Rehoboth Basters: Debate Over Land Resurfaces
Baster Captain John McNab and former regional councillor Alfred Dax are embroiled in a bitter word battle over Rehoboth land, an issue that just will not be laid to rest. New Era reports.
In February  an article appeared in a local weekly newspaper of a meeting between two Baster groups – the Baster Burgervereeniging (Civic Association) and the Rehoboth Bastergemeente (Baster Community).
According to the article, this was the first time that the two – of three large groupings of the Baster community – met in 10 years, marking in some circles the beginning of the end of a bitter and divisive split in the community.
At this meeting, it was reported that Baster Captain John McNab said the Basters had lost “all its land and its right to termination”.
The purpose of the meeting, said McNab later, was to form a consolidated front to once again take up the issue of land loss by the Basters in court.
This has unleashed the ire of former regional councilor, Alfred Dax, in the town, who has issued an angry letter to the media.
And this once again brought to light lingering tension between the Baster Captain’s Council and the Rehoboth Town Council over the issuance of erven and amnesty granted to ratepayers on unpaid water bills.
“I don’t like the statements he [McNab] has made in Brussels last year  when he said he is not a Namibian but a Baster occupied and oppressed by the Namibian Government,” said Dax. “If he makes such statements, where does he stand in regard to his Namibian citizenship?”
Dax also did not appreciate the statement McNab made with regard to land loss.
“No one has ever taken land from the Basters,” continued Dax, adding: “[As] far as I can recall, the Baster community did not even lose a cupful of sand in Rehoboth”.
Dax responded by saying that Namibia is a unitary country governed by the rule of law; that everyone has basic rights and freedoms; and argued the legitimacy of the Rehoboth Town Council and its duties and functions.
“When one is talking about occupation and oppression, one needs to go back to the history of Namibia some 19  years back where we were occupied and oppressed by the then apartheid government of South Africa.
Some Namibians were part and parcel of that process and became masters themselves by helping the occupiers and oppressed us,” said Dax.
A very good example, said Dax, was the “forceful removal” of his grandfather, Max !Gagub Dax, from his erf number 34 in the old location of Rehoboth – now known as the Oanob Park, Block D – in the late 1970s, and taken to Block E “in the most unthinkably inhumane conditions”.
“The excuse used that time was that the place was an eyesore, especially for tourists and passersby. But with Namibia’s independence, we adopted a policy of national reconciliation. It seems you have a problem with that Mr McNab. It is not out of weakness that this policy has been brought in. We want peace after so many years of the liberation war,” said Dax.
He continued by saying that all inhabitants of Rehoboth, “and it does not matter who they are, as long as it is within the law governing this country”, have a right to own property.
McNab responded that he had never made a statement to the effect that he is not a Namibian, anywhere.
He further claimed that Dax’s grandfather had never owned land, but that he had lived in a hut in the Oanob Park area for which he had paid 50 shillings per year on what was referred to in the first report of the Rehoboth Government of 1978 as “hut tax”.
The Dax’s and other 89 families, said McNab, were moved to Block E without any protest or resistance, into 370 houses that had been built.
And, continued McNab, the Rehoboth Basters have lost most of its land through the succession of colonial regimes. After independence, all Rehoboth land is vested with the Namibian Government according to Schedule 5 of the Namibia Constitution, run by the Rehoboth Town Council.
“We have lost everything until 1990 under German colonial and South African rule,” maintained McNab.
A 1992 legal attempt to see Rehoboth land return to the Basters had failed, and added Dax, left many Basters impoverished, costing the applicants N$3 million.
The history of the Baster land question, said McNab, is long, bitter and complex, and has developed as follows:
The original Rehoboth land covered an area of 53 000 square kilometres, and was under the reign of a captain and the captain’s council, and run in accordance with the 1872 Paternal Laws (Vaderlike Regte), which stipulates that no land should be alienated.
The Basters, who originally came from South Africa on an outward trek away from discrimination and atrocities, bought the land from Abraham Swartbooi in the south for 100 horses and 5 ox wagons.
At the time, said McNab, the land was uninhabited, although it belonged to the Swartboois.
It is important, he said, to note that the land had not been “taken away” from any group, but that it was bought, and in 1887, the borders of the area was recognised with Swartbooi, Samuel Maharero, and Hermanus van Wyk in attendance.
The borders of the area were recognised with natural borders like rivers and mountains as beacons.
The northern border stretched to the highest peak of the Auas mountains (more or less passed the Windhoek Country Club today), and ended at a place called Ururas along the Kuiseb River, which is six kilometres away from the Walvis Bay lagoon.
The eastern border ended five kilometres from the Skaap River past Dordabis towards the Fish River Canyon, with the southern border cutting through the middle of Sossusvlei.
The western border, said McNab, ended at the sea.
The Basters entered into a treaty of protection and friendship with the German colonial regime in 1884, and as payment for the protection promised under this treaty, the Basters gave away the largest portion of its land, which is a stretch from the west of Rehoboth to the coast.
According to McNab, this portion of land was to be under German control for as long as the treaty was in place. The Germans, he said, did not honour their part of the deal, but instead used it to strategically dominate the Basters.
Under the South African regime, more Baster land was alienated, as the South Africans took control over 33 farms through a proclamation, further shrinking the land area.
What remained, said McNab, is 1.2 million hectares, which includes private farmland owned by Baster farmers.
Also under the South African regime, the old captain’s council was phased out, with a white magistrate, a South African official, acting as administrator of Rehoboth area.
Under this arrangement, more land was alienated, and the Basters launched continuous petitions. So, for example, 50 petitions were sent during 1951 and 1960 – first with the League of Nations, and later the United Nations, for self-determination and a return of the land.
Responding to two petitions, the UN said South Africa should give the Basters the right to self-determination within the territory of South West Africa.
In independent Namibia, claimed McNab, the land was handed over to the Namibian Government in a fraudulent manner, claiming, as had Captain Hans Diergaard before him, that the transfer of land had occurred without the signed approval of the Kapteinsraad and is thus illegal and invalid.
This is the issue the Baster groups want to be argued in Namibia’s courts anew, if the groups can become united under this cause.
The Basters, said McNab, want the right to self-determination, which he does not view as contrary to the Namibian Constitution, but as a natural right to any community.
“The Namibian decentralisation policy encompasses elements of self-determination,” maintained McNab.
“Why can the Basters not own communal land?” he questioned.
Self-determination, said Marxist Hewat Beukes, should not be viewed as contrary to nation building.
“The strategy of nation building is based on the principle of the rights of nations to self-determination,” said Beukes. “In the Namibian context, it means that a united nation can only be built by recognising and promoting the right of the various peoples to self-determination, that means the right to their land, to conduct and control their own affairs, to promote their own customs and promote their own language.”
Beukes said although this may appear as a contradiction, recognition of the right of peoples to self-determination “actually advances the nation State”.
“Once the nation State acts to the advantage of individual peoples, they will tend to gravitate to the concept of a united nation,” argued Beukes.
“If the nation State threatens the right of individual peoples, they will resist the united nation.”
Argued Dax: “Should we return to Bantustans? In a multi-cultural set up in a unitary State, this will be impossible. We are in a free country; no one will bulldoze me again.”
“Should minorities not have rights in independent Namibia?” questioned McNab.
“Minority rights are protected under UN declarations and covenants. Should the Basters in Namibia not have a right to self-determination?”