08 November 2021 – The Hai//om community asks the Namibian Supreme Court to allow them to bring ancestral claims

WINDHOEK — The Hai//om community, the largest landless San community in Namibia, will today appeal to the Namibian Supreme Court to allow them to pursue their ancestral rights even though their traditional authority has declined to litigate on their behalf against the government.

The Hai//om people, like other San people, suffered genocide at the hands of German colonialists and by 1907, had taken refuge in the area known today as Etosha National Park. Their persecution continued under the trusteeship of the Union of South Africa in the early 20th century, until they were forcibly removed from their land by the South African Native Commissioner in 1954. Despite Namibian independence, the Hai//om remain deprived of their land, wildlife, and the natural resources necessary to practice their culture. Today, they remain in poverty, are dispersed, marginalized, and subject to ongoing discrimination.

The Hai//om people had long sought to regain their rights and compensation for their losses. When it became clear that the Hai//om traditional leader wanted to stay ‘neutral’ in the matter, nine community leaders approached the Namibian High Court in 2015 for an order entitling them to represent the Hai//om people as a class of sorts. They rely on various international treaties that protect the collective and individual rights of indigenous people to bring their claims to the court. The purpose of the case was to seek recognition of their ancestral rights to the Etosha National Park and some surrounding areas. The court denied them on the basis that, so it held, only the state-recognised traditional authority of the community could bring such a claim.

The Namibian government has not denied the hardship and discrimination suffered by the Hai//om, however, they maintain that the community can only seek vindication of these rights through their traditional authority. The nine Hai//om community members, led by Jan Tsumib – a revered elder of the community – say that the exercise of their rights cannot be dependent on whether the traditional authority decides to exercise those rights on their behalf or not. That is an intrusion on their right to access the courts that is so drastic as to be unconstitutional.

The Hai//om representatives are represented by the Legal Assistance Centre with support from the Legal Resources Centre.

Issued by the Legal Resources Centre

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