Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
Traditional communities still excluded in Namibia
Namibia, in common with neighboring Botswana, is often lauded as an example of a country which has successfully negotiated the perils of post-independent statehood to take its place as a model citizen in the community of democratic nations. Blessed with relative stability, an abundance of natural resources and, importantly, a liberal constitution, Namibia appears to be ideally placed to provide all its citizens with a decent life consisting of access to quality education, healthcare and economic opportunities.
However, for the indigenous San people and traditional communities such as the Ovahimba, this has, tragically, not been the case. Instead, they find themselves socially, geographically and economically excluded from mainstream economic life with little to no access to basic services, health and education, and facing increasing pressure on their ability to maintain their livelihoods as the effects of global warming and climate change begin to adversely affect the natural environments on which they depend for their livelihoods.
The plight of one such community in the Kunene Region, described in an article from the Namibian newspaper, provides a stark illustration of the ways in which indigenous peoples have for too long been left behind.
The article by Nico Smit focuses on the village of Otjomotjira in the Omatendeka Conservancy, which has not been exposed to the outside world and hardly any development has reached the 70 households who live there.
Nobody at the village has ever been to school.
Vazua Musutua, the village spokesperson, says one of the main challenges the village community faces is that the nearest clinic, shop and primary school is about three days’ walk from the village. This makes it extremely difficult for the villagers to benefit from public services such as education and healthcare. No mobile clinic visits the village, and one of the Ovahimba women who is approximately eight months pregnant says she is unable to see a doctor for pre-natal checkups. According to Musutua, none of the villagers have identity cards and they are not aware that they can get primary education at a subsidised rate at government schools.
Musutua says they are experiencing hard times, as a lack of rainfall and water in the area has meant that their cattle do not produce enough milk. He also complains that lions, leopards and elephants pose a constant threat not only to their survival, but also to their livestock. Their animals are regularly killed by predators and the processing of compensation claims from the conservancy takes a long time. Asked how many cattle the village has, Musutua guesses about ten, but adds that he cannot be sure because neither he nor the other Ovahimba men at the village can count.
The Ovahimba are an ethnic group of about 50 000 people, who live a nomadic life and are dependent on cattle, goats, other livestock, maize and veld food. They are a marginalised group who live a traditional lifestyle in the Kunene Region in northern Namibia, largely isolated from modern society.ShareThis