Oct 15, 2020

Namibia: Ensuring Indigenous and Minority Participation in the Political Sphere

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization along with its members Captain’s Council of the Rehoboth Basters and the Movement for the Survival of the River Races in Zambesia (MOSURIRAZA) have jointly submitted a report to the UN OHCHR on the occasion of the 38th session of the Universal Periodic Review of Namibia. The report draws attention to the violations against minority groups in the country, highlighting specifically the situation of the Rehoboth Basters and Zambesians. The report sheds light on issues recognition, discrimination, land disputes, environmental degradation, culture and freedom of speech. In light of the findings of the report, some of the key recommendations made by the UNPO, the Rehoboth Basters and the MOSURIRAZA to the Republic of Namibia are to ensure indigenous participation in the political sphere as well as to guarantee a fair allocation of land plots to all society groups and develop a better infrastructure to tackle isolation, poverty and underdevelopment.

Today, Namibia has a multicultural population, with numerous ethnically distinct groups. The collection of ethnically disaggregated data is not permitted, so exact data on the diverse communities of Namibia are not published. However, there are numbers available on the languages spoken in the country, the largest being the following: Oshiwambo languages 49.7%, Nama/Damara 11%, Kavango languages 10.4%, Afrikaans 9.4%, Herero languages 9.2%, Zambezi languages 4.9%, English 2.3%, other African languages, 1.5%, other European languages 0.7%. The Owambo people are the largest group in the country, comprising about half of the total population. 

Namibia’s First Nations make up about 8% of the total population and reside in various regions throughout the country. While the Constitution of Namibia, in its Article 10.2, prohibits discrimination on the grounds of ethnic or tribal affiliation, it does not specifically recognize the rights of indigenous peoples or minorities, and there is no national legislation dealing directly with indigenous peoples. Some groups are regarded as marginalized communities such the the San, the Ovahimba, Ovazemba, Ovatjimba and Ovatue, but they are not categorized as indigenous. 

Many communities have been dispossessed of their traditional lands and, therefore, can’t sustain their livelihood and ancestral way of life. There are, nevertheless, over 50 recognized Traditional Authorities, who are entrusted with the allocation of communal land and the formulation of the traditional group's customary laws. However, the competencies granted to them do not entail core competencies of the state, like tax collection or control over executive organs.

Rehoboth Basters

The Rehoboth Basters are a mixed-race Afrikaans-speaking indigenous people who live in and around the town of Rehoboth, located in central Namibia. The community is estimated to number 55,000 people, though there are no official statistics on the Baster population.

The Rehoboth Basters are descendants of the aboriginal Khoi-People of Southern Africa and European colonists. The first communities emerged in the Cape Colony at the end of the eighteenth century. As a consequence of the social and political structures of the time in South Africa, they were not accepted by their forbears and suffered from discrimination committed by the colonial regime. In 1870s, a group of Basters migrated to present-day Namibia and acquired the Rehoboth Territory. They developed their own legislation, called ‘Paternal Laws’, and lived according to their culture, tradition, language and economy, which was closely tight to the land.

Under both German and South African colonial rule, the Rehoboth Basters managed to maintain some autonomy and enjoyed some recognition. However, the boundaries of their original area were reduced dramatically, causing strong protests and even violent confrontations. 

On 21 March 1990, Namibia was granted its independence. The Basters’ self-Government was then abolished and their traditional land and other properties were seized and claimed by the newly-formed government. These assets were registered in the name of the community and included fixed assets, breeding stock, schools, farmland, town lands, police houses and cash, among others. No compensation was paid as the Article 16.2 of the Namibian Constitution stipulates in such cases. The Basters did not receive any compensation for their loss, while other peoples were either granted reparation or their land back.

Furthermore, the Rehoboth area was divided in two parts and these parts were added to two larger constituencies Khomas and Hardap regions. This delimitation hinders the Basters’ access to political representation in Parliament. 

On 10 October 1992 the Basters’ Captain and the Peoples Assembly, the people's traditional leadership body, officially declared the Rehoboth Basters as Indigenous Peoples of Namibia. Nonetheless, as of today, they are not recognized by the Namibian Government.


The Zambesi people are very diverse and spread across a number of countries in Southern Africa (Namibia, Botswana and Zambia) between the north of the Kalahari Desert and south of the Zambezi River, yet lack a country to call their own. They have a unique culture and traditions based on their food and dances. Zambesians are known as the River Races since they live in riverain conditions. Zambesia is a nation full of rivers being the Zambezi river, the Kwando/Linyanti river and the Okavango river the largest.

Zambesia, formerly known as Sebitwane country, Makololo country and Sekeletu country, was a nation that was established long before the British and the German protectorates were instituted in 1884 and 1885 respectively. However, after the colonial territories were divided and became independent states, the Zambesi peoples found themselves divided over a number of countries, and they are now fragmented, struggling to maintain their own culture. This has also led to its people being oppressed and being denied the opportunity to manage its own affairs including natural resources for the benefit of its people.

In present-day Namibia, Zambesia’s claimed territory falls into the Caprivi Strip, which is currently split administratively between the regions of East Kavango and Zambezi. The Caprivi Strip was never part of the German Colony, as it was a British Sphere of Influence. In 1890 the Germans and the British reached an agreement that allowed the Germans to operate and cross the Strip in order to have access to German East Africa through the Zambezi River. The Germans were granted permission to do business there, but not to take over the region. 

Zambesians identify themselves within Namibia as indigenous peoples of Caprivi, although the State just recognizes them as Namibians from the Zambezi region.

Over 98,000 people live in the Zambezi Region of Namibia, which is about four percent of Namibia's citizens. The population is mostly composed of subsistence farmers who make their living on the banks of the Zambezi, Kwando, Linyanti and Chobe Rivers. Kavango East, on the other hand, houses around 148.000 people. It is a region with significant agricultural potential due to the abundance of rain.

Most of these communities still live in rural areas far away from the capital city of Windhoek. They face challenges such as poverty, inadequate water and sanitation provisions, under-nutrition and general under-development.

Read the full UNPO joint submission here.  The Captain's Council of the Rehoboth Basters also submitted an individual report, which you can read here.


Photo License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0