Protestors at this month’s Land Conference. (NAMPA)

The Namibian government has leased four farms for 99 years to a company owned by a Russian billionaire.

The farms, valued at $3 million and measuring a total 42,000 acres, were registered as state property by the land reform ministry.

Land reform minister Utoni Nujoma appears to be having second thoughts about being linked to the unusual transaction, struck two days before a national land conference began on Oct. 1.

When news of the deal was leaked to the public, the official opposition Popular Democratic Movement threatened to take the government to court, while the Affirmative Repositioning movement said it would approach the Anti-Corruption Commission and the ombudsman to investigate the transaction.

Documents seen by The Namibian newspaper revealed the name of Nujoma signing the title deeds of the farms on behalf of the government.

Utoni Nujoma initially took responsibility for the sale, saying that he obtained Cabinet permission to grant approval to Sardarov’s company to take the farms “under stringent conditions.”

The following day, however, there was a change of heart. Nujoma denied any part in the transaction and claimed the document made public was fake and that his signature was a forgery.

In the meantime, criticism about the deal has escalated, with National Unity Democratic Organization deputy secretary general Vetaruhe Kandorozu calling on Nujoma to resign with immediate effect.

He further called on President Hage Geingob to cancel the transaction between the government and the Russian billionaire.

“Allocate those farms for the resettlement of the landless dispossessed and all Namibians to be resettled there as per the resolutions of the just-ended land conference,” he said.

The conference addressed restoring property rights to the original Black property owners.  An earlier land conference said that the complexities in redressing ancestral land claims and restitution of such claims in full was “impossible.”

A presidential commission of inquiry on the issue was proposed to restore social justice and ensure the economic empowerment of the affected communities.

The government can now confiscate foreign-owned farmland with just compensation and absentee landlords can now lose their underutilized commercial land if it is eligible for expropriation.

The conference drew hundreds of protestors who charged that the outcome was premeditated, making the convention a “rubber stamping exercise.”