Mar 21, 2012

Rehoboth Basters: New Book Sheds Light On Land Issues

A new book analyzes the history of the Rehoboth Basters in relation with land privatization and the difficulties they face to maintain their cultural roots.

Below is an article published by AllAfrica:

The book 'Rehoboth, Namibia - Past and Present' is the latest edition from editor Cornelia Limpricht, mapping in perhaps the most comprehensive manner Rehoboth's land gain and land loss over the two colonial periods and subsequently in independent Namibia.

Launching the book - first in Rehoboth and later in Windhoek - Limpricht observed that while the Rehoboth Gebiet was reduced by the two successive colonial regimes, the Basters were the only group in Namibia that had developed a private land tenure by the end of the 19th century after the area was a communal area.

It traces the historical roots of the Baster community starting from three Baster groups crossing the Orange River in search of a home and pastures for their livestock, and peacefully settled at Rehoboth in 1870. The Basters were the first non-white group in pre-independence Namibia to have secured private land tenure as a way to avert land grabbing by the German colonial occupational forces.

The privatisation of land, the book maintains, was effected 20 years after the Basters settled and was done first secretively, and later openly in 1895.

Limpricht pointed out that at that time, promising attempts to open mines and the continuing discussions about the borders of the territory were factors that drove the unique case of privatisation.

Nonetheless, she said, the Basters faced a massive reduction of the size of their territory, that was formerly estimated to stretch over 1,2 million hectares, which constituted 1,8 per cent of Namibia's farming area.

The book also puts in sharp focus the continued dispossession of land during the South African apartheid era, and the persistent negotiations between the South African administration and the Basters, the latter of which intended to recover as much self-governance as possible.

The paradox of these negotiations, said Limpricht, was the passing of Act 56 in 1976 by the South African parliament, which declared the 'Baster homeland', which was viewed internationally as a major milestone in the development of apartheid.

After 1990, the Gebiet ceased to exist with the Basters completely losing power. What remains, said Limpricht, are farms in the personal possession of individual Basters, which she said makes it difficult for the Basters to maintain the cultural cohesion of the group.

Limpricht noted that while the Basters managed to survive as a group within a defined territory, but wondered how long this will last in independent Namibia.

"Culturally, nationally and politically sidelined, the Basters were and still are - similar to the situation of the mid-1920s and mid-1970s - entangled in a discussion with the State over the nature of their position in the republic of Namibia."