Namibian San community faces eviction

A Khwe community living in Namibia's Western Caprivi region has been threatened by the Namibian police with unlawful eviction from the houses they occupy. They currently live in Omega 1 - a former army base set aside for the San, mainly Khwe, by the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement, which is situated on the traditional lands of the Khwe. However, in 2007, the Namibian government proclaimed the area as the Bwabwata National park, effectively stripping the Khwe of their ancestral land.

Delme Cupido's picture

Author

Senior Programme Officer: Indigenous Peoples Rights

July 22nd, 2011

A Khwe community living in Namibia's Western Caprivi region has been threatened by the Namibian police with unlawful eviction from the houses they occupy. They currently live in Omega 1 - a former army base set aside for the San, mainly Khwe, by the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement, which is situated on the traditional lands of the Khwe. However, in 2007, the Namibian government proclaimed the area as the Bwabwata National park, effectively stripping the Khwe of their ancestral land.

According to Tini Mushavenga, the Secretary for the Karamachan Association (KA), the police came to Omega 1 on two separate occasions, July 10 and July 15, this year. On the first occasion, the police came to a KA Board meeting to talk about “housing issues”. At the meeting, they informed the KA that the Khwe community have to move from there as police officials require them as police barracks. On 15 July, a different police officer came, and again told the community that they would have to move from there. Mushavenga told a Namibian daily newspaper that they'd been told that “those who don’t follow orders will be removed by force”.

It is unclear what the nature of these “orders” are or from where they emanate. The Deputy Prime Minister, Marco Hausiku, who’s office encompasses the Namibian San Directorate, charged with overseeing the welfare of Namibia’s approximately 38 000 San individuals, has confirmed that his office has not received any eviction notice relating to the Khwe. In Namibia, by law, evictions can only legally be effected through a court order, which, it seems clear, has not been obtained. Enquiries by human rights groups and local journalists elicited contradictory information from the police. One policeman, quoted in the Namibian newspaper, said that the police are “asking the Khwe for a favour”, whilst another told the Legal Assistance Centre’s Lesle Jansen that the orders came from a headman acting under the authority of the Mbukushu Traditional Authority (TA).

This raises the unsettling spectre of collusion between local police and the Mbukushu TA, both of whom have a deeply problematic, if not openly antagonistic , relationship with the Khwe.

The Khwe are the only San community in Namibia which has been denied recognition, which they have been fighting for since Namibian independence in 1990. With the help of the Legal Assistance Centre and the Working group on Indigenous Minorities (WIMSA), they have twice applied for recognition, and twice they have been denied. The consequences of this lack of recognition are far reaching for the community, stripping them of any legal authority to protect their land and communities from encroachment by both private and state interests, and with little or no secure rights to the use and management of the resources on the land for their own benefit and development. Ironically, the Khwe have been placed under the jurisdiction of the Mbukushu TA who’s chief, Erwin Mbambo, is widely believed to have had close connections with the country’s founding president, President Sam Nujoma. The Mbukushu maintain that the Khwe have always been their subjects. It is a claim the Khwe steadfastly reject.

The reported threats of eviction, disturbingly, follow a pattern of harassment and abuse of the Khwe community by the Namibian government.

In May of this year, for example, the Legal Assistance Centre held a three day consultation with the Khwe community to appraise them, as their legal representatives, of the status of their application for recognition. According to those present the meeting was openly monitored by Namibian Intelligence operatives who even identified themselves as such. Their presence however, did not have the desired chilling effect, and the community resolved that they want to take ownership of the matter, and drafted a letter to the president of the country, President Pohamba, requesting a meeting by no later than 11 July, failing which they resolved to revert to the LAC with instructions to institute court proceedings.

The letter was delivered to the Office of the President by the LAC and WIMSA on 17 may 2011. To date there has been no response. Many now fear that this, perhaps, is the response.

OSISA's Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Programme - together with its partners in Namibia and their allies in the region and beyond - is monitoring this unfolding story, and we are ready to support the Khwe in their continued struggle for self-determination, security and dignity.

By Delme Cupido, Indigenous Peoples' Rights Programme Manager

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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