WINDHOEK – Twenty-two years after independence, the San people are still the poorest with the highest rate of hunger, infant mortality, tuberculosis, while they also suffer untold discrimination and exploitation at the hands of their employers.
Petrus Doëseb, Chairperson of the Namibian San Council, said this recently in a statement issued yesterday at the launch of the Guide to Indigenous People’s Rights in Namibia booklet.
“All we are asking is to be treated equal. It is our right and we are not asking for charity,” he emphasized, adding that some officials in government still look down on the San people and describe them as “useless” and people who are just looking for handouts.
Doëseb says San people suffer even in their own conservancy lands, while employers rape their women. He noted they are not consulted when development projects are designed for them.
The San Council chairperson said he was however grateful to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) for driving development plans for the indigenous communities, such as rehabilitating them in the Namibian Defence Force (NDF).
Bryan Gaomab, International Labour Organisation (ILO) National Project Coordinator, said that indigenous people in Namibian still face an upheaval of difficulties in enjoying their human rights, despite the fact that there have been notable programmes to promote and implement the rights of the San people and other indigenous groups.
Among these, he pointed out, is that the ILO Convention Number 169, which started an advanced course on Human Rights and Indigenous People at the University of Pretoria, is now in the process of developing a similar course at the University of Namibia (Unam) in 2013.
The convention seeks to ensure equal enjoyment of rights by indigenous people and to unlock their potential contribution to their future and national development. Gaomab said that as part of raising awareness, the programme also supported the development of a website, a mobile museum and a brochure on marginalized indigenous communities in Namibia.
Through the programme they further undertook a cross-boundary exchange study visit of indigenous San communities in Namibia and Botswana.
“Much remains to be done for indigenous peoples to enjoy all rights on the same footing with their fellow Namibian citizens,” said the ILO Coordinator, adding that key tasks ahead include policy formulation, government programmes, intervention coordination, strengthening indigenous people’s organisations and improving appreciation of Namibia’s indigenous peoples.
Ombudsman Advocate John Walters said the Guide to Indigenous People’s Rights in Namibia emanated from the conviction that international and continental instruments and institutions such as the Ombudsman, civil society organisations can contribute to the advancement of human rights and in particular those of indigenous people.
He said his office approached the ILO for assistance with training to recognise the specific needs of indigenous people. “With their generous assistance, a training workshop was held at the beginning of August 2012,” he said.
Dr Nico Horn, Associate Professor in Public Law at Unam, said there might be good reason for Namibia’s reluctance to see certain groups as indigenous minorities owing to our Constitution that holds a clear position against tribalism, unfair discrimination and racial discrimination.
He said Affirmative Action legislation is also careful not to prioritise previously disadvantaged groups and is silent on people belonging to more than one category of being previously disadvantaged.
“For many people any emphasis on groups reminds them of the Odendaal Plan and other ‘divide and rule’ tactics of the colonial regime,” he said. Horn said that it would take more than one Jamie Uys (director of the movie ‘The God’s Must be Crazy”) to give the San people their dignity back.