26 March 2013

Namibia: Himba, Zemba Reiterate 'No' to Baynes Dam

INDIGENOUS Himba and Zemba communities from villages in the Kunene Region held a demonstration at Opuwo yesterday to express their frustration over unrecognised chiefs, illegal fencing of parts of their land, and the implementation of the Communal Land Reform Act of 2002.

Another pressing issue they want to drive home to the powers that be is the planned construction of a hydro-electric project in the Baynes Mountains, which they say would further push them off their land.

The communities staged various demonstrations last year to express their sentiments about these issues, but they feel that they are not being heard.

Rebecca Sommer, a German researcher of the human and natural rights group Earth Peoples, told The Namibian that the groups signed letters a week ago, one addressed to President Hifikepunye Pohamba and one denouncing a meeting that took place in Windhoek with three members of the Himba community who spent some time in Windhoek to get clarity on the Baynes dam matter.

Sommer said at the contested meeting a 22-page report was handed out that states that an open-door approach would be pursued in which the communities would be consulted to avoid resettlement.

She said the Himba leaders on 21 March held a meeting at which the document was considered, adding: "... and they are angry. They say there is no door open, they say no. Therefore they feel that they are not heard."

"The report falsely states that we Himba have the door open for further negotiations and that forced resettlements could be therefore avoided," said one of the Himba chiefs, Mutambo Omuhonga, who was part of the delegation to Windhoek.

He continued: "We are outraged. We said over and over 'no', and we mean it. There is no negotiation from our side, and there is no consultation, because they do not hear us when we say no. That is why we protest again to show our collective objection to the planned dam construction once again. We'd rather die and throw ourselves in the river before we allow the destruction and invasion of our land. We explained all that in our declaration."

The groups issued a declaration to the United Nations last year in which they rejected the dam project.

Yesterday's march was also to call for drought relief from the government. The communities want the government to subsidise fodder for their livestock, and to look into improving the distribution of drought relief food.

The Himba and Zemba communities are especially hard hit by the current drought because of their remoteness and the inaccessible terrain in which they live.

The communities fear that their cattle might start dying because of the extremely dry and hot weather conditions during this rainy season. With little or no rain this year yet, the communities have also not been able to plant gardens, so they do not have any maize to sustain them.

Sommer said the Himba delegation that was in Windhoek also met with solar-energy experts and concluded from this that the planned Baynes dam "does not make sense, not for the Himba and not for Namibia ".

The Himba headmen are now reportedly going to select 10 "bright men and women" willing to learn about solar power in the capital city. The Himba have also planned a trip to Tsumkwe where they can see a large off-grid power system.

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