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San don’t feel as part of Zimbabwe

ALMOST a year after the adoption of the new Constitution, members of the San community still feel marginalised and denied freedoms and liberties as equal citizens of Zimbabwe.

ALMOST a year after the adoption of the new Constitution, members of the San community still feel marginalised and denied freedoms and liberties as equal citizens of Zimbabwe.


The Constitution recognises 16 official languages, including Tshwao spoken by the San, but the language is still not being taught in schools and the group feels that it is still treated as second class.

The San raised this in a seminar with civil society representatives from June 24 to 27 under the auspices of the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (Wimsa) in Bulawayo where San communities from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia gathered to share problems and strategies on issues affecting them.

The meeting was facilitated by Habakkuk Trust and aimed at reflecting on progress and challenges concerning indigenous people to develop a shared vision with the Sadc community towards accountability for inclusive development.

The issues would be raised the Sadc Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (Ango) just before the Sadc summit to be held in Victoria Falls in September.

Mthandazo Vundla from the Mpilo area of Tsholotsho said only four people could speak the native San language Tshwao and as a result their culture was dying.

“As elders it pains us that our culture is eroding because as we speak, only four people are able to speak our native language. Unfortunately, we are not educated and cannot teach others. Teachers in the area tried to teach children what they heard us speak, but they could not come up with proper spellings,” Vundla said.

He said the group had a chief, but he was not recognised in the country’s chiefs council.

“We have a chief within our area, but he is not part of the National Chiefs’ Council and that is part of the reasons we suffer because no one speaks on our behalf.”

On the social front, Vundla said Kalanga and Ndebele boys were impregnating their children and abandoning them.

“As a result we have many Kalanga and Ndebele grandchildren in our community and that is diluting our culture. We do not want that,” the emotional Vundla said.

“We do not believe in inter-marriages because as far as we are concerned, we are not treated as equals, so what these Kalanga and Ndebele boys are doing is not appreciated and it is our wish that they are chucked out from our community.”

Vundla said they were the first inhabitants of the country and must be enjoying liberties of being the first people.

He said the rock paintings in various parts of the country, including at the Matopos National Park, proved that they were the original natives of Zimbabwe.

Wimsa acting co-ordinator Victoria Haruseb said in Namibia, the San language had been incorporated into the country’s educational system from pre-school level.

She said the country had started translating some textbooks that form part of the educational syllabus into the San language and such efforts would keep the culture alive.

Haruseb said the efforts would preserve the culture of the San community and was a way of acknowledging that the group was part of a wider community.

She said other San communities from outside Zimbabwe understood the plight of their counterparts as they went through the same predicament.

“We do understand the plight of Zimbabwean San. We went through the same and that is why we have come to listen to them and take a step further in assisting them. It took us more than 10 years to be where we are. We want them to feel at home in Zimbabwe and be equal players in the country,” Haruseb said.

She said it was in their plans to translate texts for educational syllabi for educational purposes.

Haruseb said development could only start in the local San communities if their chief was recognised as traditional leaders of the community were recognised and consulted as part of the national discourse.

She said they would raise the plight of the San community with the Sadc Ango before the Sadc summit.

Habakkuk Trust senior advocacy officer Khumbulani Maphosa said the fate of the San community lay in the hands of the people attending the seminar.

“We must promote their rights because they are citizens of Zimbabwe and we should be their voice,” he said.

Maphosa urged the local media not to leave the plight of the San community in the country in the hands of foreigners, but play their part in promoting the upliftment of the minorities.

Moses Khumub, a Namibian San council board member said although there were visible actions and progress towards the empowerment of indigenous people, “a number of structural, systematic, socioeconomic and political challenges which impede enjoyment of their rights still exist”.

“These include weak implementation, non-ratification and domestication of protocols, leadership and commitment challenges, high levels of poverty in many indigenous people, inequalities as well as the problematic developmental model policies at the expense of the needs of the indigenous people,” Khumub said. “The charter of the United Nations, the International Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action affirm the fundamental importance to the right of self-determination of all peoples by virtue of which they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”