Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Ambo, Nyaneka-Nkumbi (Nyaneka-Humbe), Herero and other semi-nomadic cattle-keeping peoples live in the south-western provinces. Himba and related pastoralist groups such as Kuvale and Zemba speak Herero-derived languages.
Some scattered groups of San and related peoples, who live chiefly by hunting, gathering and small-scale trade, continue their nomadic existence on their ancestral lands in the southernmost provinces of Huíla, Cunene, Cuando Cubango and Moxico. Others have settled among Bantu neighbours, engaging in agriculture, or have moved to urban centres.
Himba and other pastoralists of the south-west have long faced de facto denial of grazing rights, expropriation of land, unfair terms of trade and lack of respect for their traditions.
The long civil war was particularly difficult on San, who lacked land rights amid increasing encroachment by other peoples, suffered from widespread use of landmines, found it difficult to maintain adequate food security and lacked access to medical services. The end of the war eased some of these problems and allowed humanitarian organizations to deliver food aid, although this itself can threaten traditional culture.
For decades, the governments of Angola and Namibia have been planning to build a hydroelectric dam along the Cunene River between the two countries. Himba communities on both sides of the border would be severely affected. Previous reports have indicated that the Angolan government had abandoned plans to locate the dam at the highly contested site of Epupa, but there is also cross-border opposition to plans to site the dam at a location in the Baynes Mountains due to the impact on traditional Himba lands, culture, heritage and way of life.
For their part, the traditionally hunter-gatherer San continue to face widespread societal discrimination, extreme poverty, food insecurity, gaps in birth documentation, lack of title to their ancestral land and limited access to services, as well as low levels of participation in Angolan political life. However, awareness of their situation has grown, in part due to advocacy by NGOs such as the Organização Cristã de Apoio ao Desenvolvimento Comunitário (OCADEC) and the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA). In 2007 Angola saw its first San Conference, with representatives of San communities in Angola and neighbouring countries, international community representatives, NGOs and local and regional authorities.
While some Angolan officials have made efforts on behalf of the San, for instance in the area of disaster mitigation following floods, overall the approach has been inconsistent and somewhat piecemeal, revealing the lack of a coherent policy on indigenous peoples and their rights. However, serious issues around their rights to their ancestral lands and resources have increased in the face of conflicts over land use stemming from development initiatives and other factors. Angola’s constitutional and legal framework still lacks explicit recognition, protection and promotion of indigenous peoples’ rights. These issues, compounded by the impact of climate change on seasonal rain patterns, are leading increasing numbers of San to settle and opt for agriculture-based livelihoods while trying to maintain elements of their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Many San, having been forced to flee Angola during the country’s protracted civil conflict, remain displaced in Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.
Minorities and indigenous peoples in