N≠a Jaqna and communal land development partners talk over each others’ heads – land invasion is the core issue
The issue of who has a land right in communal areas and who not, seems to be at the root of a growing dispute between the Bushmen of the N≠a Jaqna Conservancy in the Tsumkwe district and the so-called ‘Programme for Communal Land Development’ punted by the Ministry of Land Reform in collaboration with the EU Delegation to Namibia, and the German Development Bank.
When the tribal authority in the N≠a Jaqna Conservancy was on the verge of signing the agreement with the ministry, they baulked, refused to sign and issued a strongly-worded statement raising several objections they deem not in their interest. These issues all related to land status, tenure and local benefit.
Responding to the tribal authorities’ objections, the ministry together with the EU Delegation and the German Embassy in Windhoek, issued a joint statement to clarify the status of the programme, but all aspects in this statement referred to process, and basically ignored the existential issues raised by the Bushmen.
Defending the process to date, the joint statement briefly mentions the land in question and the intended improvements, which will be financed by the Kreditanstallt fuer Wiederafbau, with the intention that it should have a lasting impact on incomes for the conservancy residents.
In their earlier objections, the conservancy stated “The greatest fallacy is the assumption that 9 farms will be created and rented out generating an income for the local community. Who will ensure that these farmers pay their rent? Who will ensure that they do not erect illegal fences? Who will ensure that they do not start grazing on conservancy land when their farms are over-grazed? None of these basic issues seem to have been thought about.”
From this statement, it appears the conservancy is more concerned with the illegal invasion of their land by Herero cattle farmers from the adjacent communal farms in what is currently the Otjozondjupa Region. Although this area is also communal land and fencing is illegal, all the land from Okakarara to the Grootfontein district has been fenced into “informal” farms, many of them exceeding 10,000 hectares in size, and many of them proudly displaying their “owners” names on name plates at the farm entrances. This has lead to a lack of available land for many other communal residents and they have expanded eastward into the land of the Bushmen, “since there is nothing going on there” as one Okakarara resident put it.
It is this invasion, ignored by the Ministry of Land Reform, that the Bushmen fear most. “The conservancy has been struggling unsuccessfully for years to get the authorities to respond to illegal fencing and settlement in the conservancy. [We are] having to deal with those acting illegally who show a total disregard for the San and the laws of Namibia,” the tribal authority stated.
The N≠a Jaqna members’ refusal to give their consent, certainly cast the cat among the pigeons. When everything was thought to be in place, process-wise, the final signing should have been a formality.
“An iterative process was followed, in which four potential sites in the larger Tsumkwe West area were assessed and analyzed. This was done together with the local community, !Kung Traditional Authority, N#a Jaqna Conservancy representatives and line ministries in October 2017. Criteria considered in this process included a focus on areas without known disputes, area with unexploited development potential, the availability of sufficient underground water, and areas with as yet limited or no infrastructure,” stated the development partners.
On 29 June, the Chief of the !Kung Traditional Authority, Glony Arnold approved the plan submitted under the ministry’s Communal Land Development programme but it was less than a week later, on 03 July, that the conservancy chairperson, Sarah Zungu, supported by her management committee, again raised their objections and reiterated their earlier concerns.
Flabbergasted by this about-face, the ministry stated “It must be emphasized that the Ministry of Land Reform [or the] Programme for Communal Land Development, does not force any development on Namibian communities, and shall only implement consensus-based decisions. The highly participatory nature of the planning process remains open for inputs from the local community structures.”
For the Bushmen, the issues keep coming back to the illegal invasion of their land by people they regard as not having any legal right to settle on, or fence in, any land belonging to the N≠a Jaqna Conservancy. They requested that a formal inspection of their whole area is conducted in August this year to evict all illegal settlers based on an earlier High Court judgement which declared these land invasions illegal.