18 March 2013

Namibia: Hereros Unhappy With Otjimbingwe Land Handover

THE Herero community of Otjimbingwe feel they have been given the short end of the stick in the allocation of two farms to the Damara Tsoaxudaman Traditional Authority at Otjimbingwe.

According to Herero Chief Gottlieb Kahikopo, his people are being treated as if they fall under the Tsoaxudaman and its leader, Chief Bethuel Haraseb, and therefore are not enjoying their rightful portion of the new land.

In January, President Hifikepunye Pohamba announced the expansion of three communal areas in the country to relieve grazing pressure and improve the residents' quality of life.

On Thursday, the community of Otjimbingwe officially received two state farms (farms Uitdraai and Kamandibmund) with a collective size of over 10 000 hectares, increasing the Otjimbingwe communal area to over 101 000 hectares.

The handover was done by Deputy Minister of Lands and Resettlement Theo Diergaardt, to Tsoaxudaman Chief Bethuel Haraseb, in the presence of Erongo Governor Cleophas Mutjavikua and Karibib Constituency councillor Usiel Xoagub on farm Uitdraai. Although the Herero leaders of Otimbingwe were also there, their presence was not acknowledged.

"We are not inhabitants of Otjimbingwe. We are indigenous here, and yet we are not acknowledged," Kahikopo told The Namibian after the event.

He said the Herero people have had leaders at Otjimbingwe since 1864, and former administrations also acknowledged the Herero leadership since 1928. However, Kahikopo said, this leadership was suppressed under the Namibian Traditional Authorities Act since 1997, when Haraseb was appointed as the leader of the Tsoaxudaman Traditional Authority and given authority over Otjimbingwe without considering the existing Herero leadership.

"We were here for more than a century. It is mostly our cattle that you see grazing here and needing more grassland. We are cattle people and the government knows that. Now they give the land to the Tsoaxudaman on a plate and we will have to beg for a piece of this cake," said Kahikopo.

The Namibian is in possession of a letter from Kahikopo to Governor Mutjavikua in which he raised concern over the sidelining of the Hereros.

"Since the day you [Mutjavikua] requested the traditional leaders to sit together and resolve how the farm should be utilised for all inhabitants to benefit, the Damara leadership are by all means avoiding to have such a meeting," the letter read.

Threats of "bloodshed" if the situation does not change were shrugged off by the Herero leadership as being "the words of an impulsive, passionate youth".

"We will not get into a struggle with the other people. We live in a free, peaceful and democratic nation. We won't fight because we know where to go to if this unfair treatment is not stopped. We will go to the government and talk to them and request their intervention," Kahikopo said.

Kahikopo made a request to the Tsoaxudaman chief to be fair in the distribution of the new land, urging him to beware of falling into the trap of nepotism and tribalism.

At the handover, Haraseb warned the community not to "invade the land" now that it was handed over to his traditional authority.

"We must respect the laws of government to ensure the land is distributed fairly and to ensure that we may get more land in future. No one can now just bring his cattle to the farms without the permission of the traditional authority," he said.

Mutjavikua said Namibia consisted of different tribes and cultures, which are all Namibian and should be treated equally.

"The Tsoaxudaman have been given a very serious responsibility and must make sure that all Namibians are fairly treated," he said.

He added that the Erongo Regional Council would take a "very keen interest" in how the new land is managed and distributed.

"It's all about fair play. If we are fair now, we can hope for more land in the future. If we are not fair, we'll be broke," Mutjavikua said.

The Oorlams community of Vaalgras in the Karas Region and the Kai //Khaun community of Hoachanas in the Hardap Region also received more land last week.

Applications for land rights will be handled by the traditional authorities, regional councils and the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement to approve the application of beneficiaries.

"The land reform programnme remains a priority area to the government and this is demonstrated by the amount of resources that are being invested in redressing the skewed land ownership patterns. The process may seem slow but the programme is well defined and on course to deliver within the agreed legal and policy framework," said Deputy Minister Diergaardt.

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