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‘Shshsh listen’ – a poem by Kerry Jones inspired by Chief Tsamkxao ǂOma

Taking us away from coronavirus for a change, this is a powerful and important poem written by Dr Kerry Jones, a linguist and activist for mother tongue education in Khoe and San languages in southern Africa. Unfortunately, we are still presenting some of the troubles of San life. Next time we will talk of something life-affirming, positive and exciting!  I promise!

The poem concerns the longstanding problem of illegal cattle herding in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy. Despite the community’s efforts to fight the illegal occupation and exploitation of their land, those in the position to act on the solution continually fail to do so.

Chief Tsamkxao ǂOma, the traditional leader of the Ju|’hoansi in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy shared his feelings on the issue with Kerry and expressed that ‘Namibians need to know what is happening in Tsumkwe and in Nyae Nyae. There is enough land for all. We have fought hard for our land and our people. Our rights must be protected, and the time is now.”

The poem is included in a recent compilation of poems: My heart in your hands: poems from Namibia. Compiled by Naitsikile Iizyenda and Jill Kinahan. University of Unam Press (2020).






The ground sizzles in the heat

The mirage of the horizon hazy with dust

They’re coming…

You can hear their hooves crunching through the dry delicate veld

Their call echoes across the land

Their stench rises as they near the soiled pan

Slurping and sucking from the cesspool, once a watering hole for all

Laden and bellowing they scour the area for signs of fresh green growth

Ripping, crushing, destroying relentlessly

Leaving no trace of endemic life behind


Shshsh… listen…

A baby cries, stomach aching, cramping

Eyes squinted from the constant pestering of flies

Water, the life vein, is contaminated

Sickness prevails where young and old are first to undeservedly suffer

Mothers are out searching, with well-trained eyes they scan the bush

The traces of veld food trampled and destroyed

Aia[1] must move deeper into Nyae Nyae

Leaving behind the sick and weak in search of nourishment and medicine








|| Xamtci ||oq’oro[9]


 Aia, mama, !ui!ui, da’abi!oa[10]

A successful forage, but each time further and further afield

We are worried about those we love, back at the n!ore[11]

Now, so much further away than before

We begin the long journey home



Chief Tsamkxao ǂOma shakes his head and rubs his bare feet over the earth

They are coming…

They have been coming for many years now

We have kept them back

Fighting for the protection of our land

Kieviet, he was fighting with me

We were young, strong during the n!ai[12]

We shot those gumi[13] if they came across the border

But now we are old

The gumi are too many

And we’ve turned to paper for protection

We write and write


We meet and meet

Zero action from local police  Our people, the Ju|’hoansi, are sick and suffering

Kashipembe[14] riding in on hooves

Eroding our bodies and minds

Feeding addiction

Breaking and scattering families

We are poisoned

As unlawful invaders continue to move in

Depleting unforgivingly

Our carefully protected resources

This needs to stop




The cattle are coming!



[1] Mother

[2] Tsamma melon

[3] Gemsbok cucumber

[4] Bush potato

[5] Water-root kambroo

[6] Seeds

[7] Brown honey

[8] Baobab fruit

[9] Devil’s Claw

[10] Mother, grandmother, older sister, children

[11] Village

[12] War

[13] Cattle

[14] Home-brewed drink with addictive chemicals added