Posts Tagged ‘DECLARATION ZEMBA Indigenous PEOPLEs NAMIBIA Ovazemba Africa human rights violations’

Indigenous peoples Himba and Zemba protest spills over in Namibia

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

By Rebecca Sommer

Today, hundreds of semi-nomadic  Himba and Zemba marched again in protest because of Namibia’s human rights violantions against them, this time in Opuwo.

Zemba + Himba protest march in Opuwo December 5, 2012 (Photo © Earth Peoples)

Zemba + Himba protest march in Opuwo December 5, 2012 (Photo © Earth Peoples)

Opuwo, a small town located in the heart of the “Kaokoland” (that has always been occupied for centuries by the semi-nomadic Himba people) is the highlight for Tourist’s that are traveling in the North of Namibia.

Zemba + Himba protest march in Opuwo December 5, 2012 (Photo © Earth Peoples)

Zemba + Himba protest march in Opuwo December 5, 2012 (Photo © Earth Peoples)

Even so the Himba are known to roam with their goats, sheep and cattle, herding them from one grazing area to the next, there are still those that live a nomadic life as hunters and gatherer’s. But most of the small groups have been forcefully settled by the Government, with stories of them enduring hunger and bribery that can be watched in a video interview (translated by Himba volunteers) on my “sommerfilms” youtube account about Himba.

Zemba + Himba protest march in Opuwo December 5, 2012 (Photo © Earth Peoples)

Zemba + Himba protest march in Opuwo December 5, 2012 (Photo © Earth Peoples)

The indigenous people Zemba, whose ancestors received up to 200 years ago the permission from certain Himba chiefs to settle on Himba land ( the formerly known Kaokoland) protested jointly with the Himba in Opuwo. It is very likely that such permissions for the Zemba to settle on Himba land goes further back in history. Therefore, in several areas occupied by Himba, one finds nearby, kind of together, Zemba groups that live there as well. The Zemba themselves claim the territory around Ruacana. The borders of Zemba land are confirmed by the neigbour tribe, the Himba people. But to the major grievance of the Zemba people, they are not recognized to be legitimate Namibian citizens, instead, the Government claims that they are from Angola, and not from Namibia.

The author of this article interviewed for several months Zemba Elders, and Himba Elders. They could trace back Zemba occupation nearby Opuwo in Himba communities as far as 150 years ago. Oral history is a legitimate tool to evaluate what the very people say has happened in the past with no written records. To this day, most Himba and Zemba do not read or write. But they do preserve their historical information and traditional knowledge that is important to them – by teaching and forwarding to the next generations.

Namibia is doing a mistake by marginalizing the Zemba, and intimidating everyone that tries to speak on their behalf. Indigenous peoples often live between borders, so do the Himba and the Zemba people. The reason why there is a specific article in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), that specifically explains that Indigenous Peoples cannot be separated by borders.

Zemba + Himba protest march in Opuwo December 5, 2012 (Photo © Earth Peoples)

Zemba + Himba protest march in Opuwo December 5, 2012 (Photo © Earth Peoples)

Zemba and Hima alike have many similar grievances, and feel that their voices are not being heard at Namibia’s headquarters, and by the party SWAPO which is comprised of the ethnic majority Owambo, a non-nomadic tribe.

One of the grievances alike is that the Himba and Zemba have a traditional governance system since time immemorial. But Namibia, since Independence, refuses to accept the traditional chiefs of both tribes as legally recognized tribal authorities, which bring enormous hardships and injustice to the Himba and Zemba people.

Another point of outrage by Himba and Zemba is the school system in their territories, which doesn’t allow the tribal children to attend school in their traditional cultural attire.

The Himba boys show their status and their tribal identity by having specific hairstyles according to their age, for example, a long pointed hair tail,  but in order to go to school, they must cut their hairdo’s off. The Himba girls have also special hair-do’s, that must go, in order for them to be allowed to enter school. That is also the case with the traditional female Himba attire, the orange-reddisch natural pigment ocre used to cover the entire body and hair, the body paint must go as well, if a girl wants to enter a school building. Away from that they can’t go topless, they must wear a

Zemba at Indigenous Peoples protest march in Opuwo (Photo©Earth Peoples)

Zemba at Indigenous Peoples protest march in Opuwo (Photo©Earth Peoples)

school uniform that reminds one of these old style british school uniforms. Most Himba parents and their children don’t want that. This is one of the many reasons why the Himba and Zemba are protesting. Even so many want their children to be educated, they also say that the educational system in their region is so bad, that the children learn nearly nothing. They also say that school is too expensive for the parents to pay for, school uniform and shoes would cost too much. There is also the need for mobile schools, as the children must follow their semi-nomadic parents, that follow the needs of their herds for good pasture.

Zemba + Himba protest march in Opuwo December 5, 2012 (Photo © Earth Peoples)

Zemba + Himba protest march in Opuwo December 5, 2012 (Photo © Earth Peoples)

The Himba and Zemba also protest against the dam in Orokawe, that the Government of Namibia announced to be determined to built. Both tribes say that they haven’t been consulted, and they do not want the dam.

The Indigenous Peoples that protested today asked the World and Namibian’s to read their three Declarations, that have been submitted to the United Nations by Earth Peoples, and once again during the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, that visited Namibia 2 months ago. The protesters handed their three Declarations and a Petition addressed to the President of Namibia to Opuwo’s governmental authorities, and requested that the documents are forwarded to him directly.

Himba+Zemba protesters handing Petition and declaration to governmental authorities Opuwo

Himba+Zemba protesters handing Petition and declaration to governmental authorities Opuwo

The NBC, Namibia’s Broadcasting Company refused again to report about the protest march, and therefore refused to inform the Namibian public about Namibia’s minority grievances. It seems that enough interesting things are happening in this small country, so that a protest by a small minority is not worthwhile the news.  One wonders, is this Government as democratic as Tourists are made belief?

To view photos and the petition from the protesting Himba and Zemba addressed to the President of Namibia: click here


Friday, February 24th, 2012

Ruacana, Namibia, 12 February 2012

We, the Zemba tribe, are one of the indigenous peoples of Namibia. We have our own distinct culture, tradition, legal and political institutions, and we speak our own unique language. We are also known as Zimba as well as Dhimba, but we do call ourselves Zemba.

We have distinct cultural practices, such as the unique hairstyles and attires of our women use of beadwork, that distinguish us from other tribes in Namibia, while some of our practices are similar to those of the Himba. We perform male circumcision, we break four of our lower front teeth and file our two upper front teeth, we have our own style to sing and dance that is very different from the other tribes, and have female and matrimonial ceremonies.

When the Europeans invaded Africa they demarcated our continent into countries and borders, regardless of the original people that lived there, we were speciffically negatively affected, as our people always lived on both sides of the Kunene River, that is now devided by the country borders of current Angola, to the north, and Namibia to the south.

We always lived for centuries in the southern part of current Angola, and in the North Western part of current Namibia.

We are the original inhabitants of a specific area in current Namibia. We have our oral history and knowledge about the traditional boundaries of our territory, as well as our graveyards and settlements that exist to this day. Even so the Government of Namibia wants to deny us our right to belong to Namibia, and our right to our land. We are from these areas and villages, that are located within the country borders of current Namibia, and we have lived here for centuries, way back and even before Namibia became an independent country : Otjitungathitu, Omindamba, Eundo (Eunda), Olwaziva, Omakuva, Omaenene, Omikuyu, Ontoko, Otjozongunde (Etunda), Okapa-KaHangula, Olyonyime, Okapika, Ondjombo Tjihitwa, Ozonawa, Omindjove, Ozondenge, Okazandu, Ozongalahi, Ouhongo, Ruacana (Ruhakana), Omuzu-uahauuanga, Ombuumbuu, Okatjene, Otjovanatje, Omangundi, Otjaandjamwinyo, Omunawatjihozu Otjimanangombe, Etoto Okombungu, Otjekwa, Ovitwambu, Okawapehuri, Orupaka, Okalele, Ozombu, Orue.

Some of us settled more than 200 years as invited permanent guests of the Himba tribe deep into Kaokoland, in villages such as Epupa, Orokaue, Otutati, Orotjitombo, Ovinyange, Omaanda, Okapara, Okangwati, and Otjaandawe.

The Zemba people and and the Himba people always had good relations with each other, therefore you can find to this day that we are sometimes living in the same villages in current Angola and the current Namibia.

Traditionally, our leaders ruled over our people on both sides of the Kunene River, as we are, and have always been, one people, one tribe, one Zemba. But today we suffer by being devided by the countries borders, and are not allowed to associate freely with our relatives on both sides of these artificial borders.

In the past our appointed leaders had to belong to the royal house, but that has changed over the time. Today, we elect our leaders. But to our great grievance, Namibia denies us not only our rightful place as legitimate Namibian citizens, with untrue claims that we are refugees from Angola, but also denies us our right to our land, and to choose our own representatives and leaders.

In the 1990s we began our never ending struggle for recognition as a distinct tribe (Indigenous people of Namibia) by the new Government of Namibia. We demanded that our chief, the leader that we choose, must be recognized as well. We lodged the appropiate applications that the newly formed government requested in terms of relevant law. We met all the requirements.

But the Government of Namibia, ruled by SWAPO Party, that is comprised of the majority ethnic group of Namibia (Owambo), played a very cruel, unfair game with us.

In 1997, we nearly succeeded, as our application was approved and the inauguration of our chief was supposed to be done officially.As the Zemba were preparing the ceremony of our chief’s inauguration, the Uukolonkadhi Traditional Authority approached the Government of Namibia to reject our application again, even so it was already approved. Most disturbing and humiliating for us Zemba was that the withdrawal of the prior authorized recognition was done by police forces. During the day of the inauguration of our chief, the ceremony was disturbed by the Uukolonkadhi tribe, people were beaten up, foods and beverage for the ceremony was looted and some people were kept hostage, private properties were confiscated.

The withdrawal was based on claims by the Uukolonkdhi tribe’s leader, who claimed that the Zemba people are subject to his rulership. We Zemba do not share the same culture, and do not speak the language of the Uukolonkadhi. And it is not their original land and territory, it is ours.

To this day we are under their rule, we are oppressed, landless, have no recognized leader by the state and we are made voiceless. Because we are not allowed to have our own representatives within the decision making structure of the government of Namibia, our dignity and liberty is undermined, and we have no way to determine our own future. We are a distinct people, on our own land, we are forcefully being subjected to the Uukolokadhi traditional authority and law, against our will. Our traditional territory is being privatized, and fenced off without our consent and we are not even asked for our opinion.

The boundaries of the current Omusati Region was shifted into some part of the Kunene Region with the clear aim to cover all the villages in which the Zemba and Himba people reside to be subjected under the rule and oppression of the Uukolonkadhi Traditional Authority.

Because our people, landrights, and leaders are not recognized by the Government of Namibia, we the indigenous Zemba people face so much inhuman treatment. We literally have no rights at all. We studied the last two days for the first time the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We have none of the rights that are outlined in the UN Declaration.

We very seriously need help. Otherwise our people will be forced to assimilate and we will loose what we have, our language, culture, tradition and identity. We are pushed away everywhere. Without land that we own, and where we can rule our internal affairs, we will vanish as a people sooner or later.

In the schools our children must remove their traditional attires. There is no provision for the promotion of our mother language and our youth is being taught in other languages as the first language like in Oshiwambo. They are left behind, and suffer not only from the forced loss of their cultural identity and mother language, but also from not being able to fully understand what is being taught, as they do not speak English as well as their mother language.

The Government of Namibia plans to build a hydroelectric dam, in Orokawe at the Kunene River, where Zemba and Himba are living. Our people support the resistance from the true owners of that land where the dam would be build, it belongs to the Himba people.

Ruacana that is in the traditional Zemba and Himba territory where the electricity and water is sourced to Oshakati and other towns and the entire country, we the Zemba and also Himba communities are currently not benefiting from these sources. These projects are promoted as development for the citizens of Namibia, but they are in reality the opposite of development for us. These projects have been taking our peoples grazing land.

Therefore, we the undersigned hereby declare that we are Namibians and as such we are entitled to recognition as a distinct indigenous people.

We demand therefore that the Government of Namibia recognizes us as an indigenous people, a tribe called Zemba, to be officially part of Namibia. We demand that all of our people, that live and reside in Namibia, are legally recognized as Namibian citizens, and to be given a Namibian citizenship without delay.

We demand that the Government of Namibia grant us our legal territorial landright to the areas that we have mentioned above and total control over our territory that we have traditionally inhabited for many generations. We also want to retain the historical names of our villages.

We demand that we get our right to choose our own representatives and leaders, and to be allowed to administer our internal affairs, including our territory and land, and to rule our affairs with our own customary laws and traditional courts.

We demand that the Government of Namibia recognizes without delay our chief as the legally recognized Zemba Traditional Authority.

We demand that our children be taught in their mother language as the first language in schools. They also must receive good education to learn to speak and write well the main stream language, English.

We demand free movement between the borders where we Zemba are living in Namibia and Angola.

We demand our natural resources to be left under our control e.g water and electricity from Kunene River.

We demand that Namibia allows the UN Special Rapportuer on the rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous peoples to enter Namibia and to visit us.


To download the original signed Zemba Declaration click here:



To view photos of the Zemba in Ruacana signing their Declaration, click here:, click here: