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The Impact of Nature Conservation on the San: A Case Study of Etosha National Park

The Impact of Nature Conservation on the San:
A Case Study of Etosha National Park
Ute Dieckmann
“In conflict between good and evil the solution is
simple – seek the triumph of good over evil. But in the
conflict between good and good the balancing of
conflicting moral imperatives is painful and trying, and
without clear implications for a correct course of
action. The resident peoples issue is clearly in this
latter category.” (West 1991:xix).
In Southern Africa, sizeable portions of land have been declared national
parks or game reserves during the last century (Table 1, see Introduction,
this volume). The national park concept includes the idea that people do not
live within the protected area, nor consume its resources (Brechin et al.
1991:7-10). Under the illusion of being natural systems apart from, and not
at all influenced by the political, social or cultural developments around
them, national parks have become important tourist attractions. But
appearances are deceptive: those areas have become off-limits to local
people who have been living on that land for centuries.
In Southern Africa, areas of far more than 100,000 km² are now restricted
for use by local people. During the colonial era, national parks were often
established in arid areas not suitable for farming. For a long time, those areas
served as refuges or niches for (former) hunter and gatherer groups before
nature reserves were established and people were resettled. Thus, San belong
to the people most affected in Southern Africa by the establishment of those
parks or by nature conservation legislation in general (Taylor 2000,
Hitchcock 2001, Ikeya 2001).
In Namibia, about 13.6% of the total land area is designated as national
parks and game reserves (Blackie and Tarr 1999:13). One can only estimate
how many people have been affected by the establishment of these parks,
either by relocation or by grave restrictions on the use of natural resources
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within the reserves. The fact that exact data about the consequences for the
resident people are missing for most of the reserve areas can be viewed as a
sign of the lack of relevance taken for the local people in the planning and
realisation of these parks. Compensation for lost land or lost resources has
never been paid to the people who were forced to abandon their areas for the
sake of national parks or game reserves.
This article outlines the development of Etosha National Park as one
example of the impact nature conservation has had on local people. Whereas
other articles in this volume deal with more recent approaches of nature
conservation (Hohmann, and Taylor, this volume), which are thought to
combine the protection of natural resources with community development,
and therefore begin to include local people in the planning and realisation of
conservancy areas, this chapter will – with its focus on Etosha – explore the
more ‘traditional’ approach. It has pretended that nature conservation is a
goal in itself (which it in fact never was) and mostly disregarded the people
affected by the establishment of national parks, game reserves and
conservation areas.
I compare the ‘history’1 that can be reconstructed from archival material
with perspectives from within, from the people themselves who were
affected. It will become clear that the combined analysis of different source
material – oral history and archival documents – offers another
understanding of the past than the examination of just one of these.
This article is based on archival work done in the Namibian National
Archives2 in 1999 and on interviews conducted during my adjacent
fieldwork in Outjo and Etosha between 1999 and 2001. The knowledge that I
gained in the archives influenced my approach in the field, but the ‘history’
presented by the local people held a different interpretation than I had
1 The quotation marks for ‘history’ are meant to emphasise that history always
includes interpretation. Therefore, there is no single ‘history’, but many different
‘histories’ about the past. However, we can only approach the past through the
different histories about it.
2 The ‘history’ constructed from archival material may be found in Dieckmann, in
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 41
Map1: Etosha National Park and surrounding
The Area and People
Etosha National Park (22,270 km²) is one of the world’s largest national
parks and the premier tourist attraction in Namibia (Mendelsohn et al.
2000:34). The popularity of this park is based on the abundance of wildlife:
most of Namibia’s lions, elephants, rhinos and other large animals live
within the boundaries of the park. In 1997, about 98,100 tourists visited
Etosha; two-thirds of all foreign tourists to Namibia include Etosha in their
itinerary. Etosha is obviously the best opportunity in Namibia to see African
wildlife, a major motivation for western tourists to visit Africa (Mendelsohn
et al. 2000:30, 34). Today, when tourists travel on the comfortable roads of
the park they think of themselves as travelling in a virgin natural
environment. But the area south of Etosha Pan, where most of the tourist
roads run, has long been the home of a hunter-gatherer community. It
belonged to people who were generally categorised as one of the “Bushman”
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or San groups of Namibia,3 and who came to be known as the Haifom
during the 19th century. During that time and into the beginning of the 20th
century, the Haifom lived in the region stretching from Ovamboland,
Etosha, Grootfontein, Tsumeb, Otavi and Outjo to Otjiwarongo in the south
(some authors claim that the southern limits extended to Rehoboth, e.g.,
Bleek 1927, Schapera 1930), and were enmeshed in trade networks and
sociopolitical relations with surrounding groups. The park was created in the
early 20th century, but initially and for a long time afterward, the Haifom
were accepted as residents within the game reserve,4 while the surrounding
area was increasingly occupied by white settlers. Today, the Haifom are
left without legal title to any land in Namibia (Widlok 1999:32).
The Beginning: Precolonial Times and the German Period (1850-1915)
In the 19th century, the region around Etosha Pan was visited by travellers
(e.g., Anderson 1863, Galton 1889, Schinz 1891) and missionaries (e.g.,
Hahn and Rath 1859), who mentioned Bushmen living there. These
travellers often employed Bushmen for odd jobs during their journeys (e.g.,
Schinz 1891:339) and reported about their contacts with Oshivambo-
speaking people in the north and their copper mines near Otavi (Hahn
1867:286, Schinz 1891:340, see also Widlok, this volume). Galton (1889)
observed that the Bushmen regarded the ‘Ghou Damup’ (now known as
Damara) as inferior and had taught them their language (Galton 1889:154)5.
Germany took control of the territory in 1884, but only some fourteen
years later, the colonial administration was in a position to prepare plans to
exert control over the Haifom. In 1898, a treaty was signed with Aribib,
3 The label “Bushman” is no longer popular in the official discourse in Namibia,
and the term “San” is used instead. But in informal conversations, people,
especially farmers, still talk of “Bushmen.” I use the term “Bushmen” in the
context of historical sources, since the attitudes and actions of the Administration
and of white society at large was motivated by their ideas about ‘Bushmen.’
Even academics disagree about the politically and/or scientifically correct term;
for a discussion see Gordon (1992:4f., 17ff.) and Widlok (1999:6f.).
4 Most of the earlier writers did not distinguish between the different San groups.
Thus, even when specific cases are mentioned, it is not easy to determine which
group a given author means. But since the area of Etosha was always ‘Haifom-
country,’ one may assume that references to Bushmen living there indicate the
5 The ideology about the Bushmen, which, grounded in evolutionary assumptions,
was to become popular later, was not expressed as openly in 19th-century travel
accounts as it was in 20th-century accounts.
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 43
one of the Haifom ‘leaders,’ in order to incorporate the Haifom into the
colonial system. Aribib ceded to the Germans a large piece of land between
Outjo and Grootfontein for the annual payment of 500 Marks, protection and
the permanent right to forage in the area (Gordon 1992:50). Köhler
comments: “The purpose of the treaty was to get the Hei-fum Bushmen of
the Etosha Pan under German control and create some order between the
Bushmen and the colonists” (Köhler 1959:19).
The idea of creating a game reserve in northern Namibia came into
discussion at the very beginning of the 20th century. In 1902, the district
administrator (Bezirksamtmann) of Outjo – a town situated approximately
100 km south of Etosha – suggested declaring the Etosha area a game
reserve, mainly to close the area to traffic in order to keep hunters out
(SWAA Nature Conservation and Tourism:iv)6. Control posts south of
Etosha Pan at Namutoni, Rietfontein and Okaukeujo had already been
erected in 1896-1897 in order to prevent stock movement as a consequence
of the outbreak of rinderpest during those years (de la Bat 1982:12).
In 1907, Governor von Lindequist proclaimed the Etosha region one of
three game reserves7. According to this ordinance (Ordinance 88 of 1907),
the hunting of kudu cows, eland, zebra, buffalo and giraffe was prohibited in
game reserves, and vehicular traffic required written permission of the
government (SWAA Nature Conservation and Tourism:iv). Lieutenant
Adolff Fischer, commander of Fort Namutoni at that time, became the first
warden of the game reserve. Fischer was transferred in 1910, and two years
later Fort Namutoni was abandoned by the Germans. Private farm ownership
was still allowed within the boundaries of the game reserve, but this lapsed
in 1935 (Berry 1980:53).
6 Hunting had become an economic enterprise in the northern parts of Namibia,
including the Etosha area, during the second half of the 19th century. Game,
especially lions, rhinos and elephants, had become scarce. The last herd of
elephants was killed at Klein Namutoni in 1881. By 1886, no white rhino were
left, and black rhinos had found refuge only in the most inaccessible spots. By
the turn of the century, lions had been completely exterminated in the Namutoni
area (Germishuys and Staal 1979:110-111).
7 “[...] Als Wildreservate werden bestimmt: [...] 2.) Das Gebiet südlich, westlich
und nordwestlich der Etoscha-Pfanne in den Bezirken Grootfontein und Outjo,
welches durch folgende Linien begrenzt wird: Im Osten und Süden die
Westgrenze des Ovambolandes vom Kunene bis Osohama. Von dort nach
Koantsab und über Ondowa, Chudop, Obado [?], Aigab, Vib, Chorub nach Gub.
Von Gub über Otjokaware (Kowares) bis Oachab. Von Oachab das Hoarusib-
Rivier bis zum Meere. Im Westen vom Meere. Im Norden vom Kunene bis zur
Grenze des Ovambolandes [...]” (Ordinance 88 of 1907, ZBU MII E.1).
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The explicit reason for the establishment of game reserves was to protect
game in specific areas, since game had become scarce in the territory over
the preceding century8. However, economic motivations are clearly
articulated in the explanatory paper for establishing the game reserves:
[...] The high economic value of game in the country is known
to everybody. In some kitchens you can find game as fresh
meat. The practical value of the skin as straps and whips, etc., is
known. No statistics are available, but if you calculate its value
by taking the average price of meat as a basis, you would get a
sum of more than 200,000 M. If you took this sum as annual
pension, the capital that we have in the game population in the
country would exceed several million. We all get this pension
for free [...] Thus, each inhabitant should try to protect game
because it is in the interest of every individual [...] The use of
game reserves for the country might be the following: Centres
could be established where game could multiply without
disturbance. This increase may mean that game would have to
spread out to other grazing areas and eventually reach the
farms, where it could be shot and processed [...] I must add the
following remarks to the different paragraphs of the
proclamation. To §1: The defined reserves comprise areas that,
because of their nature, are not fit for farms either now or in the
near future […]”9
Therefore, the conservation of nature served specific purposes, and the
settlers and colonial administration were to benefit in a direct and material
way: Game meat was pinpointed as a crucial resource for the colony. For
this reason, it was essential that the game reserve was not fenced. No hints
could be found that any need of administrative control over the Haifom
living in that area was taken into consideration in the decision to declare the
Etosha area a game reserve.
The proclaimed Game Reserve No. 2 included today’s Etosha National
Park, as well as Kaokoland from the Kunene River to the Hoarusib River, an
area of 93,240 km² (de la Bat 1982:12). Since its proclamation, Game
Reserve No. 2 has undergone many minor and several major boundary
8 The Germans had proclaimed the first game laws in South West Africa some
years before the establishment of game reserves (Germishuis and Staal
9 ZBU MII E.1, translation, mine
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 45
alterations under the South African Administration (Berry 1980:53, de la Bat
1982: 14, 19f.)10.
During the German period, the Haifom were permitted to stay in the
reserve. The goals of nature conservation and the policy towards ‘natives’
were contradictory and not strongly related to each other. The prohibition of
hunting in this area applied only to hunting with guns, but not to bow and
arrow. Archival documents do not give detailed insight into the policy in
regard to people within the park. In 1908, it was suggested that more
Bushmen from the area outside the game reserve should be settled near
Namutoni11; this idea cropped up again during the South African period (see
below). In 1910, the District Chief (Distriktchef) Zawada asked for more
police patrols to round up Haifom at the different waterholes and bring
them to Namutoni, where they should work and be fed with maize, in order
to protect the game living in the reserve12. But the administration did not
follow up on this plan. Lieutenant Fischer summarised the attitude of the
German colonial government towards the Haifom in a comment in his
report on an expedition to the Omuramba, Ovambo and Okavango in 1908:
“With the advancement of settlement, the Heigum will soon face the choice
of becoming farm labourers or moving to areas where they will eventually
disappear under more unfavourable living conditions. The tribe of the
Heigum is not essential for the development of the colony.”13 Whereas game
was worth protecting for the sake of the colonial economy, the extinction of
Bushmen was not considered to be a loss for colonial development.
Although there was various discourse during the German and South
African colonial periods (e.g., by farmers, missionaries and the
administration) concerning the treatment of Bushmen that were by no means
consistent, they all shared some underlying assumptions grounded in the
racist and pseudo-Darwinist ideology of the time, which viewed Bushmen on
the lowest rung of human evolution, in an order just above that of animals. It
was supposed to be merely a matter of time before Bushmen disappeared
10 The reasons for and discussions about those changes would themselves be worth
a detailed analysis.
11 ZBU W II B.2, Kaiserlicher Bezirksamtmann Grootfontein an das Kaiserliche
Gouvernement, 15-8-1908.
12 ZBU WII O.4, Distriktamt Namutoni, Bericht, 10-3-1910. If the the above
quotation is taken to its logical extreme, one could conclude that the Haifom
should be fed with maize in order to keep the meat for the white settlers.
13 ZBU F XIII B.4, 15-1-1909, translation, mine.
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completely from the face of the earth14. The Haifom, or Bushmen in
general, were rarely regarded as subjects, but rather objects that had to be
subjugated as much as possible in order to serve the colonial powers, a fact
clearly reflected in the language used. The control over and necessary
assimilation of the people would eventually lead to their inevitable
Views from Within
The majority of people still alive today did not personally experience the
German colonial period. Therefore, it is difficult to draw a picture based on
the few statements concerning those times,15 nevertheless, some aspects may
be noted.
The Haifom lived in family groups near the various waterholes inside
the park. According to informants, every group occupied a specific area that
often included a number of waterholes, specific bushfood areas or hunting
grounds, comparable to the social organisation of some other San groups
(Barnard 1986). Headmen (very rarely headwomen) were responsible for
peace and order; they were called to settle disputes and to mediate between
individuals. They had to be asked permission by people from other areas for
hunting or gathering rights. Usually people moved within their area
according to season, and extended family networks guaranteed access to
natural resources in other areas. But their detailed knowledge was often
limited to their specific area, and they didn’t know specifics about the
headmen of other areas, seasonal mobility within that area, etc.
Contact with other groups also existed: The Haifom exchanged meat,
salt or ostrich eggs for mahangu or tobacco with Ovambo. This contact
intensified when Oshivambo-speaking men were recruited as contract
labourers for the farms further south. On their way back home they crossed
the area inside the game reserve. These contacts were not always peaceful:
attacks and robberies from the Haifom occurred occasionally. The elder
people in Etosha whom I talked to could not remember Damara staying there
14 The idea of the “vanishing race,” or the extinction of indigenous people, was not
only restricted to the San in southern Africa. The same idea was long held the
paradigm of research among the indigenous people of North America (see Heinz
15 In addition, most, if not all, of the elder people are illiterate and not really
concerned about dates. It is often difficult to reconstruct any kind of
chronological order.
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 47
during their lifetime, but they were told by their grandparents that Damara
were used by the Haifom to carry meat for them.
In the memory of the Haifom, Aribib is not such a unique man. Some
did not know him at all, others claim that it was not Aribib, but in fact
]Arixab, who signed the treaty with the Germans. Later on he ran into
difficulties with the German colonial administration and fled to
Ovamboland. A photograph of Aribib/]Arixab (stored in the National
Archives in Namibia) circulated in the 1990s among some of the Haifom
communities, perhaps influencing their knowledge about him and his
significance as well.
I came across an interesting point of view that was mentioned by an elder
man, a proud Xomkhoeb (a Haifom from Etosha Pan16), concerning the
Haifom’s relationship with the Germans and the settlement of white
farmers south of Etosha:
K: [...] Some people did not have leaders. They just moved
Q: But were there problems when they came into the area of
another leader?
K: Yes, there were problems. They were coming to steal also,
they went away again. Not all the people were good people.
Q: Did they not know the law?
K: They were certainly wild people [laughing]. There were also
wild bushmen [laughing]. They were wild people, it is true!
Yeah. I have seen it myself. Also at the farm, when I was young
... That side ... [south of Etosha], they had those habits. [In] the
German time, they made the Germans angry. My grandfather
has told me that. The Germans had come with the cattle. Now,
they [the ‘wild’ Haifom] did not want to struggle hunting, the
cattle are tame.... So they started to slaughter the cattle.
Germans became angry because of that! [...] When they started
to shoot, it was not the mistake of the Germans. All the old
people, they know that actually the wild bushmen, the wild
Haifom, it was they, who made the people angry. So the
Germans decided, all right, we have to fight back now.
16 Several geographic subgroups of the Haifom (e.g., Xomkhoen, WKhomakhoen,
Kokarakhoen, Sêkhoen) existed, obviously with a high identificational value.
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(K.K., 21.04.01, translation, mine17)
For this man, the Germans were not guilty of taking the land south of
Etosha that had already been settled by Haifom people. He considered the
Haifom in that area to be the ones causing conflict with the Germans. It is
important for the interpretation of this perspective to remember that this man
lived in Etosha nearly all of his life and that Etosha was a kind of protected
area during that time, and nobody had considered settling there to farm18.
The Haifom themselves were not a united group, and relationships to the
colonial administration varied significantly, certainly dependent upon which
way the people were affected by the colonial state geographically (either by
staying in the game reserve, by being exposed to the advancing settlement
south and east of it, or to the Oshivambo-speaking people in the north) or
They [the people south of the game reserve] made problems.
When they made them [the settlers] angry on that side, they ran
away up to Etosha, here to Xoms [Etosha Pan]. Oh!! That time,
my grandfather, he was a policeman of the Germans, they just
caught them [the escaping people], they tied them/fastened
them. Called the police, the police came... they did not want to
have trouble here, they heard, the men had stolen, they had run
away to here. So they just looked for them slowly, and they
caught them and tied them. Later, somebody called the police.
(K.K. 21.04.01, translation, mine)
Working for the police could ensure a good and secure relationship with
the Germans, which they didn’t want to threaten by hiding other people’s
offences. Is it necessary to stress that the Haifom who lived in the area
initially settled certainly had another perspective?
Change: South African Period (1915-1940s)
During World War I, South African troops invaded the Etosha area and
occupied Fort Namutoni. Prohibitions concerning the hunting of specific
game were lifted for the duration of the war since the military required food
17 I worked with a translator (Haifom–English) at the beginning of my field
research. Later on, I conducted most of the interviews in Afrikaans and these
translations are my own (the translator is indicated below each quotation).
18 Ruins from German houses can be found at some waterholes. But according to
informants, the houses were abandoned after the battle between the Ovambo and
Germans at Namutoni in 1904.
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 49
and Game Reserve No. 2 offered a vast supply of fresh meat19 (Germishuis
and Staal 1979:112f.). Later on, the German Proclamation was repealed by
Ordinance No. 1 of 1916 and amended to suit the new situation. Among
other things, the ordinance made provision for hunting licenses and
introduced penalties for offences. Specific game (e.g., elephant, rhino,
buffalo, giraffe, zebra) were declared ‘royal’ and could be hunted only for
scientific reasons.
The South African Military Administration reconfirmed the borders of
Game Reserve No. 2 (SWAA Nature Conservation and Tourism:iv).
Permanently manned police posts were established at Namutoni and
Okaukuejo. The sergeants of these stations were also responsible for
tourism, which was slowly starting to develop (de la Bat 1982:12). They had
to write regular reports about their areas concerning the game, stock in the
game reserve, Bushmen living within their areas, native employment,
visitors, etc.20 In the beginning, Captain Nelson assumed the post of game
ranger for Game Reserve No. 2. In 1928, the post was abolished and the
native commissioner of Ovamboland, Major Hahn,21 took over and acted as
part-time game warden.22 It involved a remarkable combination of duties:
He was responsible for both game and ‘natives.’ The abolition of the post of
game ranger may document the lack of significance of nature conservation
(for whatever purpose) for the South West African Administration during
that period.
It is impossible to find exact figures on the number of Haifom living in
the game reserve during those days. The monthly and annual reports were
written by people responsible for different areas (e.g., Namutoni or
Okaukuejo), which also included land outside the game reserve.
Additionally, the accounts given are based only on estimates, since the
officers did not have any detailed knowledge about the Haifom living in
their areas, a fact which they often mentioned in their reports:
In Ovamboland proper there are few real Bushmen [...] It is
impossible to give accurate figures […] of the Bushmen
19 Again, it becomes clear that nature conservation or game protection is neither a
goal in itself nor a moral issue, but serves specific purposes that can change over
time and depend on the various interest groups involved.
20 E.g., NAO 33/1. These reports resulted in a huge number of archival documents
that help to reconstruct the development of the park and the relationship between
the Haifom and the representatives of the South African Administration.
21 Up until the 1940s, Major Hahn occupied this post (Gordon 1992:248).
22 SWAA A511/1, Administrator to the Commandant, S.W.A. Police, 24-8-28.
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inhabiting the country which falls under the control of this
office – including the game reserves – […] It must be remarked
[…] that Bushmen come and go according to season. This is
particularly the case with the wild Bushmen inhabiting Eastern
Ovamboland who roam from place to place in that vast area
following the water and game [...]23
Analogous to typologies of animals, the administration distinguished
between ‘wild’ and ‘tame’ or ‘domesticated’ Bushmen, sometimes adding to
these the category of ‘semi-wild.’ Originally, this typology was meant to be
spatial and economic: the ‘wild’ Bushmen were those not permanently
incorporated into the administrative system, and generally living beyond the
Police Zone, while ‘semi-wild’ Bushmen came from beyond the Police Zone
to work temporarily on farms. Finally, the ‘tame’ Bushmen were those who
were permanently employed on settler farms (Gordon 1992:90). However,
the officials used this categorisation quite arbitrarily. Some officers used
‘blood’ as a criterion for the distinction, implying crude racial concepts.
Others were of the opinion that stock thieves were automatically ‘wild,’ and
sometimes the border of the Police Zone was simply used as the marker
between ‘wild’ and ‘tame.’ Thus, it is difficult to grasp whom the officials
exactly meant when talking about ‘wild’, ‘semi-wild’ or ‘tame’ Bushmen.
But regardless of these problems, it can be concluded that a few hundred
to one thousand Haifom lived in the park, mainly inhabiting the southern
part of Etosha Pan. Lebzelter (1934:83) even estimated that 1500 Haifom
lived around Etosha Pan in the 1920s. The number varied with economic and
environmental circumstances, such as the need for labour on surrounding
farms or the seasonal availability of wild foods, but no clear trends can be
identified, and had there been one, the officials, anxious to document
everything, would most probably have described them.
Within the reserve, the Haifom lived mostly off hunting and gathering.
In the 1920s,24 the game ranger received instructions from the government
regarding various subjects, one of which fell under the heading Bushmen:
The Ranger should take every opportunity on his patrols, of
getting in touch with Bushmen and of endeavouring to persuade
them either to hire themselves out to employment with farmers
or others to take up their residence away from the vicinity of
occupied farms, in the [Game] Reserve. It should be noted that
23 NAO 11/1, Annual Report 1937.
24 Without exact date.
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 51
wild Bushmen should not be prosecuted for offences committed
beyond the Police Zone, except if of a most serious nature.
Breaches of the Game Law, for example, should pass unnoticed
unless firearms are used.25
In regard to Bushmen in the area, the policy offered two possibilities:
either employment on farms, which meant a direct integration into the
colonial system, or living within the boundaries of the park. It was the lesser
evil to have Haifom staying there than to have them on the farms ‘roaming
around’ and disturbing farmers and the development of the colony. It
becomes evident that the park was seen as kind of refuge for Bushmen in the
colonial system.
Some Haifom kept dogs within the boundaries of the game reserve.
Hunting with dogs was not allowed and could only be controlled by a
complete ban on dogs, which was introduced in 193026. But generally,
hunting by the Haifom was not seen as a problem in the 1920s and 1930s,
as the following comments indicate: “The amount of game shot by Bushmen
is by no means decreasing the game” (1926)27 or, ten years later, “The game
of the pan was on the increase, even after making liberal allowance to the
Bushmen there.”28 There were undoubtedly certain limitations (no firearms,
no dogs, no shooting of giraffe, kudu, eland, impala and loeffelhund),29 but
even the violation of these prohibitions was not generally punished. On one
hand, some officials were of the opinion that it was better to have Bushmen
live within the game reserve and kill game for their own consumption than to
have them move out and commit stock thefts at the occupied farms. In 1926,
the game warden wrote to the native commissioner “I encourage the
Bushmen to leave the vicinity of occupied farms and to reside in the Game
Reserve, where their activities can be controlled to a certain extent, this does
not apply to ‘tame Bushmen.’”30 On the other hand, station commanders at
Namutoni or Okaukuejo were sometimes concerned about strange Bushmen
moving in and killing game: “I have the honour to report that it would
appear from investigations that quite a lot of Bushmen have made their
25 NAO 33/1: Instructions for the Guidance of Game Ranger. The border of the
Police Zone passed through Etosha (see Hartmann et al. 1998: map viii).
26 NAO 33/1, Secretary for S.W.A. to the N.C., Ovamboland, 24-10-1930.
27 SWAA A50/26, Game Warden to the N.C., Ovamboland, 20-8-1926.
28 NAO 33/1, Magistrate Grootfontein to the Secretary, 24-8-1936.
29 NAO 33/1, Officer in Charge, N.A., Ovamboland to the Post Commander,
S.W.A. Police, Namutoni 17-9-1928.
30 E.g., SWAA A50/26, 20-8-1926.
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appearance in the Reserve within the last two months [...] The continuance
of Game being destroyed is a daily routine [...]”31 The Secretary for SWA
pointed out in October 1930 that the Bushmen’s ‘privilege’ of being able to
shoot game for their own consumption did not extend to Bushmen not
resident in the reserve “who merely come in following game [...]”32 The
possibility of using the park as a refuge for Bushmen was obviously limited.
But at that time, the problem did solve itself for a while: Only one month
later it was reported that Bushmen were gradually leaving for farms to the
south of Etosha.33
In addition to hunting and gathering, a lot of families had livestock:
especially goats, but also a few cattle and donkeys. In the 1920s, there was
uncertainty among the officials about the number of stock that should be
allowed34. It was decided then that the Bushmen should not keep more than
ten head of large and fifty head of small stock per person within the borders
of the reserve35. But the issue of livestock was to be raised again later.
During the 1930s, there were fair numbers of livestock at some waterholes;
for example, at Okevi in 1939 there were twenty-eight cattle, two donkeys
and sixty-nine goats belonging to different owners36. The station commander
at Namutoni again suggested a reduction in numbers, and the Monthly
Report two months later states that all Bushmen stockowners had reduced
their herds considerably37.
Besides foraging and raising stock, there were several opportunities for
seasonal or regular employment, either inside or outside the game reserve. In
the 1920s, a number of Haifom were employed in the Bobas mine near
Tsumeb38. They could also seek work on farms around the park, a possibility
that several men chose temporarily and seasonally throughout the first half
31 NAO 33/1, Post Commander, Namutoni to the N.C., Ovamboland, 17-10-1930.
32 NAO 33/1, Secretary to the N.C., Ovamboland 24-10-1930.
33 NAO 33/1 Monthly Return, November 1930.
34 E.g., NAO 33/1 correspondence of N.C., Ovamboland and Post Commander,
S.W.A. Police, Namutoni, July-August 1929.
35 NAO 33/1, Officer in Charge, N.A., Ovamboland to the Post Commander,
Namutoni, 17-10-1929.
36 SWAA A511/1, Station Commander, S.W.A. Police, Namutoni to the N.C.,
Ovamboland, 11-10-1939.
37 SWAA A511/1, Station Commander, S.A. Police, Namutoni to the N.C.
Ovamboland, 1-12-1939.
38 ADM 5503/1, Game Warden Namutoni to the Secretary for S.W.A, 5-10-1922,
1-6-1924, SWAA A50/26, Game Warden to the N.C., Ovamboland, 20-8-1926.
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 53
of the 20th century39. Furthermore, there was a lot of employment available
within the game reserve. Haifom were employed in road construction
gangs, constructing and repairing roads in order to ensure more comfortable
trips for administrative officers, hunters and tourists40. Between 1938 and
1940, for instance, approximately fifty Haifom were permanently engaged
in repairing or constructing roads41.
Some of the men42 were employed to keep waterholes clean43 or by the
police at Namutoni and Okaukuejo44. Their names appear again and again in
the Monthly or Annual Reports45. Payment for work varied substantially.
Sometimes the only payment was the permission to stay in the park,
sometimes they were given rations such as maize meal, sugar and tobacco,
and sometimes they received additional wages. At least within the game
reserve, a trend could be observed over the years ranging from simply being
allowed to remain in the reserve (albeit under the threat of being expelled),
to being paid with rations of maize meal, sugar, tobacco, to ‘proper’ wages
and supplements of meat to the food rations, a development that certain did
not pertain to the farms outside the reserve. Nevertheless, the wages earned
by the Haifom were always considerably lower than those paid to Ovambo
Views from Within
The past remembered by the Haifom is a time when they were no longer
living exclusively from hunting and gathering. There were new opportunities
39 E.g., ADM 5530/1, Game Warden Namutoni to the Secretary for S.W.A, 30-1-
40 E.g., SWAA A511/1 Monthly Return April 1929, NAO 33/1, N.C., Ovamboland
to the Secretary, 22-10-1932, Station Commander, S.W.A. Police Namutoni to
the N.C., Ovamboland, 8-8-1938.
41 SWAA A50/26, N.C. Ovamboland to the Chief Native Commissioner
Windhoek, 5-9-1940.
42 Haifom women are rarely mentioned in these reports.
43 E.g., NAO 33/1, Note for the Post Commander, S.W.A. Police Namutoni, 25-5-
44 SWAA A511/10 Station Commander, Okaukuejo to the N.C., Ovamboland 15-7-
45 Of course their European names (e.g., Fritz, Izak, Joshua) were mostly meant,
and not their Haifom names or surnames, which were too difficult to pronounce
and nearly impossible to write.
46 LGR 2/20/2 Annual Report Native Affairs 1937.
Ute Dieckmann
besides the accustomed strategies to make a living. Some men temporarily
went to farms to work, and besides foraging they kept some livestock.
D: […] they could keep the animals at their waterholes: goats,
donkeys, and dogs, which they had bought from the
Oshivambo-speaking people. So if they [the Oshivambo-
speaking people] had come, they bought these donkeys and
everything from these people, and they had all these kinds of
animals on their own.
(D.K. 26.01.00, translation by V.G.)
The police stations were already established, and when in need of a
labour force, the police came to specific waterholes, such as Rietfontein
(more or less half-way between Namutoni-Okaukuejo, see map 1) in order to
find men for temporary jobs such as road construction or work at the police
stations. I suppose the different sergeants knew people at the waterholes near
the former road between Namutoni and Okaukuejo quite well, and they
knew which men were available to work.
K: Rietfontein [a waterhole and permanent settlement] was
previously a station where the police could meet together and
the Haifom people have signed contracts there. That was the
time while they were still staying here in the Game Park that
they have been free as they were moving. But they have signed
contracts with the employers to work in the road construction.
And then about the cattle, I heard that the Haifom people
previously were having the cows, but after I have been born
there were only goats, but [...] the families were far from each
other, that is why I could maybe not see a cow of another
family, but I heard about it, that the people were having the
Q: And did every family have goats as well?
K: Each and every family had a kraal for the goats, and as a
child has been born, then I have been given a small goat so as I
grew up I knew this one is mine. It was happening like that
when I got a gentleman, when I had my own family, I had my
own goats.
Q: And what did you do with the goats?
K: In times that it was very hard, that they have suffered from
hunger, then they were getting meat from the goats. If they have
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 55
maybe hunted and have not got something, then they have to
take one of the goats. And they were also milking the goats [...]
the first milk, after the goat has given birth, now, that was also
milked. And when the baby is born it could also drink from the
goat’s milk.
(K.K. 6.03.00, translated by V.G.)
From the informant’s point of view, the relationship with the police was
usually good, and the work was done voluntarily.
Q: Why did they do the work?
K: They were getting this information from the Police because
at Okaukuejo and Namutoni, there were already Police Stations,
so it was a must.
Q: Were they been forced to work in the road construction?
K: They were not forced, but if you want then you have to
work. And the lazy people, they stayed behind. But there was
some remuneration to get from the employers.
Q: What do you mean with remuneration?
K: You are getting salary.
Q: What did you get?
K: They got 10 cents and 5 cents.
Q: And did they get some meat during that time?
K: The meat was shot, like zebras for them.
(K.K. 6.03.00, translation by V.G.)
Life in Etosha was not isolated ‘from the outside’: new opportunities and
limitations arose from the creation and administration of the game reserve.
From the perspective of the Haifom, the changes were not seen as a threat
to their way of life, rather, they represented the broadening of options. The
(changing) way of life in the 1920s, 1930s and the beginning of 1940s was
integrated in the wider sociopolitical and economical system, and involved
various economic strategies that could be employed simultaneously. The
money earned was used to buy blankets and other commercial goods at
specific farms that kept small shops. Stock keeping was a strategy to cope
with risk (besides symbolising the owner’s wealth). In using these different
Ute Dieckmann
strategies, the Haifom of Etosha were no different from other Haifom or
other San groups (e.g., Guenther 1986, Suzman 2000, Widlok 1999).
map 2: souteastern area of Etosha National Park
The Development Leading to Eviction: 1940s - 1954
Life within the park changed over the years, new laws were made, and
new opportunities arose. Legislation was tightened, particularly in the 1940s.
In 1948, after a period of twenty years without amendments to the laws
concerning hunting by Bushmen, a limitation was imposed regarding the
species that were allowed to be killed. The Haifom were only allowed to
hunt wildebeest and zebra, and it was specified that “[...] action, under the
Game Law, will be taken against them if they continue to shoot other species
of Game [...]”47 This new limitation was probably connected to the
47 SWAA A511/1, correspondence of the Secretary and the N.C., Ovamboland, 23-
2-1948, 24-3-1948.
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 57
appointment of the first full-time game warden, A. A. Pienaar, in 194748.
The question of enforcing these laws remained, especially in remote areas
within the reserve. Additionally, instructions were issued in 1948 that
stockowners were no longer allowed to possess more than five head of large
stock and ten head of small stock each49 in order to control foot-and-mouth
However, these developments cannot be attributed to a single cause;
several factors were involved. The necessity of controlling foot-and-mouth
disease was one such factor; but the increasing interest in tourism51 – and the
potential of nature conservation in this context – was undoubtedly another
major factor that influenced, for instance, the appointment of a full-time
game warden. Kruger National Park in South Africa, established in 1926
(Carruthers 1995:64), was held out as the shining example to be followed,
and as late as 1954, Schoeman wrote: “Concerning the tourist facilities,
Etosha Game Reserve is still in its infancy compared to Kruger Game
The people living inside the game reserve never played an important role
in the perceptions of visitors. In the earlier accounts, one rarely finds more
than stray references to the people in the park. Obviously, at that time
concepts of nature and the enthusiasm for wilderness excluded people53.
48 SWAA A511/1: Jaarsverslag 1953/54 van die Afdeling wildbewaring van SWA
van P.J. Schoemann. In the same year, the Kaokoland portion of Game Reserve
No. 2 was set aside “for the sole use and occupation by natives.” During the
same year, 3406 km² were cut off from Etosha and partitioned into farms (de la
Bat 1982:14).
49 Based on the numbers of stock reported by the Station Commanders over the
years, one cannot notice a tendency towards stock accumulation between 1929
and 1945, and even in 1947, the Station Commander of Okaukuejo reported that
there was enough grazing for game and livestock in his area (SWAA A511/1,
50 SWAA A511/1, correspondence of the N.C., Ovamboland and the Secretary for
S.W.A., 5-2-1948, 13-4-1948.
51 SWAA A511/10.
52 SWAA A511/1, Jaarsverslag van die Afdeling Wildbewaring van S.W.A, April
1953-Maart 1954.
53 “Footprints of Bushmen” (Heck 1956:85) are referred to, or a mention is made of
“another exciting experience [that] was a hunt and ‘kill’ by a party of Bushmen
who then had their werft at Rietfontien” (Davis 1977:142, writing about 1936).
The idea of wilderness or ‘pure nature’ does not inevitably exclude native
people. For the concept of wilderness including the Indians in North America in
the first half of the 19th century see Spence (1999:11ff.).
Ute Dieckmann
Bushmen Policy in General and the Haifom Discussion
To understand the developments that finally led to the expulsion of the
Haifom from Etosha, we have to turn to the overall policy of the South
African Administration of Namibia regarding Bushmen over the years. In the
very beginning of the South African Mandate period, official attitudes
towards Bushmen were remarkably tolerant. As Gordon notes, “Initially, the
South African Occupation Forces were concerned to show the world how
much better they were then their German predecessors and consequently
were more tolerant toward Bushmen.” But he also adds, “Below the level of
magisterial rhetoric aimed at superiors, a different world existed” (Gordon
1992:89). In 1921, the Native Reserves Commission (the body responsible
for the development of segregation as policy) was of the opinion “that ‘the
Bushmen problem [...] must be left to solve itself’ (supposedly with the
extinction of the group), and that ‘any Bushmen found within the area
occupied by Europeans should be amenable to all the laws’” (South West
Africa 1922, quoted in Gordon 1992:91). But the ‘problem’ did not solve
itself. In the early 1920s, the magistrate Van Rynefeld was murdered by
Bushmen (Gordon 1992: 92f.). Ovambo labourers were occasionally
attacked and robbed on their way back to Ovamboland, and this obviously
endangered the system of migrant labour that was indispensable for the
economy of South West Africa. In addition, farmers complained regularly
about the Bushmen, whom they held responsible for stock thefts, grass fires
and attacks54. They pressured the administration to solve the problem. For
instance, E. Schwarz, a farmer, wrote to the magistrate of Grootfontein in
1926, painting the Bushmen in the darkest colours:
[...] The above said proves that the Bushmen put themselves
outside the law, they are a danger for life and property of all
human beings. Therefore, the State has not only the right but the
duty, in the interest of its citizens, to make very severe and
drastic laws for and against the Bushmen.55
The administration took action, and laws were amended: the Vagrancy
Proclamation was passed in 1927,56 the Arms and Ammunition Proclamation
passed in 1928, and Bushmen bows and arrows were included under the
54 SWAA A50/26.
55 SWAA A50/67, 2-7-1926.
56 SWAA A50/27, 1927, Proclamation No. 32.
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 59
definition of ‘firearms’ (Gordon 1992:130). Thereafter, a slight improvement
was reported in the situation57.
Another discussion about the ‘Bushmen problem’ occurred
simultaneously to these developments; namely, the suggestion to create a
Bushmen reserve, a suggestion that had already made during the German
Colonial Period (e.g., von Zastrow 1914, ZBU 191158), but put aside at the
time as impracticable. In 1936, the issue was raised once again, shortly after
the Empire Exhibition in Johannesburg, where a number of Bushmen
families were exhibited for public curiosity. The question now arose whether
Bushmen, with their “fascinating” habits and customs, were not worthy “of
being preserved for all time in South Africa.”59 This question was also
addressed to the administration of South West Africa in regard to the
Bushmen there60. The administration itself was sceptical about the idea of a
Bushmen Reserve,61 but demonstrating good will, it agreed to undertake an
ethnological enquiry funded by the Carnegie Corporation62. Isaac Schapera,
a social anthropologist, was entrusted with ethnological investigations. He
drew up a questionnaire that the district administrative officers were
supposed to complete. The officers’ replies were by no means enthusiastic,
57 E.g., LGR 17/15/6, Annual Report 1930.
58 Kaiserliches Bezirksamt Outjo an das Kaiserliche Gouvernement: Betr.:
Erhaltung der Buschleute: „[...] Meines Erachtens muß es das Bestreben der
Verwaltung sein, aus dem vagabundierenden Buschmann einen sesshaften und
nützlichen Arbeiter zu machen. Sollten diese Versuche mißlingen, so bleibt
nichts übrig als den Buschleuten den Aufenthalt im besiedelten Lande derartig zu
verleiden, daß sie sich in Gebiete zurückziehen, wo sie dem Weißen nicht
gefährlich werden können (etwa in der Namib oder im Betschuanaland).
Reservate für sie zu schaffen wäre mit der Schaffung eines Sammelplatzes für
Viehdiebe und Straßenräuber gleichbedeutend. Das wissenschaftliche Interesse
muß gegen das Interesse der Sicherheit der weißen Ansiedler und der farbigen
Arbeiter insbesondere der arbeitsuchenden Ovambos zurücktreten.“ (ZBU W II
O.2, Kaiserliches Bezirksamt Outjo an das Kaiserliche Gouvernement, 12-11-
1911), see also Gordon 1992:60ff. for the discussions during that time.
59 SWAA A50/67, 24-9-1936, article in The Star.
60 The scientific community, especially anthropologists, with their own specific
interests, took an active part in these discussions about Bushmen reserves
(Gordon 1992:147f.).
61 SWAA A198/26, Smit, Secretary for Native Affairs, to Courtney Clarke,
Secretary for S.W.A., 26-8-1937.
62 SWAA A198/26, Courtney Clarke to Smit, 2-9-1937.
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and the information collected was not very useful63. With the outbreak of
World War II, the matter was dropped once again64.
The Haifom played only a minor part in this discussion, since their
status as ‘pure Bushmen’ was questioned by both academics and
administrative officers65. But the need to deal with them existed, especially
with those living outside the game reserve. Opinions about how to go about
this were by no means consistent. In 1921, the deputy commissioner of
police in Outjo reported that the “district is infested with Bushmen who
undoubtedly do a great deal of harm to the stock of farmers [...] and who are
more like jackals than human beings.”66 In 1936, an inquiry was made
concerning the possibility of prosecution even inside the game reserve. The
police considered the game reserve as a possible haven for “Bushmen
criminals” and wanted to send patrols into the reserve, but they were denied
permission67. In 1938, there was a contradictory suggestion: Move all the
Haifom of the region into the game reserve68. In 1940, the native
commissioner of Ovamboland suggested that Bushmen families should
either be moved inside the game reserve or to Ovamboland. In reference to a
former letter to the Secretary of SWA he wrote:
[...] I do not consider the Bushmen population of the Game
Reserve excessive; in fact I thought that room could be found
for more wild families and that these could be settled at places
other than the main springs and game watering places, where
63 SWAA A198/26, e.g., Assistant Native Commissioner Runtu, 14-8-1939.
64 SWAA A198/26, Courtney Clarke to the Chief Native Commissioner,
Windhoek, 23-5-1946.
65 According to common typologies for which racial, geographic, as well as
linguistic parameters, were used by academics, the Haifom could not be
identified as ‘prototypical Bushmen.’ Their language is more closely related to
Nama/Damara than to other Bushmen languages, they lived for a long time in an
multi-ethnic environment, and their appearance was not really ‘Bushman-like.’ It
was often supposed that they were a ‘racial mixture’ or ‘hybrids’ (e.g., von
Zastrow 1914:2-3, Fourie 1959 [1931]:211f., Bruwer 1965:58, Gusinde
66 ADM 3360, Deputy Commissioner, S.W.A. Police to the Secretary for S.W.A.,
67 SWAA A50/67, Station Commander, S.W.A. Police, Outjo to the District
Commandant Omaruru 30-9-1939, Commissioner S.W.A. Police Windhoek to
the Secretary for S.W.A. 14-10-1936, N.C., Ovamboland to the Secretary for
S.W.A. 14-11-1936.
68 SWAA A50/67, District Commandant, Omaruru to the Commissioner, S.W.A.
Police, Windhoek 15-10-1938.
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 61
big concentrations of various species of game even proved so
attractive to visitors. I pointed out too that the Bushmen in the
Reserve form part and parcel of it and that they have always
been a great attraction to tourists.69
His comments are exceptional, insofar as in the same letter he suggested
involving both Haifom and Ovambo in the discussions.
After World War II, the issue of how to deal with the Bushmen regained
prominence, partly due to a strong white farmers’ lobby, which continued to
approach the officers to solve the Bushmen problem. The first step taken was
the formulation of a general policy in regard to the future treatment and
control of “wild Bushmen”: “befriend” them rather than “scare them off.”
This included food donation schemes, as well as a peaceful and confidence-
seeking attitude by the police towards the Bushmen. The police were issued
small supplies of tobacco, salt and maize meal to hand out when necessary in
making contact with Bushmen. Supplies of the same items were also
available for old and sick Bushmen, or in cases of severe drought. The main
purpose was to prevent further stock thefts70. In subsequent years, the station
commanders from Okaukuejo and Namutoni, amongst others, submitted
regular requisitions for supplies of maize meal, salt and tobacco71.
Under this new policy, the Commission for the Preservation of
Bushmen72 was appointed in 1949, and P. A. Schoeman and Dr. L. Fourie
were among its members. Schoeman was known as a famous writer and
anthropologist actively involved in developing a cohesive doctrine of Grand
Apartheid. Fourie was a ‘Bushmen expert’ and the medical officer of the
Mandate granted by the League of Nations to the Union of South Africa to
administer South West Africa (Gordon 1992:144, 160f.). The commission
undertook official tours to investigate the ‘Bushmen question’ and wrote
several reports with different suggestions. Although, in its preliminary
report, the commission suggested a Haifom reserve be created near the
game reserve, this suggestion was dropped in the final report, without giving
any convincing explanation for the change73. All Haifom (except twelve
69 SWAA A50/26, 5-9-1940.
70 SWAA A50/67, Deputy Commissioner, Windhoek to the District Commandants,
S.W.A. Police, 3-4-1947.
71 SWAA A50/67.
72 Note the terminology: ‘Bushmen’ should be ‘preserved’ as nature should, but at
separate places.
73 The explanation given was: “The Commission for the Preservation of Bushmen
has found that, since presenting its preliminary report, developments have taken
Ute Dieckmann
families still employed within the park) were to leave the game reserve and
move either to Ovamboland or to farms south of Windhoek, where they were
expected to look for work74. The reasons for the decision to expel the
Haifom without any compensation were not clearly expressed anywhere.
This harsh recommendation might seem surprising, because until then there
had been no consistent complaints about game being targeted by the
Haifom living there. Indeed, the Haifom in the game reserve were
sometimes considered ‘part and parcel’ of it, or, at least, as not disturbing the
game population. An article about Etosha Pan Game Reserve, prepared by an
officer of the South West African Administration for a publisher in
Johannesburg in 1949, stated: “Perhaps one should also mention the
Bushmen, although nowadays they are no longer classed as ‘game’! They
certainly fit into the picture and help to give to the Etosha Pan something of
the atmosphere of the old wild Africa that is fast disappearing everywhere
The proposals were undoubtedly influenced by the fact that one of its
members, the anthropologist P. A. Schoeman, had been responsible for
Etosha as full-time game warden since 1951. He recognised Etosha’s tourist
potential and had already started to develop tourist infrastructure in the game
reserve by constructing bungalows for tourists, improving roads, and drilling
new bore-holes (de la Bat 1982:15). The general opinion that the Haifom
were not ‘real Bushmen’ was certainly yet another factor, for the final report
of the commission mentioned that
Nowhere did your [the Administrator’s] commissioners receive
the impression that it would be worthwhile to preserve either
the Heikum or the Barrakwengwe [Kxoe, another group
labelled “Bushmen”] as Bushmen. In both cases the process of
assimilation has proceeded too far and these Bushmen are
already abandoning their nomadic habits and are settling down
amongst the neighbouring tribes to agriculture and stock
breeding [...]76
place in the Etosha Pan Game Reserve which make its previous recommendation
– that a Reserve for the Bushmen should be established along the border of the
Game Reserve – impracticable [...]” (SWAA A627/11/1, n.d.).
74 SWAA A50/67, Secretary to the Administrator-in-Executive Committee, 20-8-
75 SWAA A511/1, 9-5-1949.
76 SWAA A627/11/1, 1956.
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 63
We are faced here with a monumental ignorance of historical facts: The
necessity to integrate the Haifom into the economic system, which did not
stop at the borders of Etosha, almost inevitably led to their assimilation. This
implied, without doubt, the alienation from an exclusively foraging way of
life, and this in turn finally produced the opinion that the Haifom were not
worth ‘preserving.’77
The attitudes of white farmers also played a role in the recommendations,
even if the protection of game was the officially expressed reason for the
decision. The farmers needed labour, and perhaps this explains why the
Haifom were ultimately not forced to shift to an area south of Windhoek.
Instead, it was accepted that they be moved to farms neighbouring the game
reserve. The game warden Schoeman himself was afraid of informing the
Haifom in the reserve about the government decision, and the Native
Commissioner of Ovamboland was appointed for this task: “[...] because he
considers that their removal from the Game Reserve is bound to [lead to]
antagonism amongst these Bushmen, Dr. Schoeman feels that he should not
present the matter personally as such antagonism may hamper his work in
the Game Reserve. There is, therefore, no alternative but to ask [the Native
Commissioner of Ovamboland] to take the necessary steps for their removal
[...]”78 And he did so; later he reported to the Chief Native Commissioner
I addressed 24 men, 33 women and 35 children [...] on the 30th
January 1954 at Namutoni and 14 men, 15 women and 21
children [...] on the 31st January at Okaukueyo, in the following
‘I have come here to tell you that it is the order of the
Administration that you move out of Game Reserve No. 2. The
reason for this order is that you are destroying the game. You
may go into the Police Zone and seek work on farms South of
Windhoek, or elsewhere. You must take your women and
children with you, also your stock. There are many farmers who
will take you into their employ and I am sure allow you to have
your stock with you. Those of you who do not wish to go and
work on farms must move into Ovamboland, but without your
stock of any description, i.e., cattle, horses, goats, donkeys,
77 Preservation of ‘pure’ peoples had now become desirable. The disastrous
consequences of this racist ideology are well known.
78 SWAA A50/67, Chief Native Commissioner to the N.C., Ovamboland, 28-12-
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fowls, dogs etc. You will have to be out of the Game Reserve
the 1st May, 1954. If you are still in the Game Reserve on that
day you will be arrested and will be put into gaol. You will be
regarded as trespassers [...] None of you will be allowed to
return to Game Reserve No. 2 from Ovamboland. Those of you
who go to farms will not be allowed to return to the Game
Reserve unless you are in possession of a permit issued by a
Magistrate [...] I hope you understand this message. If you have
something to say I will listen but I wish to tell you that there is
no appeal against this order. The only Bushmen who will be
allowed to continue to live in the Game Reserve are those in the
employ of the Game Wardens. Convey what you have heard
today to your absent friends and relatives.’
Replies made by some of the Bushmen at Namutoni do not
deserve any comment. Those of Okaukueyo made no
representations [...] I should have held these meetings with the
Bushmen in November but was asked to postpone them by your
telegram [...] In the meantime 80% of the Bushmen have
already left the Game Reserve and have taken up employment
in farms in the Outjo, Tsumeb and Grootfontein districts.
Although I told those remaining at Namutoni and Okaukueyo
that they should seek work on farms South of Windhoek, I
added, or elsewhere, as the whole object is to get them to leave
the Game Reserve. It would be impracticable and certainly
undesirable to try and compel them to take up employment on
farms in a particular portion of South West Africa. I understand
that since November, 1953, certain farmers were given permits
by Magistrates to enter the Game Reserve for the purpose of
recruiting Bushmen labour. […]79
Through analysis of the archival documents, one comes to realise that the
problem of taking control over the Bushmen, followed by the idea of
creating a Bushmen reserve, existed from the beginning of the colonial
period, sometimes higher on the agenda than in other years. The Haifom,
by being Bushmen, had also to be taken into consideration in the general
Bushmen discussion, but they were surely not regarded as the most difficult
part of it. The game reserve had been a protected area both for animals as
well as for Bushmen for more than 40 years, but things changed. With
Schoeman’s appointment to the Commission for the Preservation of
79 SWAA A50/67b, 1-2-1954.
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 65
Bushmen as well as to full-time game warden for Etosha, ideas about nature
conservation and tourism became part of the general discussion about
Bushmen80. The preservation of nature and the ‘preservation’ of people now
had to take place as separate issues in separate places. A solution had to be
found for the Haifom still living in Etosha, as well as for other Bushmen
groups. The criterion of ‘pureness’ in the discussion about Bushmen reserves
led to the belief that the Haifom were not worth ‘preservation’ because they
were already ‘too assimilated.’ Thus, they had to leave Etosha for the
exclusive sake of nature conservation and were subsequently left without
any land.
The search for other documents (e.g., articles, books about Etosha) that
mention the eviction met no success. The former Chief Game Warden of
South West Africa, Bernabé de la Bat (1982), who was appointed biologist
in the park and stationed there until 1963, did not mention these events in his
article about the history of Etosha. He only writes that “In 1955 the
Administration decided to establish a permanent section to deal with game
and game reserves [...]. Our total staff establishment in Etosha consisted of
three whites, 12 Wambo and 16 Heikum Bushmen [...]” (1982:15).
Reminiscing about “those days” he writes, “The small number of Heikum
Bushmen still living in the park were induced by the Bantu Commissioner,
Harold Eedes, to settle at the rest camps where proper housing, medical care
and work opportunities were available. They became our trackers, builders,
camp workers and later our road grader and bulldozer operators.” (1982:16).
Dieter Aschenborn, the famous Namibian painter, who was game warden in
Okaukuejo between 1952 and 1954, did not mention the Haifom in his
highly readable and amusing memoirs about those two years in Etosha
(Aschenborn 1957).
Views from Within
I will summarise what I got to know in the various interviews concerning
the eviction. Some events cannot be traced exactly according to
chronological order.
In the beginning, there were just police stations at Namutoni and
Okakukuejo. Tourists visited the park from time to time, but the park was
closed for the rainy season every year. Police went out with the tourists to go
80 This combination of duties reminds us of the combination of the tasks which
Major Hahn (as native commissioner and part-time game warden) had to fulfil in
the 1920s.
Ute Dieckmann
to waterholes where Haifom still lived. At these occasions, the people often
gathered at specific places such as trees to wait for the tourists, who gave
them sweets or fruits and took some pictures. The Haifom appreciated the
remuneration they got from the tourists for being ‘looked at’. No informant
remembered anything annoying about the tourists.
Later on, representatives of nature conservation appeared, and they made
the decision to remove the Haifom. The Administration started to hand out
rations (meat or tobacco) to the people. This rationing is always mentioned
in the context of the removal, apparently the people interpret the rations as
one step in the bigger plan of expulsion.
Schoeman and de la Bat are well known by many people.
It is a long story, but I will try it. When it was the free life, I
was still young. But I was very awake, I always listened [to the
words of the older people]. This place was first [...] only a
police station [...] But the tourists were coming all the time [...]
And later in time, slowly, the Nature Conservation came in [...]
Schoeman came first, then Aschenborn, those men came. They
just worked. They went out, when the tourists went out, they
went with the people [...] There is now another story. Now the
people got a ration, food and meat, that time [...]
(K.K. 7.11.00, translation, mine)
Whereas the police sergeants are often described in a positive way,
Schoeman in particular was obviously not very popular. He is thought to be
responsible for the decision for removal. As it seems, his attempts to avoid
antagonism amongst the Bushmen by not informing them of the removal
himself failed.
Due to the vast area and the lack of roads to each and every settlement,
people could not just be rounded up and brought out. Several informants
mentioned that they were firstly ‘tamed’ (an obvious adoption of the colonial
discourse about the Bushmen) before they could be removed. They got used
to the rations, they were not allowed to hunt anymore, and they were
gathered at a couple of waterholes that were easily accessible from the police
J: [...] And later, they said, nee, all the people have to move
away from the waterholes to Namutoni, that you will stay there
at Namutoni, the people will give you food, you will get
tobacco there, so all the people moved from the waterholes to
fKhoe ]Axas [a waterhole near Namutoni] to stay there... so
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 67
we stayed there, we thought that we would stay, stay, stay, and
then we saw that the people were moved out from there.
Q: So first the whites told you to move to fKhoe ]Axas...
J: Yea, to move to Namutoni, so that the people stayed near the
closest water there and then perhaps meat would be shot there,
and you would get some porridge, the people said so, I have just
heard from the old people, the old people told me that, so the
people said, ok. The people all moved away from the
waterholes, there from !Gobaub [far in the south] to fNasoneb
[Rietfontein], some people, and some people [Namutoni,
fKhoen]Axas]. And the people from Tsinab [near Halali,
which did not yet exist], they moved to fNasoneb. And we
who have been close to here, we moved to Namutoni. From
there, we just have seen the cars which have come and they
took the people and they brought the people to Outjo, some
went to the side of Tsumeb. I was together with grandmother,
so we went to the farm Onguma where we stayed until I became
(J.T., 22.04.01, translation, mine)
Some waterholes were more than 50 kilometres away from the police
stations or the main road, thus, it took a while to contact the Haifom and
convince them to move. In the Haifom’s perception today, the development
leading to the eviction was a slow process, and it took some years for the
representatives advocating nature conservation to perform the requirements
necessary for eviction.
I cannot remember the year, when the Game Park has been
taken over, but what I can remember was that when the tourists
were visiting, the people, the people of the Nature Conservation
said that dogs are making noise, now, they must be prohibited
from being in the Game Park, and so, little, little, they decided,
no, these cattle must also be out and then, this bow and arrow
must also be stopped, and no one has to hunt. And people were
in a big number around Rietfontein. And they decided, the
Nature Conservators, that they will shoot for them every month,
and then give them meat each and every time, and so, things
have been stopped.
(D.K. 26.01.00, translation by V.G.)
Ute Dieckmann
But eventually, the necessary requirements were fulfilled, and all that was
needed was a meeting to inform the people about the decision. I came across
one elder man who remembered the meeting at Namutoni when the people
were told to move out quite well:
H: [...] 1951, February month, they just have called all the
Boers and there was one ... [?], he stayed there at Vamboland,
he was an Englishman. He called them there, and they then had
a meeting there, and we came also.
Q: Where was it?
H: It was at Namutoni.
Q: So the Englishman of Ovamboland was also there?
H: Yes. His name was Eedes, that was a white man. He was
Q: What was his name?
H: Ietz/Eedes, but I don´t know his surname.
Q: And it was 1951?
H: 1951. 2nd or 5th of February. And that year, it rained, it rained
a lot, the pan was full with water.
Q: The Englishman came to Namutoni?
H: Yes, he came.
Q: And all the Haifom...
H: ... had to come together. And they have held a meeting. So
they said, ok, this is now our place. That is not your place
anymore. You now have to go, there are now donkeycarts and
horsescarts and motorcars, everything is there. And the Boers
said, thank you, thank you, that we can get people. And they
had listened [?], some people, who did not..., with the wives and
the children, they were loaded [onto the transport], for the
farms, to the farms. There were just a few old men, who..., Ou
Q: And you said, it was 1951, I thought it was 1954.
H: Yes, no, no, 1951, I was a big man, I know very well. But
now, one old man, Ou Isaak...
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 69
Q: But I thought that during that time you have been working at
Vergenoeg [farm]?
H: Yes, yes. They wrote a letter, the Police brought the letter
with the bicycle there, that there would be the meeting. So the
wife of the Baas, she loaded some men, the Sergeant had said,
bring H., because H. has a keen mind, so that H. can translate,
that is why those Boers brought me there so that I could
Q: Then the Boers loaded the people onto the cars...
H: Onto the cars and they brought them to the farms. And the
few people who stayed behind, were Ou August and Ou Isaak,
Ou Isaak had cattle, now he asked there, what shall I do with
the cattle? So they said, you just have to take your cattle and go.
Any Baas who will rule you, you just can stay there with your
cattle. Ok, from there he also moved with his cattle to
Q: Isaak?
H: Yes.
Q: With his cattle. And August?
H: August, he did not have cattle, but he just went there. And
Ou Karl. Ou Karl went to Onguma [farm].
Q: And August went to Vergenoeg?
H: Yes. Yes. August went to Vergenoeg. My Oom, the oldest
brother of my mother, Ou Fritz, he stayed at Okevis [waterhole
near Namutoni], he stayed there with his wife and children, he
also went to Vergenoeg. So now, there are just the people who
worked there who could stay there.
Q: You did go back to Vergenoeg?
H: Yes. I have just translated and I went back again. And later
on, I worked for road construction...
(H.H. 27.3.01, translation, mine)
Can we assume that this man is talking about the same meeting that the
Native Commissioner of Ovamboland described in detail (see above)? On
one hand, there are many facts that let us believe it is the same meeting: The
name of the native commissioner of Ovamboland was Eedes. The meeting
Ute Dieckmann
took place at Namutoni. The farmers’ need for labourers was mentioned as
On the other hand, I have no explanation for the discrepancy between the
dates: 1951 (his version) and 1954 (official version). The informant quoted
above is one of the few people who remembers dates quite well: he knows
the dates of birth of his children, he knows the years when he moved form
one farm to another, etc. Both versions at least agree on the fact that it was a
very rainy year (this can be read in the monthly reports of 1954). It becomes
obvious how difficult, or impossible, it is sometimes to form a consistent
story from different source material.
Another issue is touched on again in this man’s description: The
integration of the Haifom in the colonial system was not en-groupe.
Individuals were integrated differently. This man was called a translator,
others also had active roles in connection with the removal, for example, as
drivers. People at waterholes close to the police stations were well known by
the sergeants and were called for specific jobs. However, families who
stayed at distant waterholes did not have as much contact with the police or
tourists, and were not called for jobs, but moved easily to farms in the
vicinity to take up employment. Thus, even the removal of the Haifom
affected individuals quite differently.
Let us return to the quotation by the Native Commissioner of
Ovamboland about the meeting and removal. He mentioned that 80% of the
Haifom had already left the park. This is a fact that some informants
mentioned as well. Most of the people went voluntarily during that period;
the final consequences had not yet been anticipated (see following section).
One woman complements the official report of the speech given by Mr.
Eedes’ (assuming that both were describing the same event), who merely
mentioned that “replies made by some of the Bushmen at Namutoni do not
deserve any comment”:
Q: Can she remember the time when the whites came, this
Englishman of Ovamboland who told the people that now is the
time you have to move out?
K/F: She is not sure about the year, but she remembers that
Q: What does she still know, what did that man tell the people?
K/F: The man has come, he said, here this land, you have to
move out now. So he came and he said, the people they have to
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 71
go out.... But the old man, Isaak, he worked for the police, he
talked, he said, the animals, we people, we don’t kill the
animals, we don’t chase the animals away, but the rifle, that
chases the animals away. Our bow and arrow, it cannot chase
the animals away. He came out and talked like that. But when
they explained, he was alone, he talked alone to the
Englishman, now, he has lost. The other men did not support
him, they stayed silent, he had just talked alone...
(F.A. 30.03.01, translation to Afrikaans: K.K., to English, mine)
Isaak’s objections were not taken seriously and did not have any
consequences. The people had to move. Most went by foot, and some were
brought with lorries to Namutoni and Okaukuejo, where lorries were already
waiting to transport people to different farms in the vicinity of the game
reserve. The Haifom had to give up their bows and arrows to the police,
and people were divided and brought to different farms. Some farmers came
to the game reserve in search of suitable labourers.
[...] Later in time, the Government decided, they said,
Schoemann and Aschenborn, and the police worked also
together with [...] the Nature Conservation to bring the people
out, to bring them away from the waterholes. But they were not
transported, they were just told, “go to Okaukuejo.” Some went
by foot, others were brought with the cars. So we came here,
and here they divided the people. Those people who should go
out to the farms and those who should stay here to work for the
Government. We were also from the people who had to go out.
There at Namutoni, that other area, from Halali the other side,
they did the same. Those who should stay with the Government
stayed behind, other people: out. The people were called, and
the farm owners came and they have chosen by themselves,
how many and whom they wanted to take. They asked which
people are from one house, so the people from one house
[family] were taken by one man, one man took those people. So
we were brought out. There was no gate, there was no border,
there was nothing. We went there to the farms, we stayed there
(K.K., 7.11.2000, translation, mine)
These various voices about the eviction are personal reminiscences. They
have not been transformed into oral tradition about the removal in the form
Ute Dieckmann
of a unanimous account of exodus. Instead, we are left to puzzle over the
different perspectives and interpretations of the events.
And after? The South African Period (1954-1990)
Let us shift back to the official version. In the same year as the eviction
meeting, 1954, the SWA Parks Board was accorded responsibility for the
maintenance and expansion of game reserves (Gaerdes 1957:43). More
funds were made available for the expansion of tourism, resulting in more
specific planning and development. At least some Haifom could stay in the
park, although no longer at the various waterholes, but under tight control at
the rest camps at Okaukuejo and Namutoni and near the two gates,
Lindequist and Ombika.81 In the 1950s, regular patrols were undertaken to
apprehend Bushmen at the different waterholes. Those who were caught
were charged for being there without a pass. But, due to a lack of time, the
patrols were often restricted to waterholes near the police stations and/or rest
camps, or the main road between Namutoni and Okaukuejo, a fact regretted
by the officers.82
After 1958, Game Reserve No. 2 became Etosha National Park (Berry
1980:53). Due to the shift in objective from game reserve to national park,
fencing became both an important and difficult task. The first fences at
Etosha were erected by European farmers on the southern boundary during
the period between 1955 and 1960, but the fences were discontinuous and
easily broken. In 1961, an epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease in the
northern regions of Namibia resulted in the erection of a ‘game-proof’ fence
along the eastern and southern boundaries. The complete fencing of Etosha
was finished in 1973 (Berry 1980:54). Since governmental interest in
tourism had increased significantly, especially in the 1960s under the
Administrator of SWA Daan Viljoen (Viljoen 1961:3-9), and a greater
awareness of conservation had also became evident (de la Bat 1982:20),
there was no lack of labour in the following years for the few remaining
Haifom. Tourist facilities were expanded or constructed, and a new
location for ‘black’ employees was built.83 Women were employed to clean
rest camps, and as domestic workers for the sergeants and game wardens.
Men were employed in road construction, as cleaners, mechanics, and
81 Since 1967, some have also stayed at Halali, an additional rest camp opened
during that year (Berry et al. 1996:38).
82 NTB N 13/3/2: Monthly Reports Namutoni, e.g., July, December 1957, May
83 NTB N 13/3/2, 1958.
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 73
assistants of the veldwagters. Until the 1960s, they were also still engaged as
tourist attractions, dancing ‘traditional’ dances in ‘traditional’ clothes for
visitors twice a week in the Okaukuejo rest camp84. No explanation could be
found in the documents consulted for the abolition of this custom.
Those who were born in the park were given permission to stay there for
the rest of their lives85. In 1984, 244 Haifom lived in the park at
Okaukuejo, Halali, Namutoni and the two gates (Marais 1984:37f.).
Views from Within
As mentioned above, the complete consequences of the removal were not
anticipated by many people. Before the 1950s, the Haifom lived in Etosha,
but went to farms to work for a couple of months or they visited family
members who were already staying and working regularly on a farm. Thus,
in the beginning, it was nothing really new for them. And since there were
no fences, they thought that it would be easy to return to those waterholes
not under regular inspection from park officials. But after a while they
realised that things had indeed changed:
K: [...] But the old people, they said, come, we are going back
[to the park]. They decided, come, we are going, back, what are
we doing here [on the farms]? We cannot stay here for a long
time! We want to go back home! [...] We are going back home!
We are going to fNasoneb [Rietfontein].
But they met the police sergeant on their way back home, and he asked
them what they were doing there.
K: We said, we are coming back! He said, where are your
papers, passes, where are your passes? We said, what kind of a
pass? We just come back!!! No, not again, it is finished, you
won’t come again! You, as you look for work, look to other
places for work! Not here! You don’t have to come here! We
went back to Oberland.
J: [...] So they thought perhaps we shall come back. They said,
we are just going there to work [to the farms], we will always
come. So like K. said, when you come back, you need a pass.
84 SWAA A511/1, n.d.
85 I did not get the exact information about the date, but both the Chief Game
Warden and Haifom informants assured me that they could stay there if they
had been born there.
Ute Dieckmann
You have to come with a pass, you must not come like that. Go
back. They were hunted away and they stayed, stayed, stayed,
but you don’t forget! Your place, you are coming back, this side
... [?] What is this man looking for? Tell him that he comes!
When you pass here, there were a few people ... [?], he was a
police man, at the police man. He is going there [?]. What are
you looking for? I just visit these people. No, you have to bring
your pass! Where is your pass? He [the “trespasser”] is locked
up. He is going to jail [laughing]. Until we nearly forget this
place! The old people, the old people were very afraid for the
whites that time! [...talking Haifom...] you will be beaten. We
are going back! We went back to the farms, we stayed, stayed,
stayed. But I never forgot this place, I came always, then I
worked here [...]
(K.K. and J.T. 22.04.01, translation, mine)
Shortly after the expulsion, the Haifom encountered problems whenever
they met the police or tried entering through the gate when returning to the
park. It was not advisable to visit waterholes situated near the main road, the
stations or rest camps, but otherwise, their movements could not be
completely controlled. People remember two Haifom who stayed
continuously at !Gobaub near the southern boundary of Etosha until at least
the end of the 1960s. Others went back ‘home’ for some time (weeks or
months), but returned to the farms or the rest camps later on. What is said for
the animals applied for people as well: “Initially the definition of Etosha’s
boundaries made virtually no impact on the movement of wild animals [...]
Physically the boundaries consisted of surveyed points and later firebreaks
were cleared along some of them” (Berry 1980:54).
An interview with a white woman who owns a farm along the border of
Etosha supports this assumption. The Haifom who worked on the farm
sometimes went back ‘home’ to hunt meat, which she would find later on
near the houses of the workers. Discussions about it would have meant the
discovery of an offence, thus, she kept silent and did not inquire86.
86 Q: ..Zurückgegangen?
T: Doch, vielleicht, um mal nen Gemsbok oder was zu holen, so n bisschen
gegangen, Fleisch war bei ihnen also das, wirklich das, was, worum ihr ganzes
Leben...Und manchmal, wenn ich dann an dem Pontoks (?) ankam, wo die
wohnten, dann siehste da Fleisch und du siehst da so’n, so’n Spieß, so, und du
siehst noch, da, das Fleisch, das hängt da in den Bäumen, und du weißt, das ist
nicht deins, [...], du hast es nicht gegeben, aber du sagst nichts, du machst, als ob
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 75
Some Haifom first went to farms, but legally returned to the park after a
couple of years to take up employment. A labour force was needed within
the park due to the development of tourism.
The fence is now put up. The gate is there now. We came there,
they said, no, you are not coming in anymore. Who is on that
side, stay on that side. Who is inside, stay inside. We were
lucky. We came in before the fence was put up. That time we
were already here. And the people who stayed behind, they
came there, the gate was there, it was said, no, you should not
come, you will stay outside, you are not coming in anymore.
The people they tried, no, we are coming back... but that was
still a little bit better, the men they came to look for work, and
they came in at the gate. Later they said, no you have to have a
permit to enter. But as long as you are a Haifom you could
come in if you are looking for work. So they got a job.
(K.K. 7.11.00, translation, mine)
The informants emphasise that Haifom could always get regular
employment within the park. It was accepted – even by advocates of nature
conservation – that the Haifom had been the former residents of the area.
People vividly describe their relationship to certain officers, game rangers
and sergeants who were employed within the park. They obviously
appreciated the dances for the tourists on Wednesday and Saturday evenings
and some can exactly explain the events:
Yes, 5 o’clock, about 5 o’clock, the voorman had to make the
fire. A big fire. Then one Ford, a car, the car of the
Administration, would load the women [at the location of
Okaukuejo] and bring again and load again, and bring and load
and bring, and load all around and bring. They [the women]
wore skins now. And my father, those had skins as well. Then
we danced there, there were busses and busses and busses,
which had come. Uh! And they played!
(T.G., 13.09.01, translation, mine)
du’s nicht siehst. Denn se ham sich nen bischen von ihrem Zuhause was geholt.
Wir warn ja ungefähr nur drei, dreitausend Meter von, von...[Unterbrechung]
Dann weißt du genau, sie sind mal n bischen nach zuhause gewandert, ham sie
irgendwo nen Wildebeest geholt oder was, du sagst nix, eisern, du machst, als ob
du das überhaupt nicht siehst. Denn wenn du da, das nun zur Kenntnis nimmst,
dann mußt du sie fragen, und das war ja strafbar. (E.T., 3.3.00)
Ute Dieckmann
On the same evenings at Okaukuejo, another tourist attraction was
presented before the Haifom dances: game rangers and tourists visited a
specific waterhole for so-called ‘lion parties.’ A zebra was slaughtered and
the tourists could watch a lion devouring the meat. Another zebra would be
slaughtered for the Haifom. Both attractions were stopped in the early
1960s. It was difficult to find an explanation for this cessation. One
informant mentioned that the lion parties stopped because the old lion,
Castor, who was ‘tame’ and lazy (he was used to the visits to that waterhole
and the offered meat), was killed by another lion who moved away with the
two lionesses that had been with Castor. It was not possible to lure new lions
willing to regularly visit that waterhole. But he has another explanation for
the cessation of the Haifom dances:
The Haifom did change as well. They did not want to dance
any more. The young people, they did not want to dance
anymore. They did not want to dance. But that time, that man,
de la Bat, he said: The people have to continue with their
tradition! But they said: no, we are not any more wild, we won’t
continue! They stopped by themselves. It is true! They are
talking about traditions today, but the Haifom did stop by
themselves! De la Bat, he said, the Haifom, who were brought
out, all have to come back. But they did not come back, those
who came back, they just made trouble and were brought out
again. They did stop by themselves with those traditional
things. But he talked nicely [de la Bat?], he said: come back and
do your traditional work/things.
(K.K. 29.10.01, translation, mine)
This is an interesting perspective. Instead of accusing the policies of
nature conservation, he places the responsibility on the younger Haifom,
who were no longer interested in “tradition.” It is noteworthy that this
particular informant was employed in Etosha most of his life until his
retirement and had a good relationship with his employers.
During the time of the liberation struggle in the 1970s and the 1980s, men
were recruited for the South African Defence Force (SADF) as trackers.
Every year, they were called upon for a couple of weeks, and the payment
was good. It was impossible to refuse. Otherwise, the men would have been
accused of supporting the South West African People’s Organisation
(SWAPO). Some were also employed as soldiers on a regular basis for some
years. Etosha National Park was not protected against the influences of the
war. The location at Okaukuejo was sometimes combed by security forces.
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 77
People don’t talk a lot about that time, and in this they are not exceptional in
The people who stayed in Etosha after the expulsion were better off than
those who had left the park. Wages were considerably higher than those paid
on farms, and the men, often working on road construction or with rangers,
had the opportunity to visit their old places. Some rangers were also
particularly interested in the knowledge the Haifom87. This sharing of
knowledge reinforced the feeling that Etosha is actually their place.
Life on the farms was often tough. The wages and rations that were paid,
as well as treatment and workload, depended entirely on the farmers’
discretion. Some farmers were well known for their cruelty, others treated
their employees acceptably. Only a few Haifom stayed at any one farm for
the rest of their lives; the majority moved from one farm to another, and
some of them worked on more than twenty farms in the region around Outjo
and Otavi.
With Namibia’s independence in 1990, the political environment
changed. The following assessment of Kruger National Park is valid for
Namibia, too: “In the African version of wildlife conservation history, the
experience has been that game reserves are White inventions, which elevate
wildlife above humanity and which have served as instruments of
dispossession and subjugation” (Carruthers 1995:101). Thus, with
independence, new concepts of nature conservation and tourism needed to be
developed. Now, the impact on, and the eventual benefits to, the local
population had to be taken into consideration. Hitherto, no general method
had been found to reconcile the interests of local people with those of
conservation. Several initiatives were taken, especially by the Ministry of
Wildlife, Conservation and Tourism (now the Ministry of Environment and
Tourism [MET]) to approach this issue. Community Based Natural Resource
Management (CBNRM) is one important approach towards reconciling such
apparent contradictions of interest. It aims at providing “communal area
residents with appropriate incentives to use their resources sustainably and
combines reform of policy and legislation with implementation at
87 One ranger in Okaukeujo told me, for example, that he owed much of his
knowledge about the park to one Haifom man, still employed at Namutoni. The
Haifom themselves talk about specific wardens or rangers who were
particularly interested in their knowledge.
Ute Dieckmann
community level” (Jones 1999:2). Community-based tourism is another
relevant concept being developed in communal areas as well (see e.g.,
Research Discussion Papers of the MET 1994-1999).
Since the majority of the Haifom do not live in communal areas, they
have not benefited from these initiatives.
Views from Within
Today, people often glorify the ‘good old days’ when they were still
allowed to stay in Etosha, interestingly more in terms of life today, than to
after the eviction.88 There was no hunger, no diseases like today, and there
was no war. Landlessness is seen as one of the most important problems by
the majority of the Haifom (which fits very well in the actual discourse
about land in Namibia; see Widlok, this volume). In the interpretations of
this, some people focus on the eviction from Etosha, others focus on the
withholding of a ‘homeland’ for the Haifom during the Apartheid Era.
Many Haifom all across the region regard Etosha as their ‘homeland,’
even if their direct ancestors never stayed in the area that later became
Etosha National Park. This is not surprising, since Etosha was the last area
where the Haifom could at least partly continue to lead a relatively
autonomous life. Oshivambo-speaking groups had already occupied areas
north of Etosha for centuries, and white farmers increasingly occupied the
areas adjoining the park to the south and east, especially since the early
1900s once the railway line to Tsumeb, Otavi and Grootfontein was
completed in 1908 (Gordon 1992:54). Today, most of the Haifom live on
farms owned by others or in the towns of the Kunene and Otjozondjupa
Many elder Haifom claim that life worsened after independence. We
can only speculate about the reasons for this. Maybe promises of the
prospective government played a role, maybe living conditions became more
difficult in some respects, maybe it is part of the human character to glorify
the past. People who were formally employed in the game reserve and are
still there today, complain that their children do not get jobs within the
national park anymore. According to their perspective, the former
government respected the fact that the Etosha area was formerly occupied by
Haifom, which led to the employment of Haifom within the park. We
could conclude that land rights as subsistence rights on this land, and not
88 This is true not only for the people who could stay in Etosha after 1954 due to
their employment, but also for the residents of Outjo and farmworkers.
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 79
only ownership (see Widlok, this volume, for discussion about the concept
of land rights) were an acceptable form of ‘land rights.’ Today, young
people living in Etosha are confronted with difficulties in getting
employment, and the Haifom have no better chances than people from
other language groups.
I assume that they do not feel like citizens of the new nation, especially
the elder Haifom. They do not feel able to actively take part in shaping
policy in independent Namibia. This can be partly explained through their
powerlessness over the past century. The Haifom, like other San groups,
were often treated as objects rather than subjects by most others, a fact that
may have influenced their self-perception in regard to the ‘outside,’ or the
wider political system in which they are involved. Another important aspect
may be their involvement in the SADF. They did not actively fight for the
liberation of the country, nor do they feel that they benefit from this
liberation. This may partly explain the revitalisation of a Haifom identity
that can be observed today.
There have been some attempts made to improve the Haifom’s situation.
They are struggling to unite their communities into a stronger political
organisation. The NGO Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in
Southern Africa (WIMSA), a San organisation whose activities are focused
particularly on land tenure, institutional capacity building, education,
training and networking of the various San communities in Southern Africa
supports the Haifom in their aspirations (Brörmann 1999:22, 2000:3). In
1996, the Haifom elected a chief to represent them on the Council of
Traditional Leaders,89 but he was never recognised by the government, and
over the years he lost the support of most Haifom90.
In 1997, a demonstration at the gates of Etosha National Park was
organised by the Haifom to re-claim their ancestral land. Thus, Etosha has
89 Traditional leaders in Namibia now play vital roles at the national and local
levels, as defined by the Traditional Authorities Act of 1995. At the national
level, their task consists of advising the President, through the Council of
Traditional Leaders, on “the control and utilisation of communal land.” The
council also provides a means for information to be communicated from the
government to the people, and traditional leaders have to be recognised by the
Ministry of Regional and Local Government and Housing (Blackie and Tarr
90 Haifom are no exception; several San communities still struggle for political
representation and recognition by traditional authorities. They are often
confronted with statements like: “You people never had leaders. Why do you
need leaders today?” (WUseb 2000).
Ute Dieckmann
become a reference point for identification. Seventy-three people who were
demonstrating at the gates and blocking roads were jailed, some were
granted bail and later the charges were dropped91. It was the first time that
the fate of these people achieved national and international recognition,92 but
due to internal struggles for representation within the Haifom community,
these steps were not followed up on. The potential for a group experience
from this event was lost. New elections for a traditional authority are always
in discussion, but have not yet taken place. Because the establishment of a
recognised Haifom Traditional Council has continued to fail, another
strategy to unite the different Haifom communities under one umbrella
organisation was taken. In 2001 the fNaisa !Nanis San Development Trust
was established with the support of WIMSA and Centre of Applied Social
Studies (CASS), but hitherto the initiative of the trust is still in its infancy
(see Widlok 2002, also this volume).
Several issues must be stressed. The first needs to be mentioned, even if it
is not surprising and also is part of the methodological aspect. It concerns the
different source material, either archival material or oral history, and the
different ‘histories’ we discover in these perspectives: from the local people
on one hand, and on the other, from the representatives of the colonial state.
To merely interprete one source independently from the other one would
create quite a different picture.
Furthermore, it can be misleading to draw conclusions from the analysis
of the material from one side about the other side. When reading archival
material about the Bushmen and the development of Etosha National Park,
one would expect a far more antagonistic attitude from side of the Haifom.
Two points, the event and the discourse, will serve as illustration:
a) The eviction could make us think that the Haifom would have developed
a far more critical attitude towards nature conservation or the whole colonial
91 Allgemeine Zeitung, 24. Juni 1997. Buschleute frei.
92 The Namibian, 16. January 199. Copaction slammed: 21 Hai
om remain in jail.
The Namibian, 23. January 1997. San vow to fight to bitter end for land.
The Namibian, 31. January 1997. Government giving urgent attention to
om case.
Allgemeine Zeitung, 21. January 1997. Premier verteidigt Polizeieinsatz.
Allgemeine Zeitung, 21. January 1997. DTA fordert Freilassung der Hai
Republikein, 13. January 1997. Boesmans beleër Etosha.
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 81
power than they apparently do. But by analysing their perspectives, we can
infer that the eviction is just one point in a long story of subjugation,
dispossession and disempowerment that was not reversed with the
independence of Namibia in 1990. Their heritage not only consists of
landlessness and conflicts within the Haifom ‘community’ scattered about
large areas of northern Namibia, but it also implies a critical attitude towards
the new government, which has not yet managed to solve the problems and
continues to create a problematic self-perception in regard to their own
power or co-determination in the new nation.
b) The language often used by the officers does not pretend to imply a very
human attitude. However, we have to take into consideration that theory and
practice, in this case language and behaviour, are two sides of a coin. It is
quite possible that the official reports we got to know are not completely
consistent with the actual behaviour of those officers. They adapted to the
official discourse about the Bushmen, but also got to know some of them
quite well and treated them in a way that was acceptable to the people93.
However, we must differentiate further: the material from both sides does
not present a consistent perspective. Due to the individuals involved in the
whole process, people developed varying viewpoints. The opinions of
representatives of the colonial administration were not by no means
unanimous. The same is true for Haifom voices. They are not uniform in
their interpretations, and there is no single oral tradition about the events.
I will now leave the standpoint regarding the different perspectives and
interpretations and shift back to a bird’s-eye-view of the impact of nature
conservation on the local people. Regardless of interpretations, we can note
that some one hundred Haifom were evicted from Etosha National Park
during the 1950s. In contrast to many other ethnic groups, the Haifom were
not granted any ‘homeland’ under the South African Apartheid Regime.
Today, the Haifom are scattered over a huge area, with the majority living
in townships in commercial areas, on farms or in some areas of the four O-
Regions (see Widlok, this volume). Thus, in addition to other sectors of the
South African policy during their mandate period, nature conservation
legislation was one important aspect that resulted in their landlessness.
Along with other San groups, the Haifom are one of the most marginalized
people in Namibia (UNDP Report 1998,1999), which is partly a result of
their landlessness.
93 Needless to say, this interpretation should not be understood as any kind of
Ute Dieckmann
Since 1990, new approaches in Namibia have been taken. They aim to
combine the interests of local people and protect natural resources in the
planning and realisation of conserved areas. These attempts are mostly
limited to communal areas and therefore do not affect the Haifom. Political
pressure on the government from the people who have lost their land for the
sake of nature conservation interests is not (yet?) strong enough to create
serious official attempts of compensation. Regarding the need and struggle
for a general land reform, which is actually taking place in Namibia, this is
not surprising at all.
The old approaches towards resettling local people have not (yet?) been
completely thrown on the scrap-heap. In 1997-1998, Gpwi and Gfana
were resettled to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana (Ikeya
2001). But today, in general, the tendency to integrate local people into the
plans of conservation projects can be observed. The question about the loss
of land by the people who were resettled during the colonial era remains.
There are some sparks of hope. In South Africa the ]Khomani San have
managed to regain rights to parts of their ancestral land in the Kgalagadi
Transfrontier Park (formerly the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park) from the
South African Government (Hitchcock 2001:140), hitherto the only case in
Southern Africa. Certainly, the regaining of land rights to ancestral land is
not the only solution for local people who were affected by nature
conservation legislation during the colonial period, but political discussion
about possible ways to deal with it are still necessary.
The impact of nature conservation on the San: The case of Etosha National Park 83
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... The history of Hai//om dispossession and impoverishment has been described in detail by Thomas Widlok (1999), Ute Dieckmann (2001Dieckmann ( , 2003Dieckmann ( , 2007, James Suzman (2004) and Robert Hitchcock (2015). For our purposes, there are some important points to be made about Hai//om land use and management in the past, and the ways in which the Hai//om were either forced or encouraged to leave many of the places they had occupied for centuries. ...
... From the late 1940s onwards, officials placed more restrictions on the Hai// om in Etosha, especially with regard to their livestock and hunting (Suzman 2004). A discussion that had started during the German colonial period, namely about creating a Bushman reserve -at first, in 1906, only for scientific purposes, though this never materialised -was raised again in 1936 and once again in 1949, when the South West Africa (SWA) administration appointed a 'Commission for the Preservation of the Bushmen' ( Dieckmann 2003Dieckmann , 2007. This Commission interviewed 325 Hai//om in Etosha in September 1950, while subsequent visits to Hai//om areas in 1952 saw some 1,247 Hai//om and associated group members being interviewed (Schoeman 1953). ...
... A number of Hai//om who had been relocated to the farms returned to Etosha later on to add to the growing labour force that was needed for tourism at the park. In retrospect, most people had not anticipated the complete, far-reaching consequences of these removals ( Dieckmann 2001Dieckmann , 2003Dieckmann , 2007. The Hai// om's expulsion from the park was a gradual process, and a minority From the 1950s to independence (1990), the Hai//om were largely land- less, poverty-stricken, marginalised and discriminated against by other non-San groups, settlers and the SWA administration. ...
Full-text available
As former mobile foraging peoples, the indigenous Hai//om San of Namibia lost most of their land – including Etosha National Park and Mangetti West – to other groups and the state in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. After independence (1990), the government redistributed some of this land to various expropriated groups. In the following overview, we delve into this complex history to argue that the recent decision by the Hai//om (2015) to file a collective action lawsuit against the government of Namibia over Etosha and Mangetti West must be seen in a context of ongoing, often subtle, processes of land dispossession simultaneously taking place as a result of marginalisation and structural disempowerment.
... Only a fraction of them lived in the contemporary Etosha park area. However, in recent debates, Haiíom stress their affiliation to the Etosha Park area(Dieckmann 2003). In 1997, Haiíom activists demonstrated at the gates of Etosha National Park to reclaim this ancestral land. ...
... 73 people were jailed subsequently and the Haiíom achieved even some international attention. According toDieckmann (2003) Haiíom stylise Etosha National Park as their ancestral land, regardless of the fact that many of their ancestors lived outside the boundaries of the Etosha Park in scattered communities. In doing so, they create the image of a homogenous social group living in a bounded stretch of land. ...
... As Dieckmann (2003Dieckmann ( , 59-60, 2007 notes, in the final report of the Bushman Commission, the Hai om, the largest San population in the country, were not given a reserve. ...
... In 1954, all but 12 Hai om families who worked for Nature Conservation were told that they would have to leave the Etosha game reserve. The rest of the Etosha Hai om either had to resettle in Ovamboland or on white commercial farms south of the reserve (Widlok 1999, 25-27;Gordon and Douglas 2000, 165;Dieckmann 2003Dieckmann , 59-60, 2007. The Native Commissioner of Ovamboland told the Hai om that they 'had to leave the reserve for the sake of the game', and would be allowed to return only if they were in possession of a permit (Dieckmann 2007, 192). ...
Full-text available
The Hai‖om are the largest and most widely dispersed San population in Namibia. Like many other San peoples in Southern Africa, the Hai‖om were dispossessed, marginalised, and discriminated against by other groups and by the colonial state. In 1949, the South West African administration appointed a Commission for the Preservation of the Bushmen, chaired by a former Stellenbosch University professor, P.J. Schoeman, one of the architects of apartheid in South Africa. When the final report of the Commission was published in 1953, the Hai‖om were ignored, in part because Schoeman did not see them as ‘real' or ‘authentic' Bushmen. The Hai‖om were removed from their ancestral homeland in what was designated as Etosha National Park in 1953-1954. This paper examines the efforts of the Hai‖om to seek land and resource rights and political recognition from the 1980s to the present. The Namibian government appointed a Hai‖om Traditional Authority, David//Khamuxab, in 2004, established a San Development Office in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in 2005, and in 2007 began purchasing commercial farms for purposes of resettlement of Hai‖om. Statements by Namibian government officials underscore the importance of humanity and compassion in the ways in which the Hai‖om San issue has been addressed. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Hai‖om of Etosha will be treated the same way as other Hai‖om and other historically disadvantaged or marginalised communities in Namibia.
... Mr. ||Khumub grew up -at this place -here, the father of his mother, |Nuaiseb, was the headman of the area. While moving around, Mr. ||Khumub finds an old cartridge case Dieckmann, 2003) 14 Once, we tried to find another former historically important waterhole, situated about three kilometres away from the road. Our guide lost the right path at a crossing of several paths. ...
Full-text available
In this contribution I exemplarily analyse two different ways of looking at the same environment, that is, the Etosha National Park in north-central Namibia. I portray the view of the western tourists visiting the area and on the other hand the perspective of the Hai||om, a San group which up to the 1950s resided within the park area and lived predominantly from hunting and gathering. It is argued that the perspectives – the spectator’s view and, following Ingold’s terminology (Ingold, 2000, p. 189), the ‘dweller’s perspective’ – are influenced by long-established cultural concepts and by the mode in which space is experienced and engaged. Both factors, the conceptualisation of and the engagement with space, are closely intertwined and have to be contextualised politically and historically in order to arrive at meaningful explanations of landscape visions and comprehension. The tourists’ view is shaped by the Western aesthetical perspective of landscapes and a broad idea of how African sceneries should look. The tourists are located outside of the environment and visual features dominate their experience. The angle of the Hai||om is one from within and is affected by their active engagement with the land. For the Hai||om the Etosha landscape is not merely scenery, but a network of paths, of social relations, and of places imbued with social identity.
Full-text available
The San of Botswana have had to cope with government policies, including ones aimed at assimilation and sedentarisation which had significant impacts on their subsistence and social security. In response, San and non-government organisations working with them attempted to draw on the international discourse on indigenous peoples' rights in their efforts to assert their rights. This paper examines the background and implications of a legal case brought by San and Bakgalagadi residents of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve against the government of Botswana for the relocation of people outside of the reserve and the cessation of services and water provision. While the government of Botswana argues that the most effective strategy to deal with rural, disadvantaged peoples is to establish settlements for them to provide services, questions are raised concerning the viability of this approach.
This series of Research Discussion Papers is intended to present preliminary, new, or topical information and ideas for discussion and debate. The contents are not necessarily the final views or positions of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. Comments and feedback will be welcomed.
Les habitants de Kaokoland, de Himba et de Herero ont été récemment au coeur des discussions concernant un projet hydroélectrique controversé dans leur région. Les détracteurs et les défenseurs de ce projet les décrivent comme les éleveurs de bétail les plus traditionnels du sud de l'Afrique. L'article décrit les préjudices considérables qu'ont subi les éleveurs de Kaokoland dans le cadre de la politique d'enclavement adoptée par le gouvemment sud-africain à leur encontre. Après avoir été pris dans l'engrenage de régionaux, de la production de denrées et du travail salarié autour des années 1900, ils se sont retrouvés isolés par le gouvernement sudafricain en moins de vingt ans. Ils ont vu leur mobilité limitée dans l'espace par la mise en place de zones tampons associées aux zones d'élevage commercial et par l'interdiction de franchir de nouvelles lignes frontières définies. Le commerce transfrontalier fut totalement interdit. Les éleveurs qui avaient diversifié leurs activités au cours des cinquante années précédentes et s'étaient risqué à s'engager dans une première vague de pénétration commerciale furent contraints de revenir à un élevage de subsistance.
Report: Ecology, Behaviour and Population Dynamics of Blue Wildebeest at the Etosha National Park. Afdeling Natturbewaaring en Tourisme Suid-wes-Afrika Admisistrasie (Okaukuejo)
  • Hu Berry
Berry, Hu 1980 Final Report: Ecology, Behaviour and Population Dynamics of Blue Wildebeest at the Etosha National Park. Afdeling Natturbewaaring en Tourisme Suid-wes-Afrika Admisistrasie (Okaukuejo).