Archaeology supports /Khomani land claim

 A stone structure at Aukeigas in the early 1980s; our archaeological survey discovered /Khomani settlements with houses, copper smelting furnaces and engravings.

Last week’s court decision (The Namibian 7th June 2012) dismissing the /Khomani land claim was a sad reflection on the civic and judicial institutions that are supposed to represent and protect vulnerable and dispossessed Namibians. It need not be so.

The /Khomanin people living on the outskirts of Windhoek have a legitimate historical reason to be there.  Satan’s Loch (Devil’s Pit), the area claimed by Chief Gawa!nab, lies within the old Aukeigas Reserve where the /Khomanin were forcibly settled in the 1890s.  Later, the reserve was split in two: Satan’s Loch became part of Windhoek Townlands, and the rest became known as the Daan Viljoen Park, the /Khomanin having been removed on the recommendation of the infamous Odendaal Plan. Is the City of Windhoek really intent on perpetuating this injustice (The Namibian, 12 Sept 2011)?

There is a long history of /Khomanin occupation in the /Khomas area. In the late 1970s we carried out a detailed archaeological survey and found more than 150 precolonial settlements.  The evidence we found also showed that the Matchless Mine copper deposit had been systematically worked from about 1200 AD until around 1750 AD.  Pre-colonial copper production from this area even came to the attention of the early Dutch settlers in the Cape, who mounted a series of abortive but well documented expeditions to discover the source of the valuable metal.

Under German rule the /Khomas area was largely given over to the operations of the Liebig Company, a huge ranching operation centred on the farm Neu Heusis, site of the famous “Ghost House”.  This enterprise failed economically, but with the help of regular sweeps by the Schutztruppen it succeeded in removing the /Khomanin to Aukeigas.  The remains of settlements in the /Khomas area show that some /Khomanin were able to evade these round-ups by moving into ever more inaccessible valleys.  The purpose of the Aukeigas Reserve was to provide a pool of labour for Windhoek: that is, until the next generation of planners and bureaucrats decided otherwise.

What happened to the /Khomanin recalls the brutal “Clearances” that drove the independent clans from the highlands of Scotland to make room for the growth of commercial farming during the Industrial Revolution.  That process created a legacy of displacement and poverty that many Namibians would find quite familiar.  By asking for their right of occupation to be restored the /Khomanin are offering the authorities an opportunity to reverse some of the most regrettable decisions of the colonial era.  We hope some of this background information will be useful in the continuing discussion of the /Khomanin land request.

Land issues clearly deserve more than the treatment the /Khomanin have received in court. There are larger concerns than a narrowly defined rule of law, and one of these is the application of justice in respect of ancestral land claims. Well documented archaeological evidence can provide authoritative grounds for such claims, and sometimes there is precious little else.



About Jill

Jill is a historical archaeologist interested in contact studies. She has worked with John in Namibia for more than thirty years, sharing an interest in the history of nomadic desert communities and delighting in raising their son Tim. She assists with running the Namibia Archaeological Trust and Quaternary Research Services. After being the copy-editor for the South African Archaeological Bulletin, she now works for UNAM Press as Editorial and Production Manager. Through this web site they hope to share research results and ideas.
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