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Key points

  • Since the original use of land for hunting and gathering, Namibia has seen a succession of new land uses introduced over the past 2,000 years, each accompanied by new systems of land management.
  • Today, the main uses of land are to produce livestock for security and sale; crops for domestic consumption or sale; conservation and use of wildlife; tourism; and mineral extraction. Other land is used as capital security or for urban residential and industrial purposes. The mix of land uses in many communal areas, and on private farms, is substantial.
  • More people now live in urban areas than in rural areas of Namibia. Areas zoned as urban land have expanded rapidly in recent decades. Much of the development of urban residential land has occurred informally.
  • Livestock numbers in the northern communal areas have increased substantially over the past 40–50 years. Elsewhere numbers have declined or not changed significantly.
  • Areas of Namibia used for conservation and its products (tourism, trophy hunting, live game, game meat and hides, and indigenous plant products) have increased greatly over the past 50 years, both in communal areas and on large private farms.
  • Large areas of northern Namibia have been degraded by shifting cultivation. As many as 100 million trees were lost in this way by the year 2000, and an estimated 3 million trees are still removed each year. Fields are cleared mainly to grow cereals for domestic consumption. Surpluses are seldom available for sale because poor soils and aridity dictate low yields, and because of the need of households to store food in reserve.
  • Access to land and the resources it offers is controlled through a mix of traditional and modern tenure and management systems. Traditional systems predominate in communal areas and modern systems of private, tradable tenure in urban and freehold farming areas.
  • Over 60 per cent of Namibian families cannot own tradable land or land rights. These are families residing in communal areas and informal urban settlements.
  • The division and privatisation of Namibia into large farms started in the south in the late nineteenth century. It has expanded north ever since, notably since 1990 when hundreds of large private farms in communal areas were appropriated or allocated by traditional authorities to private individuals. Many families lost their ancestral land and homes as a result.
  • Land uses and tenure needs are changing rapidly as people seek new ways of making a daily living, and investing their surplus wealth. There is a need for tenure legislation to adapt to the changing needs of Namibians.
  • Namibia is divided into 14 administrative regions. Each is run by a governor appointed by the president of Namibia and elected regional councillors who each represent a local constituency of which there are 121 in the country. Local authorities administer urban areas and are governed by local authority councillors nominated by political parties. Traditional authorities in communal areas allocate land and adjudicate on disputes over boundaries and land rights, and earn incomes from land taxes, rents, allocation fees and sales.