Although the government of Namibia has removed the Herero cattle that invaded the Nyae Nyae Conservancy in May, the Ju/’hoansi still have difficulties with the outsiders who remain on their property. Juhoan requests for assistance have still not been met.
Dr. Megan Biesele, Director of the Kalahari Peoples Fund and a member of the board of the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation, conducted an interview with the Chair of the Conservancy, /’Angn!ao /’Un—known as Kiewiet—to find out what exactly was happening. A newspaper in Namibia published a summery of the interview last week.
Kiewiet asked Biesele rhetorically if Namibia was a country that operated under the rule of law—or did the country have a separate set of laws just for the Ju/’hoansi. Didn’t Namibia’s laws guarantee their rights to their own land? He explained that his people derive food from hunting wildlife on the Conservancy property, and income from the sale of eggshell beadwork and the devil’s claw medicinal plant roots that they gather. The farmers from Gam who are squatting on their land are harming those enterprises.
Kiewiet told Biesele that weeks after the government seized the illegal cattle, farmers from the Gam area were still entering Conservancy property. He observed that people from the Kavango area of Namibia invaded the Conservancy a long time ago. The Ju/’hoansi have been telling them to leave and their requests have been ignored. Now, in addition to the Kavango people, they also have to contend with the invaders from Gam.
These invaders pose many problems, Kiewiet contends. They cut trees in order to construct their homesteads, their children crowd the schools, they introduce new alcohol problems, and of course their animals stress the land. All of this affects the economic and social life of the Ju/’hoansi.
His comments were quite direct. “I don’t know what to do. The only thing I knew to do, I have done: I have spoken to the police and asked them to return these people to Gam. Whether there is a court case or not, they should stay in Gam and take care of themselves there. They cannot remain here. Because if they do, they will ruin the livelihoods of the Ju/’hoansi.”
The Conservancy, with the support of the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA), is threatening to sue the farmers for over N$600,000 (US$73,000) for damages due to the loss of income from trophy hunting, diminished harvests of devil’s claw roots, grazing foods consumed, water used, and infringement on Ju/’hoansi rights.
While Kiewiet hopes the situation can be solved through negotiations with the Herero Traditional Authority and the government instead of court suits, he insists that the invading Herero people have got to leave. “We Ju/’hoansi have nothing we want to ask except that we be allowed to go forward. These people who have entered our land without consulting us are causing us to go backward.”
News sources in Africa also reported last week that a restriction placed on all the cattle owned by farmers in the Gam area has been officially lifted by the State Veterinarian. After the veterinary cordon fence was broken and over 1200 cattle moved north onto the Conservancy, which has had an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the past, the entire Gam area was temporarily quarantined too. Officials feared that cattle could become infected in the Conservancy and wander back into Gam, infecting cattle there.
At this point, all the invaders’ cattle have been removed and placed in quarantine elsewhere, the veterinary cordon fence has been reestablished, and officials have carried out proper surveillance for diseases, so the health agency feels it can lift the restrictions on the cattle that remain in Gam.
The government has indicated that it intends to auction off the seized cattle and that it does not intend to compensate the people who had owned them, except for ex gratia payments. Andrew Ndishishi, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, insists his agency will inform the public when the cattle are to be auctioned off. He also says that criminal proceedings are taking place against the invading Herero farmers. The latter are seeking legal counsel.