The next Great Trek may just be to Namibia

It will soon be 200 years since the 1820 Settlers arrived in the Eastern Cape. “We must stand and grow or die where we stand,” were Henry Dugmore’s famous words. They died like flies, or just went home in despair.

Those settlers who remained eked out an existence from cattle, sheep and ostriches. Few prospered. But such an existence can hardly support today’s population of more than seven million – even with a motor industry created by apartheid, or the Coega project that seems to be going nowhere slowly.

The Eastern Cape has never been the “rich red soil” Helen Zille writes about. The poverty is a legacy of neglect from apartheid years. Despite the administrative debacle that is Bisho, the problems cannot just be pinned on the ANC.

Twenty years ago Eastern Cape farmers donned khakis and epaulettes and turned to ecotourism. Farmworkers were sent to the townships in the pursuit of conservation.

For a while there were tourists. But that’s all whittled away now. Retrenchment in ecotourism is rampant. And they struggle to get the gun permits for the international trophy hunters to blow the game away.

So today, despite good rains, the Eastern Cape is “green and broke”. There can be few eco-farmers who would not sell if they could. But where would they go?

Some would just retire to the Albany Club or run a B&B for their old school chums. Others talk about Mauritius. Little tax, no estate duty, cheap booze, low crime. But few ever go. It’s not easy to switch from brandy to rum.

But what about Namibia? Only two million people. No Eastern Cape weather. It’s consistently hot and dry. That brings rafts of German tourists comfortable with the local German inhabitants, sausages and beer. And trophy hunters are welcome to bring their guns along.

No exchange control requirements to get there. No capital gains tax on investment income. Just 10% final withholding tax on interest. No estate duty when you die. Cheaper land. No rating of farming land. No land claims.

Post-Namibian independence, many of their farmers came to South Africa “rather than live under Swapo”. It may not be long before we see the re-enactment of the Great Dorsland trek of 1875. But this time it won’t be to get away from British rule.

Originally published in the Sunday Times Tax Talk column.

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