'It's true that whites stole our land, but they're also Namibians,' says President Geingob

Namibia's President Hage Geingob on Sunday urged citizens to take part in the debate over mooted land reforms, including the expropriation of land, in order to avoid chaos.

The southern African country will hold a "national land conference" from October 1-5, for discussion of policies that will accelerate the land reform programme.

"I believe that we should have difficult conversations, as Namibians, with the aim of finding peaceful and sustainable solutions to the challenges of inequality, landlessness and outstanding pains of genocide," Geingob said during Sunday's heroes day commemorations in northern Namibia.

According to Geingob, the October conference will examine a policy of voluntary redistribution of land but also compensated expropriation by the government.

"If we don't correct the wrongs of the past through appropriate policies and actions, our peace will not be sustainable," the president warned.

The debate comes as neighbouring South Africa is considering plans to allow for expropriating farms without compensating the owners, largely the white minority which possess 72% of farms.

* Sign up to News24's top Africa news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO THE HELLO AFRICA NEWSLETTER

FOLLOW News24 Africa on Twitter and Facebook

But there is also vigorous debate in South Africa about how land redistribution would work - and whether seizures could be economically damaging as they were in post-independence Zimbabwe.

Namibia was a German colony from 1884 to 1915. Apartheid South Africa then took over and ruled the country until 1990 when it gained its independence.

The government started the land reform programme in 1990 but opted to use the willing buyer-willing seller system to buy land, at market prices, from private farm owners who owned the land before independence.

The Namibian president has over the years admitted that approach has failed and so is now urging discussions on land grabs.

Geingob, who was the country's first prime minister, was one of the drafters of the Namibian constitution which protected property rights of people who owned land prior to independence.

He is however facing increasing pressure to return ancestral lands to the rightful owners.

Geingob called for calm and insisted that white people who own farms are also Namibians.

"It is true that they came and stole the land 100 years ago, but a white boy who was born on that land has Namibian blood," Geingob said.

The government announced in parliament two years ago that German citizens own 141 out of 281 farms which belong to foreign nationals. Over 108 farms measuring more than 450 000 hectares are owned by South Africans.