It is well known that conflicts in communal areas could have more than one root cause. Issues such as water or water points, grazing pastures, forests, fields for subsistence crops or just land in general may prove fertile ground for intercommunal conflicts. The interest of the free Namibian nation is to see its citizens in communal areas develop stable communities. These are supposed to be communities in which individuals and groups could peacefully reconcile their interests, enjoy their rights to land, satisfy their needs and pursue social and economic development. All citizens of Namibia are at liberty to follow traditional authority protocols in their quest to settle anywhere they so wish in a given communal area. Though these traditional authorities lack legislative powers, they play advisory roles that have seen peace prevail in so many rural communities of Namibia.
This article is meant to narrate cases of intercommunal animosities that have befallen some communal areas of the Zambezi Region. The article delves on land skirmishes that have become fashionable among residents of the Kabbe North constituency in general, and the Limbeza village in particular. Land disputes in Limbeza village have been simmering for the past decade and the current activities are symptomatic of people who have failed to solve problems in an amicable manner. The current squabbles over land in this village, where I was born and raised, are symptomatic of a group of people who hate one another and coexistence among them has failed. The ‘great grandparents’ of all of us in Limbeza village are not native to the Limbeza village in particular, and even to the Kabbe district in general. The ‘great grandparents’ to some – and the ‘grandparents’ to others – are descendants of different tribes from different parts of Africa. We all know people who occupy this area today are descendants of nomads who came from as far as Zambia, Zimbabwe and some parts of Namibia. Upon arriving in Masubia land, these wanderers helped themselves from the bevy of girls who were so plentiful that they outnumbered boys by a big margin.
Intermarriage was also experienced among nomads themselves. Those from some parts of Namibia, especially from the Mafwe and Mayeyi territories married either daughters or sisters of their fellow nomads from Zambia and Zimbabwe. These migratory intermarriages cemented their alliance forever, and they began to occupy pieces of land together and warned each other of any ill intentions by the native Subia people.
Due to resistance instigated by native Subia men against these new arrivals who came to marry their sisters, the migrants decided to move away from Subia villages. It did not matter to the Subia men where these new entrants came from, and they subjected all of them to the same kind of xenophobic treatment. These new entrants from different parts of Africa (Zimbabwe, Zambia and some parts of Namibia) felt isolated in a harsh territory. They quickly realised their strength was imbedded in their number. They, therefore, joined together to boost their number for protection and companionship. Some of these individuals, spurred by their nomadic instincts, and with the help of the Masubia Traditional Authority, continued to move eastwards. However, for as long as these men settled somewhere in the floodplains of the Subia people, Subia men claimed the territory to be theirs. Some of them, therefore, saw it fit to approach the Masubia Chief in his Kabbe Palace (known as Old Kabbe today) for advice. These were told to avoid the flood plains and the rivers, and rather settle somewhere very far, where their riverine tormentors could not reach.
Some of these men spotted the thick thickets of the Limbeza village, and due to the density of the forest and a plethora of carnivores such as lions, leopards, hyenas and cheetahs that inhabited the area, they were convinced they could not be bothered by their riverine nemeses. Their tormentors, after all, could not stay away from rivers, as their livelihood depended on rivers for water and food.
The peace enjoyed by those who settled first in Limbeza village today saw the arrivals of their fellow nomads intensify. They lived together in peace and cases of fighting over land were never part of their dream. They all enjoyed living under the Milomo pseudonym, which was the ancestral name for one of the families there. They enjoyed going about saying ‘we are the Milomos, a pseudonym which proved to be a source of cohesion and ‘watertight’ unity for them.
Their children were born to Subia mothers and up grew as Subia in the respective territory. The only language they could speak was Subia. They were named Subia names and were fed Subia food. They partook in Subia traditional activities and danced to Subia traditional songs. They walked the Subia way and laughed the way the Subia did. They practised the Subia black magic and also became ardent ‘witches’ and ‘wizards’ like the Subia people. This is how life was lived among them until many of us were born and then things began to change for the worse.
I feel obliged to observe the tables have now turned ‘topsy-turvy’. These people have now ceased to accept each other and treat one another with utter contempt. Some of these families feel they are more Subia and, therefore, more equal than others. One family questions why and how the other family ended up in Limbeza in the first place. They all boast ‘ancestral supremacy’ and are at each other’s neck as they gallantly try to reduce each other to nothing.
Others boast their grandparents were the bravest hunters to reach Subia land and, therefore, managed to colonise Limbeza village by fighting wars against lions and elephants. The others boast that their grandparents swooped on the area with a lot of cattle, goats and pigs, and, therefore, fed the entire village with milk and meat. Some point fingers at others and say their great grandparents decided to face economic hardships by tending to the livestock of their fellow nomads. This has emboldened those whose grandfathers had enough cattle to think their ‘grandparents’ were the pioneers of Limbeza village. Those whose grandparents are said to have been, in one way or the other, dependent on their fellow nomads have resolved on labelling others foreigners.
The hostilities have gone on for a very long time and has risen to a situation where they have begun to scare each other from pieces of land at the barrel of a gun. They are so religious with this old-fashioned way of winning power, even though all it has won for them is further hostility and intolerance. The ties that kept them together for more than half a century have been severed to irrecoverable levels. The families continue to move asunder and the ‘Milomo’ pseudonym has been abandoned with the unity it defined.
The situation in Limbeza village is exacerbated by the fact that the intermediary role played by the Vekuhane Traditional Authority has been ignored by some in this belligerent village. The fellow brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles and grandparents in that village need to know that they need to work together to achieve a just and stable world without violent conflict.
Relentless intracommunal conflicts, such as these of the Limbeza village, could be resolved by the formulation of sub-regional and inter-governmental institutions that would identify, assess and respond to recurring issues of inter- or intra-communal conflicts. These institutions could work together with traditional authorities to support and facilitate dialogue and mediation processes to bring about peace among warring parties in communal areas such as the Limbeza village.
The villagers of the Limbeza village have become polarised and have tried as hard as they could to destroy all ties that defined their relationship with each other for more than half a century. They have either failed to initiate a productive dialogue or they have not started talking to each other over the issue - and they have therefore reached an impasse. Simmering tensions of the magnitude of that of Limbeza village need to be contained and de-escalated before they spiral out of hand. Such conflicts typically build over a long period of time and are fuelled by unquestioned perceptions that are advanced as grievances by some members of different communities in a society.
I can, without reserve, mention that perceptions about ancestral land ownership in rural areas could be fuelled by the most powerful in such communities. These self-anointed ‘big men’ cook up stories about their over-powerful ancestors and, therefore, reduce the poor to sheer paupers and beggars of land.
Lastly, I would like to stress that the ‘ancestral land narrative’ in rural Namibia is won by the ‘big men’ through their invocation of self-created ancestral supremacy. It is all blatant lies meant to win them land and give them power over the weaker members of a given Namibian society. These ‘big men’ may come in the shape of constituency councillors, retired government officials, ministers and even relatives and friends of those who occupy positions in our traditional authorities. Many poor people, especially orphans, in rural Namibia are likely to experience such hardships, and those in the Limbeza village are no exception.
*Simataa Silume is a commentator on social issues. The issues raised in this article are his personal views and do not necessarily represent those of his employer.
2020-01-31 08:14:43 | 18 days ago