Nelly Bassily | December 22, 2008
An elderly woman slowly looks around her new farmland, her wrinkled face lighting up with a shy smile as she suddenly claps her hands. She proclaims that her ancestors are happy that she is closer to home.
Hira Khamuxas was born about 60 kilometres from her new farm in northwestern Namibia. She spent a free and happy childhood there until she was 14. At that time, as she describes it, “the South Africans put up a veterinary control fence nearby and told us to get out.”
In the 1970s, the apartheid regime forced the San, or Bushmen, out of their ancestral lands in Etosha National Park. Some ethnic groups among the San people were given designated homelands within the park. Ms. Khamuxas’ tribe, the Haikom, was excluded from this scheme.
In 2007, the Haikom won a court ruling allowing them to return to their traditional lands. The Namibian government purchased land on the southern boundary of Etosha. Seventy-eight Haikom families, including Ms. Khamuxas’, were given a plot.
Even as Ms. Khamuxas delights in her return, the question remains of how her people will make their livelihood. Like many Haikom, Ms. Khamuxas spent most of her working life wandering from farm to farm, labouring for minimal wages. Since 1990, when Namibia gained independence and people were allowed to move freely, some Haikom have worked in Etosha National Park as trackers and game guards.
Libertine Amathila is deputy prime minister of Namibia. She says that some of the land given to the Haikom will be used for agriculture. The government will bring in wild animals to roam in other parts, creating the potential for tourism activities.
The Haikom people lived in the region for millennia prior to their displacement by apartheid. Traditionally, they hunted wild animals and gathered plants for food and medicinal uses. Ms. Khamuxas’ birthplace within the park, at Ombika watering hole, is now a popular destination for tourists. In her new home, she plans to teach her grandchildren the traditional uses of trees and plants.
Click here to see the notes to broadcasters on return to anscestral lands