By Alexactus T. Kaure
PERHAPS with the exception of the San there is no other group of people as marginalised and disadvantaged in terms of life opportunities and living conditions as the Ovahimba people in the great Kunene Region. The human condition here is starkly posed – in terms of poverty and hunger.
The Ovahimba, especially in the former Kaokoland live in one of the most unforgiving parts of the country with very scant rainfall and prolonged spells of droughts. And drought and pastoralism are not the best of friends – thus the Ovahimba have been losing their cattle on a grand scale in recent years. And in typical pastoralist tradition the Ovahimba decided, during the devastating droughts of the late 1970s, to trek/migrate from the north to the south and settled in and around the present day Sesfontein area in search of better grazing for their animals.
They settled there with the permission/consent of local/existing traditional leaders of the area at the time. They were thus warmly welcomed to settle in the area and graze their cattle and other animals. But things started to change for the worse from 2012 when the Conservancy Act of 1996 was applied. The dynamics of the area started to change and the competition was no longer about the usual wildlife-human conflict but between the conservationists and the pastoralists in the area.
This was because of the mis-interpretation and mis-implementation of the Act by one of the most respected NGO in the country, IRDNC. The law is clear. Traditional authorities are the custodians of communal land on behalf of government. And if people are to demarcate land in the communal area, then there is a need to have the involvement and approval of traditional chiefs. There must also be a representative of each traditional chief on each conservancy committee of every conservancy. Thusthe establishment of the Conservancy must have been approved by the traditional chiefs of the area.
The chiefs in the area are arguing that according to the Communal Land Act of 2002, the right procedures were not followed.Thus the chiefs are demanding that the un-lawfully established conservancies in the area should be dismantled hence forth.
They have become a threat to the well-being and development of the entire community and are rather applying a divide and rule tactics according to the chiefs. The Ovahimba and the Otjiherero speaking communities in the area have been divided and tension of infighting is clearly evident.
Thus even hard-nose conflict resolution specialists are now caught between a rock and a hard place. The conservancy committees in the area are demanding that people should leave the area and go back to where they came from and the Ovahimba on the other hand are saying they have got nowhere to go – surely not to their original area which are drought-stricken areas and now fully occupied from which they migrated in the late 1970s. The government is now staring in the face of a big problem which has the potential of exploding and might turn into unrest in the area if the issue is not addressed as soon as possible. When the issue of dealing with land is discussed one is reminded about President, Hage Geingob, on land when he said: ‘A small fire can ignite a big fire which can destroy a big building’.
During a meeting held on the 26 January 2018, the Ovahimba concerned group/evictees, including the recognised traditional chiefs namely: Paulus Tjavara and Tjimbuare Thom, which was attended by the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, have highlighted their problems of human rights abuse.
We are talking about an estimated 6 000 community members with their herds of cattle and some small animals. The people in the area are forced and intimidated by
conservancy committees by sometimes burning their homesteads, physically chasing away their livestock and threating them with court orders to evict them. These people are thus facing hardships because they do not have any open land to go to and many places in Kaokoland do not have adequate grazing capacities to take one’s animals to because of recurrent/severe droughts over more than 10 consecutive years in the area.
According to a recent report by the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA), Kunene Region is one of the poorest regions in Namibia, with Epupa Constituency in that region, being amongst the very poorest – from which most of the evicted Ovahimba previously came from and are now being forced to go back.
The main motive behind the evictions of communities is to create space/lebensraum for the so-called investors who want to build lodges and make the area available for professional hunters in the grazing areas inhabited by Ovahimba communities. They don’t want the presence/movement of cattle in those areas.
The Minister of Environment Shifeta explained that there must be a meeting that makes a decision to decide whether a certain part of the area is to be declared as wildlife sanctuary before eviction of people.
The Minister was adamant that there should be no blanket eviction of people. He also said a certain percentage of money from each conservancy must be paid into the trust account of each Traditional authority of the area.
History of disposesion
This country has had a long and painful history of dispossession and land alienation by the colonial authority of yester-year and now this trend is being perpetuated by the wealthy and powerful Namibians, and foreigners alike, in an independent Namibia.
These investors with their financial muscles have influenced and captured the IRDNC officials and the conservancy committees members to force the Ovahimba communities who own cattle to forcefully leave and give up their grazing areas to make space for the wealthy just as they did during the dark days of colonialism. Some of the so-called investors are reportedly buying/bribing people to leave their areas by offering them between N$800 and N$8000-00 but many of them are refusing to succumb to these bribes and that is why the evictors have resorted to the High Court Orders to forcefully evict the Ovahimba.
Unfortunately the Ovahimba being marginalised and poor cannot afford the high cost to engage lawyers to defend and oppose their forceful and unfair eviction from their land.
It is very clear that the tactic of evicting people from their land with nowhere to go to, is a clear strategy of making them poorer than they were before. This clearly is in contravention of government and commitment to eradicate poverty in the country in line with the Harambee Prosperity Plan. As the saying goes: prevention is better than cure. That is why government is urgently urged to intervene in this matter. One cannot talk of an inclusive Namibian House and preach the ideals articulated in the Harambee, Prosperity and Progress blueprint unless urgent problems at community level are attended to and amicably resolved if we are to maintain peace, stability and prosperity in our republic.
The ministries of environment &tourism, urban and rural development and lands reform have all been notified about this explosive situation and are thus urged to give it serious attention.
K. K. Kaujova, the Regional Councillor, for the Sesfontein constituency and chairman of the Kunene Regional Council, attended the above mentioned meeting with minister Shifeta and aware of this problem in the area but is seems that he is unable or un-willing to solve it amicably! The solution is to find a balance between the needs/ livelihoods of communities and conservation programmes.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015