Legal Assistance Centre-Namibia
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More Information on Indigenous People's Rights

LEAD works directly with marginalised indigenous communities throughout Namibia. Of particular focus is the nation's oldest inhabitants, the San people. But the LAC is also dedicated to advocating on behalf of the Himba people.

Etosha case
The most recent development for the San is the case for their Ancestoral Land Rights.
Consultations and filing of pleadings continued in the ancestral land rights claim of the San. This case revolves around issues that have not been previously ventilated in the Namibian legal system and it is therefore imperative that preparation is comprehensive.
Research into the various legal questions therefore continue. Consultations were held with the different legal support teams as well as with the clients and experts on the issue.
The judicial system in Namibia does not recognize class action procedures. Thus, in order to bring the matter to court on behalf of 2,700 Hai//om clients, the applicants first needed to apply to the High Court by way of a class action certification application. All the necessary papers have been filed and the matter was due to be argued in November 2017 before a full bench of the High Court. However, South African Counsel for the Respondents were engaged in hearings in their Supreme Court which takes precedence over the High Court and the matter was therefore postponed for hearing to May 2018.

In the interim, extensive Heads of Argument were researched, drafted and filed.
The mammoth task of collecting and indexing all the authorities to be utilized in the hearing has also been completed.

If clients are successful with this application, it could bring about positive changes to the Namibian jurisprudence on the interpretation of locus standi. Class actions can be especially beneficial to those who want to determine their socio-economic and environmental rights, also known as third generation rights. On an international level, this application has required that an affidavit be solicited from James Anaya, formerly the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples.
This is good example of litigation taking years to complete.

As an ancestral land rights claim, this is the first of its kind in Namibia and some 5 years of research was undertaken before the decision was taken to proceed to court.

Historically the organisation has been working on the following projects to protect the rights of indigenous people:

The Xoms |Omis Project
The documentation of Hai||om cultural heritage in Etosha National Park began in 1999 as a small collaborative project involving researchers from the University of Cologne, Germany, the University of Cambridge, England and a group of Hai||om elders.

As the process gained momentum, it became formalized into the Xoms |Omis Project (Etosha Heritage Project), now managed through the Legal Assistance Centre in Windhoek.

Through the support of international donors, the Xoms|Omis Project has aimed is to provide documentation of Hai||om cultural heritage and to deliver a unique body of cultural, historical and environmental knowledge.

It is envisioned that this project will build capacity among the Hai||om people and provide a sustainable means of income generation. Visit a web site directly dedicated to this project.

Background to the Xoms |Omis Project
During the 19th and for a part of the 20th century, the Hai||om lived in a region that stretched from Owamboland, through present-day Etosha, to Grootfontein, Tsumeb and Otavi and south to Outjo and Otjiwarongo.

When Etosha was established as a park in 1907, the German colonial administration tolerated – and indeed welcomed – the presence of the Hai||om, much of whose traditional territory outside the park had been colonized by white settlers. At any given time between a few hundred and a thousand Hai||om lived in the park, with numbers varying according to the prevailing economic and environmental conditions.

The Hai||om remained in the Etosha National Park for almost a half century until 1954 when they were evicted from their ancestral home. As a result, they joint the legions of landless farm-labourers, from one generation to the next, eking out a living on the farms on Etosha’s borders.

Since 2004, the Hai||om have had a recognized Traditional Authority, an important development as it facilitates communication and negotiation between the community and state institutions.

In 2008, one farm and a portion of another closest to the border of Etosha were bought by the government for resettlement purposes. It is intended to accommodate 200 Hai||om households there. The government furthermore plans to by some more farms for the Hai||om, all of them adjacent to Etosha National Park.

Born in Etosha, Homage to the Cultural Heritage of the Hai||om
This 2009 publication is the first to pay homage to the forgotten history of the Hai||om who lived in the area and whose lives the proclamation of the park completely transformed. Through images, personal reminiscences, character sketches and depictions of some of the more important water holes, Born in Etosha provides an insightful tribute to these former residents. Read a press release from the launch

100 Years in Etosha: Not Everyone is Celebrating
The area south of the great white Pan, where most of the tourist roads are situated, has long been home to the Hai||om, an indigenous hunter-gatherer community. Today the Hai||om are among the most disadvantaged of Namibia’s San population. Read more about the issues surrounding Etosha as it celebrates its Centenary in this newspaper column.

Human Rights Training
LEAD regularly conducts workshops predominantly inhabited by San communities. The objectives of the workshops are:

  • To provide general legal education to the selected leaders.
  • To educate the Khwe leadership on human rights standards and the obligations which such standards impose on the state and its functionaries.
  • To discuss and highlight pertinent legal and social problems confronting the community.
  • To train the selected leaders on the main provisions of identified laws which is of immediate relevance to them.
  • To install a sense of assertiveness in the Khwe leadership to address the challenges faced by the Khwe community in a proactive and assertive manner.

Some of the topics covered included:

  1. Constitutional, Customary Statutory Law and Human Rights
  2. Structure and duties of Government, Duties of Police, Criminal Procedure Act
  3. Functions of Ombudsman and Prosecutor General
  4. Traditional Authority Act
  5. Communal Land Reform Act

Research and other resources
LEAD has been a leading voice in standing up for the rights of Indigenous people. The unit has assisted Indigenous communities and brought issues they face to the national agenda by authoring several publications including:

Scraping the Pot: San in Namibia two decades after Independence (2014)
Chapter download: Scraping the pot
Indigenous Peoples and climate change in Africa (2013)
God stopped making Land (2012)
What has happened has happened (2011)
Elite Land grabbing in Namibian communal areas
Our Land They Took (2006)
San Communal Lands Contested: The Battle of N#a Jaqna (2006)
A Gender Perspective on the Status of the San in Southern Africa (2001)
An Assessment of the San in Namibia (2001)
An Assessment of the San in South Africa, Angola, Zambia & Zimbabwe (2001)
Status of the San in Southern Africa (2001)
The Epupa Debate (1998)

Other Resources

Report on the Natives of South-West Africa and their treatment by Germany as Pdf (1918) or on the web directly