The Swakopmund-based Ovahimba living museum Cultural Village members have cried foul over the Swakopmund municipality’s decision to evict them from the Martin Luther Historical Site where they operated.
Labeling the municipality’s actions as unfair, the group’s leader, Marikondjo Tjambiru, said the cultural village was their only source of income because they are marginalised and uneducated. He said he moved from Opuwo in 2010 to Swakopmund in search of greener pastures. The municipal council leased the area to them in July 2016 for nine years and 11 months, with a rental fee of N$465.75 per month. Part of the stipulations for leasing the area to the group was that they were only allowed to put up temporary structures.
In a letter dated 3 February 2021, the municipality informed the group that it was revoking their use of the land, stating that the action was necessitated by the ongoing misunderstandings that arose from the cultural village members splitting into two factions.
They also informed the group that the land was earmarked for a cultural centre for the town, and once it had been demarcated, invitations for expression of interest from different cultural groups/individuals who want to lease a portion at the new centre will be compiled.
The Ovahimba Cultural Village was the brainchild of Tjambiru who petitioned the municipality for land. The municipality agreed to lease out the area to the cultural village with Tjambiru at the helm in 2016. He subsequently recruited the current members of the cultural village. Due to discord among the members, the group split into two factions, one under Tjambiru’s leadership, while the second faction was led by Kaveturire Tjijerua.
Both Tjambiru and Tjijerua admit that they sought the municipality’s intervention for the issues they were having and it proved to be a lengthy process spanning over two years. “In October 2020, the municipality told us to merge the two factions and create a committee from the two factions which we did. We didn’t get a chance to communicate the names of the committee members to the municipality yet before we heard through the media that they were terminating our lease on 29 January 2021,” Tjambiru lamented.
He also accused the former municipal councillors of interfering with the cultural village and claims that’s where the discord originated from the councillors informing the community that the cultural village belonged to all Ovahimba groups in Swakopmund and not just Tjambiru’s group.
“We didn’t have money when we started this project so we looked for sponsors to aid us with purchasing building materials and built all the structures ourselves…this cultural village is our livelihood… A means for us to sustain ourselves as marginalised people… Will they compensate us for our structures that they want us to destroy?” he queried.
Tjijerua, who is now second in command of the group, admitted that they did have issues but insisted that they ironed it out and set their differences aside. He said that they were ready to comply with all the municipality’s stipulations, as they just want the village back.
According to the municipality’s spokesperson Ailie Gebhardt, Tjambiru was informed that in order to lease the land for the cultural village, there had to be a constitution for the organisation to have longevity. A committee was established by the municipality to manage the affairs of the cultural village and they agreed Tjambiru would take a leading role regarding the setting up of the village and the management of finances, as he was the initiator of the project.
“It is understood that after the land was awarded and the operation started, new members joined. Unfortunately, a feud broke out amongst the members resulting in the group splitting into factions one of which was under the leadership of Mr Kaveturire Tjijerua. Because of the infighting, the development of the project came to a halt. To solve the infighting and get the project on track, staff members of the Local Economic Development Section engaged members from different groups on numerous occasions to find an amicable solution. Most of these efforts however have not yielded the desired outcome,” she explained
Gebhardt said they received a letter dated 26 October 2020 from Tjijerua in which he alleged that Tjambiru refused to have a meeting with them stating that he is not ready to take on new members and he ordered them not to enter the cultural village until further notice.
“It is clearly indicated above that the two factions did not reconcile as you are alleging unless they have resolved their issues to avoid losing the land, but failed to inform council thereof,” Gebhardt noted.
She stressed that the main objective of the council to allocate this piece of land to the Ovahimba was not to benefit an individual, but it was meant to be an attraction and a source of income for all the Ovahimba people in Swakopmund.
Furthermore, the municipality is said to have received a letter dated 21 October 2020 from the Eonga traditional group, which is alleging that they as a group representing Ovatua, Ovahimba and Ovatjimba residing in DRC informal settlement, used to perform cultural dances at the cultural village at Martin Luther site, however, they were not compensated by the existing committee, who they alleged were not transparent and thus requested for an election so they can vote for the leadership of their choice.
As to the question of whether the municipal council would be compensating the Ovahimba cultural village for the demolition of their structures and relocate them, Gebhardt stated: “They must remove the structures. Council will not bear the cost for the removal of the temporary structure from the site. Unfortunately, the council will not be responsible to relocate the affected parties; they were granted a unique opportunity and did not make use of it.”