San face land invasion in Namibia

Soft chanting from young children floated past weathered tents on red Kalahari soil as a wrinkled old man sat on a cracked plastic chair.

Basking in the afternoon sun, he gazed across the grass plain dotted with knotty camelthorn trees at the first farm bought by Namibia to resettle the ancient but marginalised San Bushman people.

“This farm is the place we call home since one year,” Kleinbooi Katuwe said.

“Winter is on us again and nights are cold in the tents. Hopefully the brick houses the government constructs for us will be completed soon,” he added, pointing at the two rows of half-built houses a hundred metres away.

Katuwe is the oldest in a group of about 300 San resettled on the Uitkomst commercial farm, 240km north-east of the capital Windhoek, which the Namibian government bought under its land reform programme.

Many are laid-off farm workers who had nowhere to go so brought their families to illegally occupy the premises of a defunct municipal swimming pool in the sleepy town of Okahandja, north of Windhoek.

“We had no choice,” said Paul Chapman. His indigenous name is a complicated flow of click sounds which the South African apartheid officials who once ruled this country could neither pronounce nor write, so he ended up with a western name, like many San.

“The municipality looked the other way, so the word spread and other homeless San joined us,“said Chapman, the group’s leader on Uitkomst farm. “We attracted media attention and eventually became a ‘problem’ for the government. A year ago, we were brought here. Now we have a home.”

What they don’t have are jobs. Aside from a few working as farmhands on nearby estates, most of the San at Uitkomst depend on government food rations, waiting for promises of agricultural training to be met.

Uitkomst was the first of three farms given to the San, who were the first occupants of Southern Africa more than 10 000 years ago.

About 30 000 San remain in Namibia, with the Juhoansi and Haikom the largest groups.

‘I hope I can die in peace’
Their numbers dived from the start of the last century when colonial power Germany allowed growing numbers of white settlers to shoot Bushmen and encroach on their traditional hunting grounds.

South Africa took over the territory’s administration in 1915 during the World War I until Namibia’s independence in 1990, which followed a protracted liberation struggle.

Now the San face illegal occupation of their ancestral land by other ethnic groups close to the Botswana border.

About 300km east of Uitkomst, 32 Herero-speaking cattle herders cut a veterinary disease control fence and illegally moved 2 000 cattle for grazing over the past two weeks into a protected wildlife area, the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, home to about 2 600 Juhoansi.

The conservancy is managed by the resident San, who derive about one million Namibia dollars ($120 000) annually through safari tourism, sustainable trophy hunting and collecting medicinal plants like the devil’s claw for export.

“All 32 invaders were arrested,” but are out on bail awaiting trial, said Zeka Alberto, a human rights lawyer representing the San of the conservancy.

“We cannot allow people to take the law into their own hands and just take land,” Alberto added.

While police are patrolling the remote area to prevent further invasions, a high-level government team is also looking for a solution, worried that livestock could spread diseases to the game.

“Government views the invasion in a very serious light, while it is also in violation of various laws,” the information ministry said in a statement.

“The government is committed to the well-being of farmers in rural areas, but also urges them to respect the law and act in the best economic interest of the country.”

Namibia started its land reform in 1995, aiming by 2020 to acquire 15-million hectares of farmland, the vast majority owned by whites, for redistribution to about 240 000 landless people, including San.

Five white-owned farms have been expropriated to date, and Katuwe said he hopes his people’s resettlement marks the end of their wanderings.

“I hope I can die in peace on this resettlement farm when my time has come,” Katuwe said. “I am tired of moving around and being chased away by others.” - AFP



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