Namibian workers 'to seize' land from white farmers

Civic groups in Namibia are opposing planned seizures of white-owned farms by poor blacks, saying the move would plunge the southern African country into the same chaos that has ruined nearby Zimbabwe.

The Namibia Farmworkers Union, which has support from landless blacks, farm labourers and the Namibian government, has announced that its members will start forcibly taking over 15 farms next week.

The union said its aim was to ensure livelihoods for landless blacks, including the farm labourers it alleges have been mistreated and evicted from white-owned commercial farms.

But the National Society for Human Rights, a coalition of civic groups, yesterday strongly condemned the proposed land occupation, saying it would do to Namibia what it had done to Zimbabwe.

Alarmed white farmers represented by the Namibia Agricultural Union called on the authorities to protect privately owned land and warned that the action may have devastating economic consequences.

The human rights coalition said it "does not support any unconstitutional and unlawful takeover of any commercial or communal farms, regardless of the colour and or political affiliation of the farm owners. If allowed to stand, the proposed invasion could become a most serious setback for the relative peace and tranquillity which this country has enjoyed since independence in 1990."

It urged Namibian President Sam Nujoma, a close ally of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, to condemn the planned invasions. But Mr Nujoma had not done so by yesterday. Junior members of the Namibian government have condemned the plans but are powerless to stop them if approved by their authoritarian leader.

Mr Nujoma has said African land must go back to its rightful owners - black people. He has warned white Namibian farmers that they risk facing the same fate as their Zimbabwean counterparts unless they give up their land.

Mr Nujoma and Mr Mugabe ambushed Tony Blair at the United Nations Earth Summit in Johannesburg last year where the Namibian leader launched a broadside against Mr Blair accusing him of protecting a few white "imperialists and colonisers" in Zimbabwe at the expense of the country's 14 million people who did not control their land. Mr Mugabe also delivered a scathing attack in which he told Mr Blair to "keep your little England and I will keep my Zimbabwe" to massive applause.

If Mr Nujoma's silence is tacit approval of the planned seizures, then his country will become only the second in Africa to emulate Mr Mugabe's policies that have ruined a once prosperous nation.

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