Posts Tagged ‘Hima Zemba protest march’

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