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Central Africa
East Africa
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Sahel Horn of Africa
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Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Regional Representatives :

Regional Representative : Singonhi David , Khwe San, Namibia
Deputy Regional Representative : Thaddeus Chedau, Khwe San, Namibia
Women’s Representative : Ossia Mangumbu, !Xun San,South Africa

Background and Ethnic context

In southern Africa, there is a recognised distinction between the first peoples of southern Africa and other Africans who migrated into the region in more recent times. The cultural presence of the San hunter-gatherers has been attested to in rock art and archaeological findings for over 20 000 years. Human occupation of the region stretches back over 150 000 years. According to geneticists, the aboriginal San and their related herding neighbours, the Khoekhoe (also Khoikhoi), carry the genetic material which indicates that their ancestors are the ancestors of all living human beings. The San are distinguished by their rich knowledge of biodiversity and by their complex languages that include a range of click sounds.

San peoples were colonised first by the arrival of Bantu-speaking Black agro-pastoralists from East and Central Africa, then more aggressively by European settlers. The impact of European settlement in South Africa included an almost complete destruction of San civilisations in that country. Today there are some 100 000 San living in the region, but only about 15 of them have graduated from tertiary education; the majority live in situations of poverty and marginalisation.

Certain Khoekhoe peoples adopted sheep pastoralism more than 2000 years ago. They spread throughout the subcontinent and were able to negotiate their relationship with the European settlers somewhat more successfully than the San. In South Africa, many Khoekhoe assimilated into Afrikaans speaking, so called “Coloured” farming society, though the Nama people of the Richtersveld and Orange River managed to keep their language and culture alive. In Namibia, Nama people number over 100 000 and have a degree of representation in government. The largest Afrikaans-speaking Khoekhoe group is the Griqua of South Africa.

Regional Overview
In southern Angola, WIMSA has been working with Christian NGOs to make contact with !Xun and Khwe communities there. Most of these San groups were either killed or driven into exile during the protracted civil war in Angola. With the advent of peace in Angola, there is new hope that these vulnerable groups may have a brighter future. Norwegian Church Aid has sponsored support and a fact-finding mission, and WIMSA has released a video and a booklet about the situation of the San in southern Angola. (WIMSA, The Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa, is both a development agency and a network of San leaders throughout Southern Africa. WIMSA supports San organisations in various aspects of advocacy, including land rights, economic livelihoods, education, language and culture, and intellectual property rights.)

Botswana has a vibrant indigenous civil society, despite the political and economic challenges. The area where there is mutual interest and increasing dialogue between the government and indigenous peoples is nature conservation. The San are holders of rich indigenous knowledge of biodiversity, wildlife behaviour, and climate, and the Government is interested in developing nature conservation and tourism as part of its national development plan. However, San elders report that the massive displacement of San from their territories that is being enforced by the government in order to facilitate nature conservation means that traditional knowledge of plants, soil, and wildlife is rapidly declining. The loss of land rights by the San in Botswana extends beyond nature conservation.

Tens of thousands of San people are losing their homes and territories as the Government allocates land to members of the dominant ethnic group for ‘productive use’. Title deeds are available to individuals, but San applications are not given special consideration even in areas that they have traditionally inhabited, and collective land ownership is not recognized. Sustainable traditional economic activities such as hunting and gathering wild foods are seen as primitive by the Government, and hunting has become so regulated that families cannot get licenses and feed themselves. The government's view is that it is treating all citizens equally, providing housing, water and schools to remote rural areas. Problems arise from the structure of government, in which local chiefs from the dominant Tswana group represent the whole constituency, effectively leaving the San and other minorities without a voice in local government, and without a say in what form their 'development' should take.

An important goal for San communities in Botswana is for their leaders to be recognized by the government, so that San communities can represent themselves. As well, Botswana's government has resisted acknowledging the ethnic and linguistic diversity of its citizens. Only Setswana, one of over a dozen local languages spoken in Botswana, has official status and may be taught in schools and used in the media. However, San peoples are now standardising their languages and introducing them into schools, but without the support of the Department of Education. HIV / AIDS is a major concern for San communities in Botswana.

Fortunately, Botswana's health programme is very progressive. The Government of Botswana provides ARV medication free to its citizens, and attempts to make them widely available. The concern of San groups is that this treatment may not be as accessible to them in remote areas. San leaders from central Botswana say that many San do not understand the issue fully and therefore do not make use of the treatment until it is too late; early intervention needs to be promoted. In northern Botswana, malaria is a large issue, and proximity to appropriate medical facilities is a problem, so treatment is not very accessible.

Politically, Namibia is moving ahead fast. Though the San are still in a vulnerable and under-represented situation compared to their Bantu-speaking neighbours and the White minority, there are signs of changing attitudes in Windhoek. Notably, the current Deputy President has expressed an interest in the efforts by San communities to create sustainable livelihoods based on environmental management and tourism. Another major player in Namibia is the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF). WWF is supporting capacity building and eco-tourism opportunities linked to traditional and commercial sustainable use of natural resources with San communities in several parts of Namibia. WWF supports the NyaeNyae and N=a Jaqna Conservancies in Tsumkwe East and West respectively. This is linked to further development efforts in Kaudom National Park. WWF is also involved in the Caprivi Strip, supporting Khwe speaking peoples and others who are trying to set up conservancies. For more information, see WWF's publication on community-based natural resource management (CBNRM). The Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) is another field-based Namibian NGO that evolved out of a partnership with community leaders in the early 1980s.

Namibia has a reputation of progressive innovations in land tenure. The Conservancy system in Namibia allows communities to manage rural areas as 'protected areas,' where they are still allowed to carry out traditional economic activities including hunting and gathering. These conservancies benefit from tourism and trophy hunting as well as the active participation of local and indigenous peoples in wildlife management. However, the Khwe have the ongoing problem that the central government does not recognise them as an ethnic group with representation in government due to the absence of a recognised traditional leader. Both WWF and WIMSA have worked with the Khwe to help promote non-traditional leadership representation which will secure the Khwe a seat in the subregional planning processes, notably on the theme of conservancies and sustainable natural resource use. San activists are working on various strategies to protect their cultures and livelihoods through nature conservancy. There are two San-run conservancies in the Tsumkwe, and plans for others in the Caprivi Strip. San activists are asking the Namibian government to give more support to community conservancies, including more financial training, and recognition of traditional knowledge and skills such as advanced animal tracking.

IPACC's pilot project in Namibia is concerned with helping indigenous peoples engage with the Government regarding recognition of traditional knowledge and competency in tracking. Tracking (identifying tracks of animals, predicting animal behaviour and being able to follow spoor) is a sophisticated skill which traditionally is transmitted from elders to younger people in the course of hunting and gathering. The skill can also be used in tourism, anti-poaching and conservation work.

South Africa is fully engaged with transforming itself into a socially and economically viable democracy. It is deconstructing its legacy of racist governance and attempting to create new opportunities for all its citizens. The President and other senior officials have made important positive statements about indigenous peoples, though some activists are concerned that the Government sees indigenous rights as a form of ethnic nationalism which will be dealt with through endless dialogue and no real changes. The San in South Africa are still working to gain adequate recognition and land rights from the government. Currently, the complexity and diversity of San cultures and their collective rights to land are not recognized. San leadership is not recognized by the government, making it difficult for the San to engage with the government or to hold government positions. There is a great need for income generation and employment training opportunities for the San in South Africa.

A gap in the Interdepartmental Working Group on Khoe and San Issues is the absence of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT). DEAT handles the international and domestic aspects of key UN agreements on indigenous peoples, including Agenda 21, the three Rio Conventions (Biodiversity, Climate Change and Desertification), and the creation and management agreements on World Heritage Sites, two of which are due to be on indigenous peoples lands.

Long term goals of San communities in South Africa include income generation projects in areas such as traditional crafts and eco-tourism, as well as training for employment in the mainstream economy, and increased opportunity and access to government jobs.

Despite the important court victory in Botswana in 2006, entitling the San to return to their land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, most of the San who were displaced from the CKGR have not been allowed to return, and remain in a vulnerable situation. The resolution of the CKGR issue is still pending, and San leaders are planning to take the case to the international level to increase pressure on the government from the international community to comply with the ruling.

The government of Botswana has put in place a management plan to carry out their obligations under the Ramsar Convention regarding wetlands in northern Botswana, which will hopefully be inclusive of indigenous peoples living in these areas.In northern Botswana, the Mababe Zokotsama campsight is a source of income for the San, and plans are underway to improve marketing and advertising in order to increase revenue. Development of income generation projects is a priority for the San in Botswana. Developing the Sodilo Hills as a tourist area is one goal, and marketing the oil of the xemania sour plum is another.

Rural development is still needed by Khomani and Kwe San groups in South Africa. Running water and proper sanitation are not widely available, and lack of access to healthcare and education due to distance is a problem. These issues, combined with inadequate opportunity to earn a living, leave San peoples vulnerable to TB and HIV.

This year, Khomani San leaders will be meeting with the Premier of Kimberly to discuss healthcare and education issues. As well, local leaders are participating in ongoing negotiating with government officials to bring water, sanitation, and other amenities to their communities.

South Africa's Department of Science and Technology has created a government advisory board on Indigenous Knowledge Systems.

The Republic of Botswana appeared strongly opposed to the passage of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples during 2007. In January 2007, Botswana attempted to convince the African Union to actively oppose the Declaration, but when the vote came in September, Botswana along with most African states voted in favour of the Declaration.
IPACC ran two workshops in August 2007 with the Trust for Okavango Culture and Development Initiative (TOCaDI) in Shakawe, Botswana, and the Komku Trust in D'kar, Botswana. The workshops involved feedback on the 2006 workshop in Tsumkwe, Namibia on the certification and formalisation of tracking, as well as an introduction to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Komku and WIMSA Botswana requested IPACC's support to host a major conference on indigenous women, leadership and violence to be held in D'Kar, hopefully in 2008.

The Botswana San hosted a highly successful Kuru Dance Festival in D'kar, Ghanzi District in August 2007. The annual event has grown over the years with 1500 guests in 2007, including the Deputy President, Ian Khama. The event brings together traditional and contemporary San dancers, as well as others including Himba people from northern Namibia. The event is a showcase of traditional San culture and talent.

In South Africa, IPACC's southern regional gender representative Annetta Bok, along with local community groups and government, worked to establish a drop-in centre. It is designed to provide space and opportunities for youth. Hopefully, the new centre will also host a community based organisation which will include victim empowerment training sessions for people who live with trauma such as loss of livelihood, dispossession and rape.
In August 2007, the South African government took a group of Khomani San youth to Kimberly for International Youth Day.

San, Nama and Griqua organisations created an Indigenous Peoples and Protected Areas Working Group. The network, supported by IPACC, includes peoples from the Richtersveld National Park, Augrabies Falls National Park, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and the Griqua Biosphere at Ratelsgat. This Working Group has been studying the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and has entered into a dialogue with South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and Department of Science and Technology (DST). Members attended the Open Ended Working Group on Article 8J of the Convention for Biological Diversity, as well as Southern Africa's workshop on Access and Benefit Sharing with GTZ.

In November 2007, IPACC Regional Representative, Mr Kabo Mosweu tragically died in a fire at his home in Shakawe, Botswana. Mosweu was one of the few Khwe San people who had received a university education and was working to strengthen his community's organisations.

IPACC held its Executive Committee meeting in Bujumbura in April, 2007. For the full report, see this IPACC article.
The South African Indigenous Peoples and Protected Areas Working Group attended this meeting, and also attended the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties in Bali.

On 13 December 2006, Botswana's High Court ruled that the government's eviction of San people from their ancestral lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) had been unconstitutional and illegal, and that the San were entitled to return to their land. However, the Botswana government has yet to comply with this ruling. The Government of Botswana began moving San out of the CKGR and into resettlement villages in 1997 and the San people filed their suit in 2002, when the eviction took full effect. See IPACC's article on the CKGR case for details of and reactions to the case.

In Namibia in 2006, IPACC cooperated with Cybertracker Conservation, WWF Namibia, the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, the N‡a Jaqna Conservancy, and Mount Burgess Mining to host a regional workshop on how to assess and certify tracking skills. The workshop was opened by the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of the Environment and Tourism. The report is available from IPACC or downloadable on the website. San groups in Outjo (Etosha National Park) and West Caprivi (Bwabwata Conservancy) have requested further support to set up their own tracking assessment and training projects.

In May 2006 a cultural week, funded by SASI, was held for San organisations.

In July 2005, the South African government hosted the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples, Professor Rodolfo Stavenhagen. The visit was a major event for Africa and for the indigenous peoples of South Africa. It was the first formal recognition by an African state of the UN’s mechanisms for protecting the rights of indigenous peoples. IPACC assisted the government, the UN and civil society to ensure that the Special Rapporteur would visit grassroots communities where they live and hold broad consultations with representative organisations. His main conclusions were that South Africa is a democracy where the full range of human and civil rights may be expressed and enjoyed by all, including indigenous peoples. Several important policy initiatives have been taken with regards to indigenous peoples, however the implementation has been inadequate and people remain in vulnerable situations. An important observation by the Special Rapporteur was that there is little co-ordination on indigenous issues between the different levels of government: national, provincial and local, and there is even less co-ordination between United Nations agencies in the region.

A major initiative for Botswana in 2005 was the setting up of a GIS map training centre in Shakawe, Ngamiland. Nathaniel Nuulimba and Thlokomelang Ngako work with local San people to map their territories and their knowledge of wild foods. They will provide GIS mapping support to a number of San projects around the country. The project is supported by the Trust for Okavango Cultural and Development Initiatives (TOCADI) along with foreign partners Open Channels and Strata360.

The Southern African San Education Forum (SASEF). SASEF in co-operation with the Universities of Botswana and Tromsø sponsored the Mother Tongue Education for Southern African Minorities conference. The full report, ''For the Benefit of All,'' can be found on the WIMSA website. (

In 2004, the South African Government created an interdepartmental working group on Khoe and San issues, to assist Indigenous peoples in strengthening their civil society so that they could actively claim rights and work with government on implementing UN declarations and instruments.

The South African government started negotiating with Khoe and San groups in 1998 about constitutional accommodation, and in November 2004, the South African cabinet adopted a ‘policy tools’ memorandum that set out mechanisms for creating policy on the rights of indigenous peoples. To date, little progress has been made on substantive policy and administration.

The Kuru Development Trust was formally set up in 1986. Many San NGOs and Community Based Organizations in Botswana are organized under the umbrella structure of the Kuru Family of Organisations, which includes income generation projects, development projects, education, literacy and mother tongue projects, as well as art and craft marketing projects.

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