Tsamkxao ╪oma is the chief of the Ju|’hoansi at the Nyae Nyae Conservancy in Namibia. His family surrounds him. He has seen traditional ways of the Ju|’hoansi decline since the American anthropologist, Lorna Marshall, came to the area in 1951. ╪oma says, "The aim of the Conservancy was to preserve our future children and their children and their children's children but it doesn't look like we will achieve this goal because of people coming in with loads and loads of cattle."
The Ju|’hoansi, like other San people, have been subjected over the past two hundred years to colonialism, genocide and dispossession. In recognition of their historical ownership of the land, the Namibian government legally established the land as the Ju|’hoansi’s in 1998. Approximately 1450 people are members of the Conservancy, which is managed through a Traditional Authority.
But because of a climate change-induced drought and land-hunger, Herero pastoralists have been moving into Tsumkwe, the administrative centre of the Otjozondjupa region, and their cattle and goats are invading and destroying the surrounding Nyae Nyae Conservancy. Since 2009, the cattle population in Tsumkwe has tripled and, despite their legal communal status, the Ju|’hoansi do not have the political power to stop this influx of people and animals.
Xoan//a /ai!ae is on the managing committee of Nyae Nyae Conservancy. She tries to assist young Ju|’hoansi women who are facing an epidemic of rape, sexual assault, teenage pregnancy and alcohol abuse. /ai!ae says that, "When it was just the San community in Tsumkwe, we did not have these problems. But since 2009 when [Herero] farmers came in, that was when the issues started and has been non-stop from 2009 up to now."
From left to right: Di//ao G╪kao, Xoan// Niani, Se//ae /Ai!ae, N//ing /Ai!ae, and Baqu /ui on the main street of Tsumkwe in the Otjozondjupa Region of Namibia. While the Ju|’hoansi manage the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, the town of Tsumkwe is under government control and it is from the town that Herero cattle and goats spread out into the surrounding Conservancy. The Ju|’hoansi name for Tsumkwe is Tjum!|kui, which means 'poison arrows'.
G/aqo Kxao, the chief of ╪omlolo village, prepares steenbok skin to make a loincloth but that tradition is under threat. He says that if people continue to move into the area and cattle keep on spreading through Nyae Nyae “there will be no Conservancy. It will be a land grab. There will be no hope in the future. The San community will end up working for the farmers."
Ju|’hoansi boy at ╪omlolo village, one of the 38 villages of the Nyae Nyae Conservancy. The chief of the Ju|’hoansi, Tsamkxao ╪oma says, that “too many cattle overgrazing will cut down our tradition. Without the nature, there is nothing to show people, to your children. What does it mean to everyone? No culture. Culture will die.”
The future is not great for the Ju|’hoansi. The manager of the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, Erastus Heinrich, predicts that if the cattle aren’t removed "the whole of the Conservancy will be filled with Tsumkwe cattle farmers.
"They will start with land grabbing, that’s what I'm seeing already. There will be illegal farming taking place within the Conservancy. I think the Conservancy will die out as well."
Harvesting the medicinal Devil’s claw plant is one of the very few ways that people can earn cash, about R8000 for a family in a good year. G/aqo Kxao, the chief of ╪omlolo village, points out that, "Devil's claw is getting destroyed by the cattle." Veldkos is also being destroyed and Kxao predicts that "the people will be starving" if the cattle aren’t removed.
Herero cattle illegally grazing within Nyae Nyae Conservancy. ╪oma Tsamkxao, one of the leaders of the community, states that there are two sets of rules under the slogan One Nation, One Namibia, one for the San and one for everyone else:
"Just go to Oshiwambo land and try to drive your cattle in, and see what happens to you. Immediately they will chase you out, you will get arrested."
Despite repeated written requests, the Namibian government declined to comment on the situation in Nyae Nyae.