Namibia: Etosha Land Rights Claim Stumbles At First Hurdle

An attempt by eight members of the Hai//om San community to sue the government to get recognition for their people's ancestral land rights over Etosha National Park and the Mangetti area has failed to get over the first hurdle in its path in the Windhoek High Court.

The eight Hai//om community members' application to be allowed to take legal action as representatives of their community, with the aim of having Hai//om ancestral rights over Etosha and the Mangetti area recognised, was refused in a judgement announced by High Court deputy judge president Hosea Angula yesterday.

Although the application was turned down, the court did not order the eight applicants to pay the legal costs of the government and the Hai//om Traditional Authority, who opposed the application.

The deputy judge president said the judgement was a unanimous decision of the three judges who heard oral arguments on the application by Hai//om elder Jan Tsumib and seven fellow members of his community over the course of four days in the Windhoek High Court in November last year. Deputy judge president Angula and judges Nate Ndauendapo and Thomas Masuku were on the bench during the hearing of the case.

The court's full judgement was not yet released yesterday, but judge Angula said when he announced the court's decision that it should be available today.

Legal Assistance Centre lawyer Willem Odendaal, who is part of the team of lawyers representing Tsumib and the other applicants, indicated yesterday that the court's judgement would first have to be studied before they would be able to decide if they would be continuing with legal action in Namibia - or whether they would take their case to another forum, like the African Court of Human Rights.

Tsumib, who was the first applicant in the case, and seven fellow members of the Hai//om community were asking the court to permit them to represent the Hai//om people and individuals who are part of the Hai//om community in future legal proceedings through which they wanted to have their ancestral rights over Etosha National Park and the Mangetti West area recognised.

If they managed to cross that first hurdle in their way, they planned to ask the High Court to make a variety of further decisions in their favour - including declaring that the Hai//om are entitled to the ownership of Etosha, comprising an area of 23 150 square kilometres, and of an area of 107 000 hectares at Mangetti West, or that they should be compensated for the loss of their ancestral land by being allocated other land, or being paid N$3,9 billion.

Most of the last Hai//om people who were living in Etosha - regarded by the Hai//om as part of their ancestral land - were evicted from the park in 1954.

Senior counsel Andrew Corbett and Peter Hathorn led the legal team that represented Tsumib and the other applicants in the case. The government was represented by a team of lawyers led by senior counsel Wim Trengove, while Elias Shikongo led the team that represented the Hai//om Traditional Authority.

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