Indigenous Peoples' Rights of Southern Africa

By Stirling-Zanda, Simona | African Studies Review, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Indigenous Peoples' Rights of Southern Africa


Stirling-Zanda, Simona, African Studies Review


LAW & HUMAN RIGHTS Robert K. Hitchcock and Diana Vinding, eds. Indigenous Peoples' Rights of Southern Africa Copenhagen: IWGIA, 2004. IWGIA Doc. No 110. 278 pp. Photographs. Maps. Appendix. Bibliography. $25.00. Paper.

This collection, published by the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) with the financial support of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, consists of twelve essays focusing on the status of the original inhabitants of southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Angola, Zambia, and Zimbabwe). Known in the past as Bushmen, Basarwa, or Nama, they are now generically identified as San and Khoe. The authors are mainly anthropologists and geographers, but also political scientists, sociologists, and a few lawyers. Because indigenous rights are generally not recognized by the states concerned-with the notable exception of South Africa and to a lesser extent Namibia-legal analysis is restricted to a few instances: Chan's contribution on the Richtersveld case, and Chennell and Du Toil's account of the current legal framework in South Africa. Namibia's legal situation in respect to land rights receives a comprehensive review from Daniel and Harring, followed by Pakleppa's case study from Tsumkwe District West.

On the whole, however, this work is less about "rights" than about a wide range of economic and social policies that affect the San directly or indirectly. Each essay highlights the problems that arise in the areas where the San live, assessing the effect of specific policies not only on San identity but also on a whole spectrum of their rights: land, hunting, and women's rights; rights to education; rights to food and housing; minority rights and nondiscrimination. The global picture is that of a difficult, sadly uncoordinated struggle by a people swept up in history, politics, and war, eager to regain lost time and to exploit opportunities for development but with little reason for optimism. Hitchcock's contribution on the northeastern Namibia and northwestern Botswana conservation reserves reflects this balancing act rather well: It conveys the image of a people who wish to hold on to their past but are able to do so only by accepting modern economic constraints.

What seems to make the plight of the San particularly poignant is the loss of all control over their destiny. They are refugees, marginalized immigrants, involuntary freedom fighters, dispossessed, hungry, discriminated against-and all this against a background of general poverty and development problems. …

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