August 20, 2003

Dispute around Khwe recognition

Namibian President Sam Nujoma has rejected an appeal for official recognition from a San community, claiming they collaborated with apartheid forces and Unita, The Namibian has learnt. The attack was reportedly launched during a meeting between Nujoma, Hambukushu chief Fumu Erwin Munyika Mbambo, and the chief of the Khwe, Thadeus Chedau, last month.

Government officials at Rundu and sources in both the Hambukushu and Khwe traditional leadership said Nujoma first "reminded" the Khwe that they had worked with South African soldiers, helping them to track Swapo fighters and to kill supporters of the liberation movement. Nujoma also charged that the Khwe continued to work with Unita after Independence, claiming they planted bombs and shot at Namibians.

The Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), which has been assisting the Khwe to obtain official recognition since 1996, yesterday said the Khwe have asked the human rights organisation "to get clarity around the statements of the President". LAC lawyer Norman Tjombe said they had been "instructed" to pursue the application for recognition anew.

The Khwe had been waiting to hear at the end of the year what the Council of Traditional Leaders would recommend on the issue to Nujoma. The President, according to law, takes the final decision on whether to approve or turn down a plea for recognition from a traditional authority. Tjombe declined to divulge the contents of "the instruction" from the Khwe community.

He said the LAC had written to the Ministry of Regional, Local Government and Housing to find out whether the President's statement "was informed by recommendations of the Council" of Traditional Leaders. Minister of Regional, Local Government, Joel Kaapanda, said last night that he "did not hear" the President's remarks about the Khwe. Kaapanda added that the issue of the recognition of a separate Khwe authority was being handled by a committee of the Council of Traditional Leaders which had already made its recommendation. The recommendation would be considered at the Council's meeting in December, he said.

Tjombe said the LAC had made written submissions to a committee of the Council concerning the recognition of a Khwe traditional authority that should be separate from the Hambukushu traditional office. A previous request for a traditional authority for the Khwe community was rejected, although the group had a recognised chief, Kippie George, during the apartheid era.

The Khwe have accused Mbambo, who became Hambukushu chief after returning from exile with Swapo, of influencing Government against them. Mbambo has always claimed that the area in eastern Kavango and west Caprivi occupied by the Khwe is Mbukushu land.

The Khwe contend in their submission to the Council of Traditional Leaders that they were the first inhabitants and that Mbambo has been attempting to "subjugate the Khwe people into a serfdom in a similar manner to the way in which some Khwe were forced by the Mbukushu into slavery earlier this century for a brief period". Mbambo yesterday refused to comment on the dispute over the Khwe leadership, saying only that "I think the problem is solved". "I don't want to come to that point because the Council of Traditional Leaders is dealing with that," he said over the telephone. The Hambukushu leader has openly stated that he presides over the area where the Khwe live and that there should be only "one king".

The Namibian was unable to obtain comment from State House yesterday, although written questions were sent there Spokesperson for the Ministry of Regional, Local Government and Housing, Frans Nghitila, said he was unable to comment because he could not reach the Minister or an official dealing with traditional matters. He said, however, that a delegation led by the Deputy Minister is scheduled to be in the disputed area this week.

Last month a report about minorities in Namibia stated that the San remain marginalised and that Government had been reluctant to recognise their traditional leaders outside former Bushmanland. The report irked Nujoma so much that he criticised its authors and The Namibian for reporting on it. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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