Namibia: Hambukushu Leaders – Wildlife Don’t Vote… Traditional Authority Demands Piece of National Park Land

Hambukushu Traditional Authority leaders came out guns blazing this week by accusing the government of tampering with their livelihoods in the Bwabwata National Park as opposed to wildlife.

The leaders expressed their concerns in the presence of a parliamentary standing committee on constitutional and legal affairs that undertook a fact-finding mission to the Bwabwata National Park in Kavango East from 14 to 16 March 2022.

The MPs’ visit is in response to a petition submitted by the Hambukushu Traditional Authority during October last year.

The traditional authority had asked lawmakers to revisit a Cabinet decision taken in 1999, prohibiting communities in the Bwabwata National Park area from owning cattle.

The traditional leaders are also accusing the government of dividing the Hambukushu and Khwe communities, who have lived together in the park since time immemorial.

“We don’t have land. The ministry of environment is forcing that the land be used for animals. The land should be brought back to us, so human beings should have priority over wildlife. Wildlife does not even vote,” complained Erwin Bisho, senior headman at Kangongo village.

“The people are voting. Laws are subject to change. We want our land back. Let’s go back to the drawing board and start the conversation all over again. When we agree after the consultations start, then we can talk about the welfare of our wildlife”, he charged.

The senior traditional leaders demanded that the environment ministry comes out clearly and tells them where they should go, arguing that Bwabwata is their ancestral land.

Recently, the Hambukushu Traditional Authority and the Hambukushu-speaking community expressed dissatisfaction with the manner in which the environment and tourism ministry had been handling the issue regarding the development of Bwabwata as a national park.

Erwin Mbambo, leader of the Hambukushu Traditional Authority, yesterday stressed that the Hambukushu, Bwabwata or Western Caprivi issue spans from way back to colonial times.

“The ministry’s point of departure seems to be that the area had already been proclaimed as a national park during the colonial era, and thus the Hambukushu’s claim of not being consulted in the decision-making on Bwabwata doesn’t hold water. The traditional authority had always maintained that the land called Bwabwata or Western Caprivi has since time immemorial been part of their jurisdiction. They, therefore, feel entitled to have some kind of authority or power in the decision-making, management and beneficiation from the resources derived from the said land,” he emphasised.

According to Mbambo, it is exactly for this reason that the traditional authority and the community reject the latest decision of the government to remove cattle and prohibit cattle farming from the park.

He said the traditional authority regards this decision as draconian, unconstitutional and colonial in its origin and nature.

“Even the Khwe people, who are clandestinely being incited to apply for their own traditional authority within the lawful jurisdiction of the Hambukushu Traditional Authority, reject this decision by the ministry of environment and tourism of removing cattle from the so-called Bwabwata National Park,” Mbambo continued.

Kletus Karondo, who is the chairperson of the parliamentary standing committee on constitutional and legal affairs, said they undertook the visit to engage and collect facts on the issue.

Equally, the committee listened to the leaders and identified the affected groups as well as the issues as set out in the petition.

“Thereafter, we are expected to prepare a report that will eventually be tabled in the National Assembly for consideration and discussion,” Karondo said.

Amongst other things, the petition submitted by the traditional authority last year seeks the setting aside of the decision declaring the Bwabwata area as a national park so as to primarily uplift restrictions on land use and cattle farming.

The document titled “Petition on the management of Bwabwata communal land by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism”, is calling upon the National Assembly to revisit the Cabinet decision of 1999 that no cattle be allowed in the Bwabwata National Park or any other game park in the north-east.

They also demand that the “promised tourism development” in the Mahango Core Area that will benefit the Hambukushu community be implemented.

The other demand is that the Hambukushu Traditional Authority be allocated a farming unit within the Bwabwata area that must be considered by the government.

“The proclamation on the Bwabwata National Park is illegal, and must be revisited. The ministry should consult the traditional authority on the management of the Bwabwata area,” Mbambo demanded.

The committee promised to engage the environment ministry at a later stage to hear their side.

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