San women fight for their own

San women recently shared their own stories to illustrate the many developmental, economic and social issues that continue to plague the San people in Namibia.

14 November 2017 | Social Issues


As more San women become empowered to speak up about the long-standing injustices their communities face, there is concern that the economic woes facing the country and slack government leadership will stall the hard-won progress the communities have attained and worsen already dire conditions.

During a frank discussion hosted by the Women’s Leadership Centre (WLC) last week, 15 San women from around the country took the opportunity to share their own stories to illustrate the many developmental, economic and social issues that continue to plague the San people in Namibia.

Issues cited by the women, all who have participated for the past six years in the WLC programme, Speaking for Ourselves – Voices of San Young, ranged from a lack of or substandard healthcare facilities, education, policing, housing and many other issues, in addition to wide-ranging discrimination from outsiders.

Although all of the women praised the government and NGOs for their help over the years, they agreed that many issues remain unresolved and solutions are urgently needed.

Some of the problems include lack of safe and clean bathrooms in communities.

Women and girls are forced to walk long distances to reach the bathrooms, heightening the risk of rape and other abuses.

One woman claimed that a school at Witvlei has no functioning toilets and children and teachers are forced to relieve themselves in the veld.

Teachers who are unable to speak in the local San languages, as well as a lack of resources and corporal punishment at some schools, lead to high dropout rates, another woman said.

Many women said that ambulance drivers insist on being paid before they agree to take sick people to hospitals and some health and police officers refuse to help because of language barriers.

Local job opportunities for cleaners or gardeners are given to outsiders, denying the San an income in their own communities.

Some of the women complained that drought-relief food parcels are delayed, or spoiled, when they arrive in their communities.

Discrimination against the San is rife.

“The attitude of the people, often government employees, such as the police and nurses and teachers, is really bad. They don’t respect us and they treat us however they want,” Dinyando Patricia told the audience.

Talk to us

Tertu ‘X’aga’ Fernandu, a San activist and co-founder of the //Ana-Jeh San Youth Project, said a critical issue is that the community themselves have had little say in programmes ostensibly designed to help the San.

She also questioned the effectiveness of government departments tasked to help marginalised communities.

“They are claiming that we have a deputy minister for the San people. What has happened since he was appointed as the leader for us? We don’t see anything, we don’t see any development.

“People don’t even tell us how much money is budgeted for projects for the marginalised communities. We don’t know where the money is going. We don’t know about the projects that are there. We don’t know where to go.”

She added that although a lack of funds is cited as a reason for donor and state programmes being halted, the truth is that “these issues have been here with us for so long”.

“It seems to me that so many projects have come to Namibia in the name of the San people, but people don’t consult us. They talk to the leaders, and then the leaders give them authority to do the projects, but it’s not to the benefit of the people, they are creating the projects for their own benefit.”

The lack of government and donor funding has increased anxiety over the future of the San, Fernando said.

“Where are we going now? Where will we get money to help ourselves? We as the San people are standing up trying to do something for ourselves, but now we don’t have the money to do it. When we ask for money, we are told there are no funds.”

We will not give up

Maria Garises, and outspoken San activist from Drimiopsis in the Gobabis area, said the WLC programme has helped her learn about her and her community’s human rights and has strengthened her resolve to fight on behalf of her people.

“Now, I can look people in the eye and talk. I have learned we are all equal.”

Since joining the WLC programme, Garises has become a school board member and has become a facilitator for a San youth group, among many other positions from where she is able to speak on behalf of her community.

She says the she has learned to take pride in her culture and heritage and despite the long and challenging road ahead. “I will not give up. I know my rights and I know that if you don’t talk for yourself, no one will listen.”

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