Namibia’s San besieged by child marriages and slave-like conditions

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Nuusita Ashipala

Omundaungilo-Forced child marriages and slave like conditions are just some of the social realities besieging the San community at Omundaungilo, in Ohangwena region.
Already crumbling under the yoke of poverty that has subjected families in this community to live in squalor, those able to find employment as farmhands and domestic workers are made to accept tombo – an alcoholic traditional brew – as the monthly wage.

San girls and boys spoke of being given away in marriage during their teenager years. Some of the girls say they are married off to older men within their community. One of the young mother told New Era of being married off while aged 13 and giving birth to her first-born child at the age of 15.

The San community unburdened itself during a community meeting on Monday with a delegation from the Office of the Vice-President, led by Deputy Director of the Marginalised Community Affairs Gerson Kamatuka. Also in attendance were the Governor of Ohangwena Region Usko Nghaamwa and the Omundaungilo Constituency Councillor Festus Ikanda.

“It is not right. Sometimes we want money. Paying us tombo should come to an end,” murmured some in attendance.

Kamatuka said the visit is part of their regional visits to see and address the plight of the marginalised communities countrywide.

Shortly after the meeting, this reporter walked about within the community where she came across one of the young couples – who got married aged 13 and 14 respectively – constructing their home from plastics sheets.

The couple, husband Lazarus Hamukwaya, now aged 21, and his wife Johanna Fillemon, aged 20, had their first child when Fillemon was 15.

Not far, an elderly woman, Shaambeni Amusati, lay partly exposed to elements in her ‘room’ made of plastic sheets.

Those not paid in pennies or with tombo are paid up to N$300, a 21-year-old man told the delegation, referring to his own experience.

A distressed Nghaamwa pondered why Namibian farmers would exploit the marginalised community.

“If they work for you don’t pay them tombo. It is a sin to continue colonising fellow Namibians. You should pay them so they could uplift themselves,” pleaded Nghaamwa.
Nghaamwa further appealed to the office responsible to prioritise educating the San community to enable them to equally understand their rights and end exploitation.

“You need to uplift yourself and start producing for yourselves. Until when are you going to depend on the government?” Nghaamwa asked the San.

The San responded with a plea that government provide them with land to cultivate as well as the required tools. They say they abandoned the land they owned when they relocated to Omundaungilo.

The San also asked government to provide them with decent housing, alluding that they are tired of their dilapidated traditional homes.

In response, Kamatuka told them to hold meetings and identify the type of houses they would want government to build them.

Kamatuka promised to visit the area soon again in order to address issues of housing and put up a kindergarten so that their children start attending school whilst young.

The San were however grateful to government for providing them with drought relief from time to time and ensuring the old get monthly pension grants.

At the end of the meeting, every household was given a box of tin fish and maize.

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