Windhoek-The former inhabitants of Etosha National Park and the surrounding areas, the Hai||om, have approached the High Court in an effort to reclaim what they say is their ancestral land in the world-renowned game-endowed national park.
The Hai||om group say they are entitled to exclusive beneficial occupation and use of the Etosha lands and 11 nearby farms as the land in question has been theirs since the 1800s. An estimated 5,500 adults belong to the Hai||om community.
The group wants government to recognise their ownership rights to the said lands, or alternatively an award of land of equal size (about 23,000 square kilometres) and the same quality as they had lost, or alternatively that the State compensate them financially in an amount of N$3.9 billion.
According to the notice of motion, the preliminary estimate of the Etosha Park is N$3.8 billion, with the Mangetti lands valued at N$95 million.
The Hai||om say they started losing their ancestral land in the late 1800s when they and the San people of the area were hunted and killed by German colonists, the colonial police and army.
They further state that since 1954 members of the Hai||om group have been denied access to the Etosha lands and that things got worse when no land or homeland was allocated to the group after the Odendaal Commission policy report issued by the South African administration in then South West Africa.
“As a result, the Hai||om people were forced to work on the farms owned by Oshiwambo farmers, who were encouraged by the apartheid administration to settle and farm north of Mangetti lands, which was originally owned by the Hai||om people,” the applicants contend in the High Court.
In their affidavit the group claims that most of their ancestral lands now fall within Etosha National Park. They say four farms on their ancestral land are currently used by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry for quarantine purposes, one by Namibia Development Corporation (NDC), and the remaining farms are being used by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry and have been used to accommodate a group of displaced Oshiwambo farmers. They further state that for years the government of Namibia has failed to address the vulnerability and marginalisation of the Hai||om people.
“My people’s expulsion from the park was done without any consultation and without any form of compensation,” explained Chief David //Khamuxab of the Hai||om. A preliminary 1990 report by NDC recognised the Hai||om people’s presence around the Mangetti area and proposed that they hold the right to occupy the Mangetti lands and be allowed to gather and eat ‘veldkos’, as has been their practice for centuries.
However, the group lost all access to the land, leaving them destitute, marginalised and in great poverty.
They claim that as a result of the aforegoing they now depend on government for food aid and are plagued by persistent hunger and increased vulnerability to disease.
They argue that under common law and in terms of Article 16(1) of the Namibian Constitution – read with the applicable international law – including Article 14 of the African Charter and Articles 13 and 14 of the Convention on the Rights of Indigenous and Tribal People in independent countries, the Hai||om are the rightful owners of the land in question and are entitled to reparation and fair and equitable compensation for their dispossession of the land in question, according to the notice of motion.
Even though numerous demonstrations have been staged and petitions submitted by various landless groups in the country over claims to their forebears’ land, the Hai||om’s claim to their ancestral land is the first of its kind to be dealt with by the High Court since 1990.
The group is represented in the in court by the Legal Assistance Centre.