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«Chapter 4: Omaheke Region  Photo: A Hai||om elder with Hai||om children in Etosha. A note about the arrangement of the regional chapters The ...»

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Part II



Chapter 4: Omaheke Region 

Photo: A Hai||om elder with Hai||om children in Etosha.

A note about the

arrangement of the

regional chapters

The regional chapters (4-11) are arranged in a 'circular' pattern and according to the area

of habitation of the different San language groups, thus this arrangement provides for

some continuity in reporting on San groups whose cultures and traditional practices are

the same or similar. Starting in Omaheke (Chapter 4), we move north-west and then east, ending in Caprivi (Chapter 11). Ohangwena precedes Omusati in this pattern because the San in Ohangwena are Hai||om and !Xun, as in Kunene, Oshana and Oshikoto.

For ease of reference and navigation, these chapters are colour coded as indicated in the map below.

Angola Zambia











Etosha Pan


Botswana Atlantic Ocean South Africa 38  “Scraping the Pot”: San in Namibia Two Decades After Independence Chapter 4 Omaheke Region By Erik Dirkx and Maarit Thiem Ju|’hoan women carrying firewood for domestic use in Skoonheid, Omaheke Region (Photo by Velina Ninkova)

4.1 General background Omaheke Region consists of the former Gobabis District and the former homeland/reserve areas of Aminuis, Tswanaland and part of Hereroland East. The borders of the region enclose an area of about 84 981 km2. The bordering regions are Otjozondjupa Region to the north and north-east, Khomas Region to the west and south-west, and Hardap Region to the south; to the east Omaheke

borders Botswana. Omaheke Region comprised seven constituencies at the time of the research:

Aminuis, Gobabis, Kalahari, Otjinene, Otjombinde, Steinhausen and Epukiro. The administrative centre is Gobabis (National Planning Commission (NPC) 2006a: 1).

Mean annual precipitation varies across the region, ranging from 250 mm per annum in the south (Aminuis Constituency) to 400 mm per annum in the north. The areas north of Gobabis show an average rainfall of 350-400 mm per annum (NPC 2006a: 3). The dominant vegetation zones are

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typical of the central and southern Kalahari Basin, consisting predominantly of camelthorn savannas and mixed shrublands, with isolated forest and woodland savannas. There are no perennial surface water sources and the only notable drainage channels in the entire Omaheke Region are the Black and White Nossob Rivers and the shallow omiramba (ancient river beds) of Eiseb, Epukiro and Otjozondjou. Only the Nossob Rivers are active, however, flowing after exceptionally good rains;

the porous sands of the Kalahari make almost all rainfall infiltrate immediately. The Tilda Viljoen and Otjivero Dams are the only notable surface water reservoirs, impounding the ephemeral rivers and supplying Gobabis with water; however unreliable dam capacities result in a continued reliance on groundwater and boreholes (NPC 2006a: 5).

According to the findings of the Namibia 2011 Population and Housing Census, Omaheke Region has a population of 71 233 persons, which constitutes 3.4% of the total population of Namibia. The population density is low (0.8 persons/km2) compared with the Namibian average (2.6 persons/km2);

40  “Scraping the Pot”: San in Namibia Two Decades After Independence in fact Omaheke has the lowest number of inhabitants of all Namibian regions. The census found 16 174 households in the region, with an average household size of 4.3 persons (Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA) 2013: 17).

Almost 50% (3 543 044 ha) of the land in Omaheke is privately owned by individuals or companies under the freehold tenure system. The largest parts of the western, central and south-western areas are occupied by freehold farms comprising around 900 households (NPC 2006a: 1); the remainder of the land is communal land. In 2001, approximately 800 commercial farms with an average size of 7 000 hectares were registered (Werner and Odendaal 2010: 54). Most of the commercial farms are owned by Afrikaans- and German-speaking farmers. The local authorities of Gobabis, Leonardville, Witvlei and Otjinene control a small percentage of the land, and the central government holds the remainder through communal lands, resettlement farms and experimental agricultural farms (NPC 2006a: 9).

Due to scarcity of water and fertile land, Omaheke is regarded as having a low suitability for crop production; rain-fed agriculture is not very reliable due to poor soil quality and rainfall variability.

Therefore, extensive cattle ranching dominates land-use patterns in Omaheke. Inhabitants of the region refer to it as the “ ‘cattle country’ – it has some of the best grazing areas in Namibia” (Werner and Odendaal 2010: 54).

In recent years commercial farmers have increasingly diversified their income strategies by expanding into game farming, hunting and tourism activities. Werner and Odendaal report that although there are no figures available, anecdotal evidence indicates that this aforementioned shift has been substantial for commercial farms wishing to complement income derived from cattle farming (Werner and Odendaal 2010: 54).

4.2 The San in Omaheke Region The San were the earliest inhabitants of Omaheke Region (Sylvain 1999: 22). They practised a nomadic lifestyle, relying on hunting and gathering. Around the turn of the 18th century, new inhabitants, mainly Mbanderu, Herero and Tswana people, started settling in the area. These stock herders began to push the San into the western fringes of the Kalahari Desert and started to use them as an occasional labour force. However, until white settlers arrived in the region at the beginning of the 20th century, the San were only temporarily incorporated into the broader political economy and managed to resist penetration into their lands to a certain degree. White settlement in Omaheke began after the Herero-German war (1904-1907), and the biggest influx of white farmers took place in the 1920s when the League of Nations granted the mandate of the Territory of South West Africa to the Union of South Africa. Impoverished South Africans relocated to Omaheke Region, and a decade later Angolan Boers were also resettled in the area. By the 1950s, more than 700 farms were established in the area, with fencing being well advanced (Sylvain 2001: 719).

As the influx of white farmers resulted in increased pressure on the land, the Union Government established reserves for the ‘natives’. Epukiro (later Hereroland East) and Aminuis were established as ‘native reserves’, chiefly for the Herero and Mbanderu people. Later, as more people moved in, the Eiseb and Rietfontein areas were incorporated – these were occupied by Ju|’hoansi San at that time (Sylvain 1999: 46). Although the San were the first inhabitants of Omaheke Region, they were not granted any land for themselves as a group throughout this process since only pastoralism was recognised as a viable land-use option. The establishment of the native reserves, as well as the fast-growing number of fenced commercial farms, reduced the area in which the San could still hunt and gather. Simultaneously they were being incorporated into the wider political economy

Chapter 4: Omaheke Region 

as farmworkers. Initially, many reverted to the veld in the rainy season and returned to the farms when food and water were becoming scarce. With the introduction of the Masters and Servants Proclamation of 1920, however, these practices ceased, as the farmers were granted the right to pursue farmworkers who left the farm without the farmer’s permission. Consequently many San abandoned hunting and gathering (Suzman 1999: 38). The Odendaal Commission’s recommendations further prohibited free movement in corridors and between the farms by declaring all unoccupied areas as state property at the beginning of the 1970s (Suzman 1999: 39-40).

Today the San are the fourth largest language group (7.0%) in Omaheke Region, after the Herero (39.0%), Nama/Damara (27.0%) and Afrikaans-speaking people (12.0%) (NSA 2013: 14). There are three main San groups: the Ju|’hoansi, living primarily in the northern and central areas; the Naro in the east; and the !Xoon in the south (Sylvain 2006: 132). There are also a small number of ’N|oha families living in the southern part of the so-called ‘Corridor area’ in southern Omaheke.1 There are two San traditional authorities (TAs), each with their own chief. Chief Frederik Langman of the Omaheke Ju|’hoansi was elected in 1996, but was formally recognised by the Namibian Government only in 2009. This delay in recognition meant that neither he nor his TA could exercise any power in the intervening 13 years. Chief Sofia Jakob (popularly known as “Chief Sofia”), with her TA representing the Omaheke !Xoon, Naro and ’N|oha, was elected in 2003 and recognised in 2009.

Commercial farms employ about 60% of the Omaheke workforce (NPC 2006a: 10). Sylvain reported in 2001 that 4 000 out of 6 500 Ju|’hoansi in Omaheke worked on commercial Afrikaner farms, comprising 27% of the workforce at the time (Sylvain 2001: 719). Other groups of San are working on communal farms, but estimates of the numbers could not be obtained as information on San communal farmworkers is scarce. Our analyses indicate that the total number of San farmworkers has dropped in the last decade as farm owners are more and more reluctant to employ San; they would rather employ workers from other language groups (see Chapter 12 on San farmworkers).

The CEO of the Gobabis Municipality reported in an interview that the influx of former San farmworkers to Gobabis has grown considerably in the last few years, and the growing number of people living in the informal settlements presents the town with increasing difficulties.

Most San who are not presently living and working on commercial farms are living in communal areas, or on resettlement farms, or in the informal settlement of Epako in Gobabis, and some are living on the road verges between commercial farms.

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42  “Scraping the Pot”: San in Namibia Two Decades After Independence

4.3 Research sites in Omaheke Region This section introduces the six research sites in Omaheke Region: Skoonheid, Kanaan (Epako), Blouberg, Corridor 17-b, Corridor 13 and Goreseb (Otjinene). Table 4.1 below summarises the main characteristics of these sites. The sites selected for the research in Omaheke cover the spectrum of remote rural locations to urban informal settlements. These sites also represent different types of land tenure, the different San language groups and San majority and minority populations in this region, and different types of institutional support provided to San at theses sites.

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