Africa: Namibia's bushmen threatened with oppression by black government

The past couple of centuries have not been kind to the Kxoe-speaking San, or `bushmen', of north-eastern Namibia. Ed O'Loughlin found out why their problems have got worse since the country became independent.

The descendants of free-ranging hunter gatherers, Namibia's remaining 4,000 Kxoe now live in sprawling resettlement camps inside the West Caprivi game reserve, the shrivelled heart of their traditional hunting range.

No longer able to hunt or wander in the old manner, they have fallen prey to all the predictable 20th-century social scourges - unemployment, alcoholism, malnutrition, violent crime and disease, including a rapidly- worsening epidemic of HIV. Yet what preoccupies them most at present is not these modern afflictions, but a new threat from an old enemy.

The powerful chief of a neighbouring Bantu-speaking tribe, which once enslaved the Kxoe, is claiming that they are still his vassals and that the land they currently occupy is his. And the democratically elected government of the South West Africa people's Organisation (Swapo), which wrested independence from apartheid South Africa in 1989, seems to be supporting the chief's feudal claim.

At the centre of the dispute is a small tourist campsite built by the Kxoe on the Okavango River's Popa Falls to raise funds for development. Constructed at the beginning of this year with the help of Western donors and local development agencies, the campsite was condemned from the outset by Chief Erwin Mbambo, leader of the neighbouring Mbukushu tribe, on the grounds that his permission had not been sought.

The Kxoe ignored him, saying the Mbukushu chiefs had no jurisdiction east of the Okavango River. But then in May, the government abruptly announced that the camp would have to go: the prison ministry, it said, needed the stretch of scenic riverbank along the east of the falls to expand a neighbouring penal farm.

Since then the Kxoes' campsite has become a cause celebre for Namibian and environmental and social activists and a rallying point for the divided and demoralised Kxoe people.

They claim that key figures within the government are really acting at the behest of the Mbukushu chief, Erwin Mbambo, a former Swapo exile with close ties to senior government leaders. If not, they ask, why is the government ignoring the hundreds of Mbukushu peasants who have settled within the reserve over the past two years, illegally grazing cattle and burning off bush for planting?

Many Kxoe also believe that elements within Swapo are trying to punish them for taking the wrong side in the Namibian liberation struggle. Between 1975 and 1989, the South African army used attractive wages and racial propaganda to persuade thousands of "Bushman" soldiers to serve as trackers and reconnaissance troops along the Angolan border.

"They say to us, `We remember you when you were killing us'," said Kipi George, elected chief of the Caprivi Kxoe. "Every tribal group in Namibia has members who fought against Swapo, but we are the only ones who are being blamed."

For many San, apartheid was not a black and white matter. South Africa's own San were wiped out by two centuries of white genocide - Bushmen were hunted for trophies up until the beginning of this century - but elsewhere in southern Africa many aboriginal San found a more immediate threat in the well-organised Bantu farmers who began arriving there 2,000 years ago.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home