Namibia: 1000 Himba and Zemba protest again against dam and human rights violations

By Rebecca Sommer

EARTH PEOPLES- Namibia, March 26, 2013

Yesterday, about a 1000 Himba and Zemba held a protest march in Opuwo to show the Government of Nambia (GoN) that they had enough.

This was the third protest in a row, but by far the largest.

The two Indigenous semi-nomadic tribes, from the semi-desert northern region of Namibia, began their well-organized and peaceful protest march outside Opuwo town. They came from all directions and remote areas of their traditional territory, Kaokoland, despite prevailing drought conditions due to Climate Change, and their growingly frantic search for grazing and water for their livestock.

Each Himba and Zemba community sent members that they could spare, while those staying behind tended to the needs of their goats, sheep and cattle that are increasingly weakened by the drought, upon which the Himba and Zemba depend for their very survival.

The drought has caused already enormous damage for the self-sufficient semi-nomads, with nearly no rain they weren’t able to farm their gardens, thus they have no maize and other nutritional crops.

The indigenous peoples have already called on government to subsidize fodder for their livestock, and to look into improving the distribution of drought relief food. The community made formal requests to the chairperson of the Kunene Regional Council’s Management Committee, Dudu Murorua, at Opuwo.

But as much as they fear for their livestock and to face soon hunger and thirst, they are also hungry and thirsty for something else: Their human rights. They want to see changes, and they want to be heard by the majority tribe’s party SWAPO, that rules the Government of Namibia.

The Himba and Zemba protest is about their continuous human rights grievances, which made headlines in Namibia and the world after being published for the first time in form of three Declarations signed by all the traditional Himba and Zemba chiefs at the beginning of last year.

On behalf of the Himba and Zemba, the international human rights group Earth Peoples submitted both Declarations to the United Nations system.
Read the DECLARATION OF THE DIRECTLY AFFECTED OVAHIMBA, OVATWA, OVATJIMBA AND OVAZEMBA AGAINST THE OROKAWE DAM IN THE BAYNES MOUNTAINS: http://earthpeoples.org/blog/?p=1061

Read the DECLARATION OF THE TRADITIONAL HIMBA LEADERS OF KAOKOLAND IN NAMIBIA: http://earthpeoples.org/blog/?p=1070
Months later, the United Nations Special Reporter visited the Himba and Zemba and met them in Opuwo, were Himba read their Declaration and handed him another copy, this time in person.

The UN Special Rapportuer Anaya confirmed in his Statement the human rights violations that the Himba people are facing, which can be read here:
http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12603&LangID=E

Yesterday, when the protesting indigenous tribes arrived near Opuwo town, Namibian police tried to block the marching masses but to no prevail, the Himba and Zemba just passed the police officers and car, calmly and peacefully, but determined.

Once in the center of Opuwo’s, usually quite empty with nothing much happening there, the streets were flooded by hundreds and hundreds of singing and dancing people, walking towards the place where they were going to meet the governor of the Kunene Region Joshua /Hoebeb.

A letter from the Himba and Zemba letter addressed to the Governor December 5, 2012, remained up-to-date of the protest unanswered.
(Read the first Himba Zemba letter to the governour http://www.flickr.com/photos/earthpeoples/sets/72157632175021335/)

Until finally, a security tape was blocking the agreed meeting area.

It was a stark contrast, when the governor finally arrived, as can be seen on the photograph. There was a visible barrier of a flimsy yellow security tape between the governmental authority, and the indigenous peoples of the country that are seeking a dialogue and answers to their pressing human rights grievances that they feel have not been addressed.

To the surprise of the Himba and Zemba, governor Joshua /Hoebeb read with a stiff voice a prepared speech, and instead of looking at them and into the eyes of the indigenous leaders in front of him, his eyes were locked on paper.

Instead of having a dialogue with the people, which was what they had envisioned, he chose to underline the fact, that there is the government on one side of the security barrier, flimsy as it was, and the people on the other side of it, additionally separated and held in check by police forces.

But Himba and Zemba, not interested in conflict, waited patiently that he would finish reading from his paper, because they wanted answers, and wanted to heard. But governor of the Kunene Region Joshua /Hoebeb, in line with headquarters, had no ear for the people that stood patiently in the burning sun.

The governor accused in his speech a white supporter that would help the Himba and Zemba with their unreasonable requests, such as the demand to stop any further plans to construct the Orokawe dam in the Baynes Mountains. He didn’t explained what kind of help he was referring to. He also accused the Himba and Zemba of being too emotional about the entire issue, and mocked the protesters that their march would bring no results, and informed that there will be held a referendum and that the 88 thousand inhabitants of the Kunene region will decide on the dam.

He explained to the Himba and Zemba that the colonizers are the reason for the lack of adequate doctors in the hospitals, and that the GoN would work hard to resolve that matter, and that the people must be patient, it wouldn't be that easy as they would think. He didn't mention anything about the grievance of the leaders, that Ovatwa, a Himba group of hunters and gatherers, are being held up-to-date in a Camp like prisoners or refugees, in the area of chief Kapika. Or why the Government of Namibia is refusing to recognize their rights to culturally appropriate education.

After the speech of the Governor a senior Himba headman had a few words. He said that they are not stupid, that they did not come from all directions of Kaoko, to be treated without respect and to listen to empty words, as if they are not intelligent to understand that they meant nothing.

That they came to hand over their complaints, as well as a letter directed to the President, and that they want answers. A Himba protester, holding a protest banner that read "We Himba and Zemba are also humans" stood next to him.

The headman reminded the governor that Kunene is not the original traditional territory of the Himba people, and those areas such as Outjo and Kamanjab would have nothing to do with the Himba and Zemba in the north. That Kaokoland is the land that they are inhabiting for centuries, and that they have the right to decide if they want such a large destructive dam project that would negatively affect them.

He began to outline their repeated reasons why the Himba do not want the construction of the dam, all that can be found in their numerous letters written to governmental authorities including to the Governor, as well as in the Declarations. But the governor, saying that they are unreasonable, cut him short with the promise that he in person would come out and consult with the chiefs and convince them about the dam.

The people met his comment with an uproar, saying that they are not to be forced, nor to be convinced, united they say said "no" to the dam, and that the government should respect that.

The senior headman continued that the Himba and Zemba are not buying what the Governor had said by blaming the colonials for the shortage of doctors, nor do they believe that the GoN was going to allocate more funds to address the problem. "The apartheid regime left us with no doctors. But after 24 years the new government could still not solve the problem", he said.

A female Himba protester said, "Do they really think the Himba and Zemba are that stupid? How many of our problems were addressed? Did the Government of Namibia, or any official, including you (the governor) , came to consult with us? No."

The Himba and Zemba handed the governor a second letter addressed to the President, signed by the traditional Himba leaders, and left, disappointed.

The governor promised that the President would receive the letter tomorrow (Read Letter to President here: http://earthpeoples.org/blog/?p=4082).

It will be interesting to see, if the President of Namibia after receiving the letter feels that it is time to speak to two tribes living in his country, that have a very differentiated way of life, customs and culture as the rest of the citizens, and that are clearly not happy.

The Himba and Zemba wrote an additional letter to the Head Office of Ombudsman John Robert Walters (Read letter here:http://earthpeoples.org/blog/?p=4079), which they will deliver tomorrow to the regional office in Oshakati.

They also forwarded sans of the original signed letters to international human rights group Earth Peoples, with the request to submit them to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as to the UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya. They also mailed today copies to Earth Peoples partners Namrights, a Namibian human rights organization that will forward the letters to the African Union.

 

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Date: 26/03/2013

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Namibia

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Name: Rebecca Sommer

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