Sangwali, 130 km west of Katima Mulilo was a hive of activity on Sunday as thousands of Bayeyi and other ethnic groups in the Zambezi Region thronged to the quiet area to celebrate the 23rd Batsara Batsapi Cultural Festival.
Sangwali, the traditional seat of Mayeyi Chief Boniface Shufu, has become the theatre of one of the most prominent annual cultural festivals in the northeast Zambezi Region, where the event has been hosted annually since the Mayeyi ethnic group splintered away from Linyanti khuta.
The festival has been hosted each year since the recognition of the Mayeyi as an independent ethnic group in 1992. It showcases Bayeyi culture including ancestral dances, such that performed by the lively Shiboli cultural group.
Traditional food also forms part of the rich cultural heritage of the Mayeyi.
Mayeyi people from neighbouring Botswana also graced the occasion with their traditional groups, in the company of their Ngambela Shikati Leokame Lekgoko, who has become a regular attendant of the festival.
Other traditional authority representatives at the event included Natamoyo (or adviser to chief) of the Mashi traditional authority, Fredrick Kabala and the Ngambela of the Masubia tribe, Albius Kamwi, accompanied by traditional councilors.
The Minister of Urban and Rural Development, Sophia Shaningwa, whose speech was read on her behalf by her special adviser, Nestor Shukwanyama, noted that traditional authorities play a pivotal role in fostering cultural values and norms.
“The traditional authorities are the custodians of cultural values and norms and must ensure that these are preserved and passed on from one generation to another,” stated Shaningwa. Shaningwa further appealed for unity as a catalyst for development.
“Development in Zambezi Region will be determined by its inhabitants collectively. I thus appeal to all residents of this region to shun all forms of divisive tendencies, including tribalism. We must embrace unity,” implored Shaningwa.
Bayeyi people, who equally contributed to Namibia’s independence, were also acknowledged during the lively cultural festival. Notable among Mayeyi heroes are Zambezi Regional Governor, Lawrence Sampofu, Kanungo Makumbi, Gibson Masule, Mulife Simwanza, Geofrey Musukubili and Michael Mukendwa, among many others.
Councilor for Linyanti and Judea Lyaboloma constituencies, Cletius Sipapela noted during the festival that the constituency under which the Mayeyi people fall has seen major developments that have lessened the plight of the rural poor.
“As we are seated, we can see electrical poles that have been put up in Sangwali. The access road to the Khuta has also been tarred. Mbilajwe now has potable water. Towards the end of August we might be witnessing the opening of a clinic at Malengalenga,” underscored Sipapela.
Sipapela further announced plans are at an advanced stage for the declaration of Sangwali as a settlement area, which would later be transformed into a village council.
Chairperson of Zambezi Regional Council, Raphael Mbala, who stood in for Zambezi Regional Governor, Sampofu, also pointed to the development efforts of government, noting that the mooted tobacco project which has received widespread condemnation from all quarters of society has been misconstrued, as it is simply meant to boost Namibia’s economy and create employment for thousands of residents.
“Government is doing a lot. We plan to have a green scheme with over 2,600 hectares on the outskirts of Katima Mulilo. The tobacco will not be for the local market. It will be exported and in the process the economy will be boosted and create jobs for our people. How many people have you heard dying of tobacco in Zimbabwe, where similar projects have taken place?” asked Mbala.
Mayeyi Chief Boniface Shufu criticised the recent killing of a tour guide in the Mudumu National Park, calling for the imposition of stiffer sentences on the culprits.
“I would like to condemn the recent killing of a tour guide at Nqakatwa in Mudumu National Park.
This traditional authority will not tolerate crime of any form. I’m calling on the police and our able courts not to grant bail to perpetrators of murder in this case. Criminals deserve to be sent away for many years, as they pose a danger to our community,” Shufu lashed out.
With areas under his jurisdiction awash with national parks and conservancies, Shufu discouraged his subjects from illegal hunting, noting that doing so robs the country of much-needed income.
“We are surrounded by national parks, such as Mudumu and Nkara/Rupara that are tourism attraction areas and bring foreign income into Namibia. We will therefore not condone poaching,” warned Shufu. He commended government development efforts in his area, noting that these have made life comfortable for Bayeyi people. He, however, noted that potable water still remains a challenge that needs urgent intervention from government.
“Services like water still remain a challenge in most Mayeyi areas. I appeal to government to speed up the long-awaited Kongola-Kapani pipeline,” urged Shufu.
Shufu noted the declaration of Sangwali as a settlement area would also help address the urban land crisis currently plaguing the country.
The Mayeyi people used to fall under the Mafwe traditional authority, but became an independent ethnic group in 1992. Their quest for recognition as an independent group started in 1985 when the first Mayeyi committee was chosen to petition the then apartheid South African apartheid government, but without much success. This was done on the basis that they have a unique culture and language. With the onset of Namibian independence, the Mayeyi community persisted by petitioning the new government, which eventually culminated in official recognition and the coronation of its first and incumbent Chief Boniface Shufu.
Mayeyi are mostly found in the southwestern part of the Zambezi. They have a unique language, known as Shiyeyi characterized by click-sounds.