The Plight of the San in Omaheke

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By Staff Reporter GOBABIS The exploitation of the minority San people is prevalent in the Omaheke Region, where hundreds of them are employed as farm workers without being registered with the Social Security Commission (SSC). Child labour is also rife among the San. Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Kilus Nguvauva this week came face to face with the daunting task of trying to ease the plight of the San on farms in Omaheke. He met the owner of Farm Finale, Gertjie Koekemoer to iron out numerous labour issues that include workers having to pay for their own livestock to be allowed to graze on the farm, distant clinic facilities, child labour and the lack of electricity for workers. New Era was also informed that most of the San people were given demeaning names such as “plastic” and “mattress” by the farm owner. The meeting that lasted for four hours was initially meant to be a demonstration over the deaths of three San women last week after taking a poisoned home brew. However, they were prohibited from entering the premises of Koekemoer’s Farm Finale. Bennie Venter, the lawyer of the farm owner prevented the close to 100 San from entering the farm by locking the gate with a padlock and a chain. The main road leading to the farm was blocked. Koekemoer was nowhere to be seen at the time of the intended protest. The lawyer who took charge of his client’s business on Tuesday warned the deputy minister that he was not welcome at the farm, adding that he had no business being there. “We are fed up with you always causing trouble around here,” said Venter, closing the gates with a padlock and a chain. The deputy minister was however later allowed in, together with a police contingent and the Labour Inspector Sam Kambazembi. They left the hundreds of San drenching in the rain outside the farm. Earlier that morning, the San people were transported for 30 km from Skoonheid to Farm Finale on a trailer pulled by a tractor to take part in the demonstration. However, they had to go back the same day after being prevented from entering the farm. Since it was a rainy day, they had to take refuge in a warehouse at the holding of a local farmer Mburo Mooja until the rain subsided. “Why did that farmer chase us away? Koekemoer has something to hide because he is cunning,” said one elderly man, smoking his “zol”. Some of the mothers and children huddled together on the cement floor looking for warmth, feeling unhappy that the farm owner was not present to hear their grievances. “We are afraid of what has happened to our three sisters there who died,” a woman said timidly as she breastfed an infant. Yesterday, Nguvauva said the talks focused on the exploitative working conditions of the San at the farm. With regard to child labour, he said boys under the age of 16 were forced into employment and paid only N$10 per month. The close to 20 workers on the farm with their families are not benefiting from social security. “All, except three workers, don’t have social security and when they get sick the owner deducts N$36 every day from their salaries for the number of days they’ve been to the clinic,” said Nguvauva, who is also Councillor for Steinhausen. It also transpired that the three deceased employees Sofia Geelbooi, Kora Dam and Anna Geelbooi did not have social security bene-fits. “He (Koekemoer) said he cannot transport the ‘Bushman’ to the clinic which is Pos 3 Epukiro or Epukiro RC because it is too far and he is busy with his own work,” added the deputy minister. Most workers are however paid relatively well at N$650 per month. But then, they have to pay N$40 per animal and N$80 per horse to the farm owner for keeping their own livestock on the premises. When trophy hunters who pay in foreign currency give money to the San for assisting them, the money is apparently paid over to the farm owner who then gives each one N$10. Police and forensic investigations into the deaths of the women are continuing, while there are pleas by the bereaved families to bury their loved ones at Farm Finale instead of Skoonheid some time next week. Seven people who previously died under similar circumstances were buried at Skoonheid, 30 km away. Meanwhile, Nguvauva plans to hold a follow-up meeting with the farm owner in due course.

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