The San of Namibia

The San of Namibia
Playing the g||oaci, Nyae Nyae, Namibia. Photo: Paul Weinberg

“We eat gemsbok, elephant, kudu and wildebeest when the trophy hunters give it to us.”

!Octca Kxae, Ju|’hoan, Tsumkwe

“I was born in Etosha, I was born in Okaukuejo, I am a Hai||om child. When I grew up, my great grandmother, even though it was not allowed, took me into the veld, gathering bushfood. I was lucky to experience bush life. It was in their spirit to be in the bushes, so they just went in."

Bandu Komob, Hai||om leader

“Following our removal from the park, Hai||om have experienced great hardship, while the park has been developed into a world-famous tourist destination, generating enormous economic benefits, from which we have been excluded.”

Jan Tsumib


One of the ways the San can survive today is through ecotourism. In Namibia, indigenous communities are allowed to develop conservancies in which they maintain some control over the management of resources and income that is generated by tourist activities.

!Khwa ttu | San Spirit Shared | Encounters---Survivance-Room
Kxao |Kashe’s family harvesting Devil’s Claw, |Auru, 2014
!Khwa ttu | San Spirit Shared | Encounters---Survivance-Room
Duma family return, Kamberg, KwaZulu Natal, 2003
!Khwa ttu | San Spirit Shared | Encounters---Survivance-Room
Making crafts from ostrich eggs, |Aotcha, Namibia

San of Namibia were drawn into the civil war and many were recruited into the army (see panel on the San and the military). There is no San community that was not affected by this war. Hai||om once lived in the region which is now the Etosha Game Reserve. Hai||om were removed from the reserve 60 years ago.

The community have recently taken the Namibian government to court to claim recognition for and enforcement of their ancestral rights over Etosha National Park and the Mangetti area. This is the first case of its kind in Namibian legal history.

Jan Tsumib, an elder from amongst the Hai||om applicants in the case, said that the community supports current tourism activities and conservation measures in Etosha but reiterated the Hai||om’s desire to “share” in the running and control of these activities and to “benefit from the proceeds”.

“I grew up working under white farmers. I couldn’t do things for myself. Those days I worked on the farmer’s time and for other people’s money. I was paid R30 a month and rations. It was hard work, no school, children also worked on the farm like I did. Now I am the farmer and I make the money. Here I collect firewood and I build my own house. Life is good now and I make my own life.”

Kxao |Kashe, |Auru, 2014

By Namibian independence in 1990, nearly all our traditional land was in other people’s hands. The development of farming and the creation of game reserves played a significant part in land loss and

It is only in Nyae Nyae where Ju|’hoansi live that communities still have rights to land. But even with rights to land, independence has not brought certainty.

Tsamkxao ǂOma, representative leader of the 35 settlements expressed his grave concern about the encroachment of Herero farmers on their land: “The Hereros have invaded our land and cut the fence. This is not their land – it belongs to the Nyae Nyae Conservancy and the government should stop it.”

Paul Komob, outside his makeshift

!Khwa ttu | San Spirit Shared | Encounters---Survivance-Room

A man fixes his bicycle, |Aotcha

!Khwa ttu | San Spirit Shared | Encounters---Survivance-Room

Former army camp for San soldiers, Omega, home, Namatoni, Etosha Game reserve Namibia Caprivi

!Khwa ttu | San Spirit Shared | Encounters---Survivance-Room