WINDHOEK: The right to land, lack of free primary education and recognition of traditional authorities, as well as discrimination are some of the problems faced by indigenous people in Namibia.
United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, said this during a feedback session with the media here on Friday at the UN House.
Anaya was in Namibia to meet indigenous groups from 20 September to 28 September 2012.
He is an independent expert designated by the UN Human Rights Council to report on the rights of indigenous peoples in Namibia.
Anaya said Namibia’s minority indigenous groups feel that they have not seen the promises and benefits brought by the country’s independence in 1990.
“Overall, I have detected a lack of coherent Government policies that assign a positive value to the distinctive identities and practices of these indigenous peoples, or that promotes their ability to survive as peoples with their distinct cultures intact in the fullest sense, including in relation to their traditional lands, authorities, and languages,” he said.
These groups have expressed a strong desire for greater inclusion in decision-making at all levels, to be able to genuinely set their priorities for development, and to regain or strengthen rights over land and natural resources, particularly lands to which they retain a cultural attachment, said Anaya.
With respect to the San people, who were the primary focus of his visit, the UN official commended Government for entering into some innovative arrangements with the tribe through which they have been able to increase their control over management of land areas and derive some substantial benefits.
These include the conservancy arrangements in Tsumkwe and tourism-related concessions in the Bwabwata National Park.
Anaya suggested that in full consultation with the affected people, these kinds of innovative arrangements should be expanded and strengthened along with greater efforts to ensure the San’s security of land tenure, which is still, in places that he visited, all too vulnerable.
He made reference to Tsumkwe, where the Ju/’hoansi San have recognised communal land, but outsiders have been erecting fences and invading these lands – a problem that apparently is worsening without an adequate response by the State.
Anaya raised the concern that numerous San communities in the country were entirely disposed of their lands prior to independence, and those lands are now in the hands of the State and private land owners.
These communities face serious social and economic conditions with scarce employment opportunities.
Anaya said he met with representatives of the Hi//om San tribe in Oshivelo, Oshikoto Region, who have for decades been living on a plot of land behind the Police Station there as they await their long-promised lands, after having been evicted in the 1950s from their traditional territory in what is now the Etosha National Park.
He feels that more needs to be done to identify adequate land for resettlement and to develop land-use planning arrangements in consultation with the affected San communities, as well as to provide ongoing support for the sustainable development of resettled communities.
Anaya advised that there needs to be a re-evaluation of the adequacy of measures taken in response to the removal of the Hi//om people from the Etosha National Park prior to independence.
The purchase of farms adjacent to the park for the resettlement of these people may be a step in the right direction to provide redress for their removal from the park.
Anaya raised the concern that all communities he met expressed their strong desire for increased educational opportunities.
In spite of the Namibian Constitution guaranteeing free primary education, and the commendable policy of the Ministry of Education to provide early schooling in indigenous languages, these directives are not effectively implemented.
Anaya said he learned that OvaHimba children in Opuwo are forced to cut their hair and remove their traditional attire to attend school, while San children face discrimination by teachers, and bullying by their non-San peers.
On the recognition of traditional authorities, Anaya raised the alarm that minority indigenous communities are often placed under the jurisdictions of chiefs of neighbouring dominant tribes, who make decisions on their behalf.
In this regard, he made reference to an OvaHimba Chief, who was not informed about mining activities taking place on the land where the community graze their livestock – an activity that is central to their livelihoods and culture.
According to Anaya, the lack of recognition of traditional chiefs is, in accordance with Namibian law, related to a lack of recognition of the minority indigenous tribes’ communal lands.
He also met with representatives of the OvaZemba and other indigenous peoples in Opuwo, and in Windhoek, he met with representatives of the Rehoboth Baster and the Nama people.
The Special Rapporteur held meetings with Government representatives, including from the Office of the Prime Minister and its Division of San Development, and the Ministries of Environment and Tourism; Justice; Lands and Resettlement; and Education.
He also met with the Ombudsman, and with representatives of non-governmental organisations and UN agencies.
Anaya noted that in the following weeks, he will review the information he received during the visit in order to develop a report to evaluate the situation of minority indigenous peoples in Namibia.
“This report will be made public and will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council.
I hope that this report will be of use in the search for solutions to the ongoing challenges that indigenous peoples in the country face, and to advance their rights in accordance with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other relevant international instruments,” he added.