Namibia still failing indigenous peoples

UN report urges government to act on land, health and education

Delme Cupido's picture


Senior Programme Officer: Indigenous Peoples Rights

May 3rd, 2013

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’, Professor James Anaya, has just released the from his historic mission to Namibia in September 2012 to investigate the situation of the country’s indigenous peoples – and it does not pull any punches.

While Professor Anaya is at pains to praise the Namibian government for some of the progressive policy and legislative steps it has taken with regard to the San, his report, nonetheless, provides a glimpse of the extreme poverty, discrimination and exclusion that continue to haunt indigenous tribes in Namibia – and makes it clear that the authorities need to take a series of important steps in order to meaningfully improve their lives.

The Indigenous Rights Programme of OSISA – working with two of our grantees, the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC) and the Working Group on Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA) – supported the San and other marginalised indigenous community representatives to meet with Anaya during his mission to voice their concerns. Without OSISA’s involvement, it is likely that the Special Rapporteur would have heard from a far smaller group of indigenous people – and would have left with a far less accurate picture of their situation.

In the end, Anaya met with indigenous communities across the country, and consulted with representatives of the Ju/”hoansi, Khwe, and Hai//om San as well as the Himba, Ovazemba, Ovatue and Ovahimba peoples. And using the information from these discussions, Anaya’s report identifies four major human rights concerns for indigenous peoples in Namibia – land and resources; participation and self-government; education; and health.
Noting with respect to land that “San groups in the country have experienced the greatest loss and resultant social, economic and cultural disruption”, the Special Rapporteur’s report returns again and again to the disastrous effects that this has had – and continues to have – on San people in all aspects of their social, cultural and economic life. Where once the San, who have lived in Namibia for at least 2000 years, and probably more, were the sole custodians of their lands, “today they have no land base at all, living as squatters on the edges of former or current private farms or in other precarious land tenure situations.”

The tragic situation of the San groups whose former lands have been declared national parks and from which they have been evicted – in violation of international and common law standards – receives particular attention in the report, as does the situation of the Himba people whose traditional lands are under direct threat from mining activities as well as the government’s plan to construct a hydroelectric dam that will flood their lands.

Elsewhere in the report, the Special Rapporteur notes the deep and systematic exclusion of the San, relative to other groups, from access to education and health care and the lack of participation in decision-making regarding matters that affect their communities and their lands. To cite but a few examples, the report notes that less than 7 percent of San children are enrolled in junior secondary school, less than 1 percent in senior secondary, and no more than 10-12 individuals in tertiary institutions in the entire country.

Furthermore, 80 percent of San people live more than 80 kilometres from any kind of health facility. And the San are almost entirely dependent, in the absence of secure land tenure, on government and international NGOs for food assistance.

The report concludes with a number of specific, if at times modest, recommendations to the Namibian government, the donor community and NGOs.

For example, the report calls on the Namibian government to step up efforts to address the problem of landlessness of San groups and to carry out initiatives to secure rights to land for them. The budget to purchase lands for the purpose of resettlement should also be increased and resettled San groups provided with the necessary financial and technical support to ensure that they are able to establish viable communities. NGOs in Namibia and abroad should also consider providing assistance to resettled San communities.

The report also urges the government to give high priority to purchasing adequate resettlement lands for the Hai//om people living in Oshivelo and other similarly-situated San groups who were removed from the Etosha park in the 1950s. Namibia should also take measures to reform protected area laws and policies that now prohibit San people – especially the Khwe in the Bwabwata national park and the Hai//om in the Etosha national park – from securing rights to lands and resources that they have traditionally occupied and used within those parks. The government should guarantee that San people currently living within the boundaries of national parks are allowed to stay, with secure rights over the lands they occupy.

The Special Rapporteur also called on the Namibian State to review past decisions denying recognition of traditional authorities put forth by certain indigenous groups, with a view towards promoting the recognition of legitimate authorities selected in accordance with traditional decision-making processes. In particular, Anaya recommended that the government should confirm the traditional authority of the Khwe San in Caprivi as a matter of priority.

In relation to education, the report urged Namibia to remove the barriers that are inhibiting the San, Himba and other groups from accessing education, including in relation to school development fees, distances from schools, and bullying faced in schools – and called on the authorities to make greater efforts to respond to the problems facing indigenous women and girls and investigate any allegations of sexual abuse of indigenous girls in schools.

There is no reason why these recommendations – and the others in the report – should not be adopted as a matter of urgency.

About the author(s)

Delme is the Indigenous Peoples Rights Senior Programme Officer. Delme was the APM in OSISA’s HIV programme from 2006-2010. Prior to joining OSISA, he was the Coordinator of the AIDS Law Unit of the Legal Assistance Centre, a public interest law centre based in Namibia. Delme was active in the international HIV Treatment Access movement, was a founding trustee of the AIDS Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, a founding member of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, the Pan African Treatment Access Movement and the Collaborative Fund for HIV. Delme holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Cape Town, and obtained a bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of the Western Cape.


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