Namibia: German GIZ directly engaged with dispossessing indigenous peoples of their lands and territories

By Earth Peoples

The history of the Germans invading, oppressing, enslaving, exploiting, and ruthlessly killing the people of Namibia is an extremely shameful one.

It is important to understand Germany’s terrible past, to consider why especially German involvement through it’s GIZ branch in support of Namibia’s Land Reform efforts are highly inappropriate.

To ensure monopoly rights to exploit mineral deposits in Namibia, German bankers, industrialists and politicians illegally and fraudulently founded the German South-West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika, DSWA) as a colony of the German Empire from 1884 until 1915. The colonial aim was to dispossess the people of their land, for use of German settlers, as well as a source of raw materials and a market of German industrial products.

Under Bismark’s policy, an (il)legal system of the German colony was passed, creating a dual system with laws for Europeans and different laws for the original people of the land.

Countless uprisings took place against German rule, well before the Herero and Nama wars of 1903-1907, that lead to the first genocide of the 20th century, known as the Herero and Namaqua genocide - done by the Germans.

1915, the German South-West Africa colony was taken over by the Union of South Africa (as part of the British Empire) and administered as South-West Africa, until Namibia became impendent in 1990 and the youngest member state of the United Nations until recently.

In 2004, the German government recognized and apologized for the genocide, but has ruled out financial compensation for the victims' descendants.

Today, Germany’s governmental development aid agency GIZ priority areas of activities in Namibia are economical development and management of natural resources.

Indigenous peoples, Himba and Zemba, told Earth Peoples that they experience Namibia’s land reform laws as a push to privatize their land. They call it the “land grab reform”.

Once again, Germany, through GIZ’s political and financial engagement with Namibia’s Land reform laws and policies is directly involved to dispossess indigenous peoples from their traditional lands and territories.

Himba Ovahimba - Ovatwa, Khoikhoi - Nama, Khoisan- San, Zemba - Tjimba are in urgent need for legal recognition of their collective land rights. As much as one may think that this is exactly what Namibia’s Government is thriving to do, and that communal land use laws, programmes and policies are ensuring just that, you got it partly right, but also utterly wrong.

Through land reform, the Namibian Government aims to redistribute land from the large-scale commercial sector to landless people and those with only marginal access to land. The reform is seen as the prerequisite for social and economic development, and is implemented through two parallel land reform programmes, communal land reform and commercial land reform.

Communal land reform involves “improved” control and regulation of the communal areas or 'tribal' land under traditional authority through communal land rights registration, whilst commercial land reform involves the redistribution of commercial farmland into previously disadvantaged hands through the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme and National Resettlement Programme.

This is a good initiative and certainly a step in the right direction, but here is the main PROBLEM:

Himba and Zemba, two indigenous people, have in their view no legitimate representation, because the Government of Namibia doesn’t recognize their traditional leaders, their chiefs, as “Traditional Authority”.

In the case of the Zemba people, the Government of Namibia even suggests that they are not Namibian’s, and should go back to Angola, entirely overlooking that they always lived on both sides of the border, as is the case with San and Himba, and for a matter of fact, the situation of most indigenous peoples that never had a say when state borders were created. The traditional chief of the Zemba people, recognized by Zemba people, is also not recognized as a “traditional authority”by Namibia.

To enter into complicated details, it seems that all Namibian tribes migrated once upon a time from other areas into current Namibia. Khoisan also known as Bushmen, or Hai//om (people who live around Etosha National Park) are the original people that lived there before anyone else of the tribes arrived that exist in today’s Namibia.

But let’s not discuss here what came first, the egg or the chicken.

As long as the situation of legitimate “traditional authority” recognition is not ensured by the state, and the legal recognition of indigenous peoples traditional territory in its entire, of the Himba and any other indigenous peoples, and the implementation of international human rights standards pertaining to indigenous peoples, GIZ should not engage with Namibia’s land reform processes.

Not as long as they take the land rights away from the indigenous peoples that wish to maintain their identity as a people, that are holding on to their way of life according to their ancestors.

But let the indigenous peoples themselves explain to you:

HIMBA chiefs oppressed and not recognized by Namibia

Councilor of Epupa Constituency- HON. NGUZU MUHARUKUA explains the Problems of HIMBA people in Namibia

Another video about the problems with the non-recognition of the traditional Himba leaders as “Traditional Authority” and the Communal Land Reform Act:

And this is what the Himba people’s traditional leaders are saying about the negative impact of the Land Reform in their Human Rights Complaint Declaration, that was submitted to the United Nations, African Union, as well as to the President of Namibia:

” To our great grievance, the Namibian government has destroyed our ancestral traditional governance structure, by disposing and withholding the official recognition of 33 of us as rightful traditional leaders.
We and other traditional leaders from other tribes went to the High Court, and we won the case on December 13th 2001, and the Government of Namibia was ordered to re-install us in our rightful positions as Traditional Authorities.
But the state did not comply with the Court order to this very day, and we remain not recognized leaders, removed from our legal powers.
Today we have only 3 traditional chiefs that are recognized by the state, that share overlapping jurisdiction of the entire Kaokoland.
Our people and we strongly object to the states’ ruthless interference by the Government of Namibia that is disabling our people to choose their own leaders and destiny.
We therefore declare that the Government of Namibia deliberately disempowering us to govern ourselves within our Kaokoland to hinder us and our people to determine our own future, such as to ensure the continuity of our cultural identity, traditions and customs and our political institution, that we wish to preserve for the future generations.
Because we are no longer allowed to govern, and are not recognized by the Government of Namibia as the legitimate leaders of our people and land, we see our traditional territory being invaded by the ruling Owambo ethnic group in Namibia, that controls the ruling SWAPO Party which in turn runs the government.
The ruling SWAPO Party has been imposing on us laws, programs, leaders and projects that we don’t want, but we are made voiceless. We are not consulted, not included in any decision-making processes, nor are we heard when we object.
We are therefore the marginalized and oppressed tribe in our country Namibia.
We are currently facing a law that allows any citizen of Namibia to apply and receive 20 hectares of our land. (Communal Land Reform Act 5 of 2002).
We strongly object this law that is forced upon our throats against our will and consent.
This is a land grab! We are loosing our land. Our land is being fenced by outsiders that are not from our area.”

(To read the entire Traditional Himba leader’s Declaration, click here:

Himna and Zemba protested for a third time in the past months, for the reason of the negative impact of the Land Reform Act on their land rights, as well as other human rights violations, including the lack of implementation of their Free, Prior and informed consent (FPIC) which has been ignored by the state while pushing forward with plans to construct a hydroelectric dam on their territory in the Baynes Mountains’ Kunene River.
To read about their protest, click here

And here a visual manifestation of Himba culture:
Video: HIMBA DANCE in Omuhonga, Kaokoland desert, Namibia (February 2012)


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1000 Himba and Zemba protesting against dam and Land Reform Act in Namibia -March 25, 2013 (Photo © Earth Peoples)
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Date: 30/03/2013




Indigenous Peoples
Land Rights

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