that the Namibian parliament should enact an ancestral land rights claim and restitution law within the next two years, on condition that this process and its outcome must be consistent with constitutional, international and human rights law.