Photo: 67-year old Meleli Sibanda, a member of the Khoisan tribe in Zimbabwe's Tsholotsho district sits outside her home with her one year old granddaughter who is leaning on the granny's shoulder. The tribe has fallen prey to the blame of fuelling climate change impacts here. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo | IDN-INPS - Photo: 2017

Southern Africa’s Khoisan Tribe Victimised by War on Climate Change

By Jeffrey Moyo

HARARE (ACP-IDN) – Ndliso-Ndliso Sibanda, a descendant of Southern Africa’s ancient Khoisan tribe, still practises a semi-nomadic life style in Zimbabwe despite his 75 years, and is constantly on the move looking for wood to construct shelter, and wild fruits and tubers when they are in season.

Ndliso-Ndliso, who lives with his family in Tsholotsho, a district in Matabeleland North Province, has continued his life style despite the stringent rules enacted by the government country to protect the environment as it wages war against the impact of climate change.

Khoisan homes are constructed using tree branches and grass, which environmental experts here have said poses a threat to the country’s already fading forests, but Ndliso-Ndliso is not of the same opinion, saying that nature is part of his very being.

“I’m so attached to the bush and I don’t imagine a life away from the bush,” he told IDN. “I feel a strong connection with my ancestors when I’m in the bush. I don’t see any damage I’m causing to the environment nor to what you call climate.”

In neighbouring Botswana, Atshumo Ahanfe, also a member of the Khoisan tribe, thinks the same way. “We want to live our natural lives, living with nature, depending on its surroundings, but the government accuses us of fuelling climate change impacts. I don’t know how. It’s unfair,” Ahanfe told IDN.

The Khoisan – also spelt Khoesaan, Khoesan or Khoe-San – is a unifying name for two groups of Southern African people who share physical and linguistic characteristics that are distinct from the Bantu majority of the region, and who have parted ways with pastoralism due to drying of the climate and turned to a hunter-gatherer way of life.

According to Happson Chikova, an independent environmental expert based in Masvingo, Zimbabwe’s oldest city, the Khoisan “build temporary homes using grass and tree branches, cutting trees, creating desertification here because they just live temporarily in those homes and then migrate to other areas there as they lead their nomadic lives.”

Davy Ndlovu, Programmes Manager for Tsoro-O-Tso San, a development trust that takes care of the welfare of Khoisan people in Zimbabwe, disagrees.

“While on the move the Khoisan respect the environment and do not encourage random cutting down of trees or starting of veld fires,” Ndlovu told IDN. “The Khoisan also do not teach nature, but they live it and can interpret it. They consider themselves the window to nature. The environment or bush are their school. While most developed nations spend most of their time in classrooms, the Khoisan spend it out in the bush.”

Nevertheless, government climate change experts argue the ancient tribe has brought more harm than good to the country’s environment in Matabeleland North Province.

“More often than not, the Khoisan people here resort to digging out tree roots from the ground worsening climate change effects here as the trees whose roots they feed from die as a result, which further brings damage to their food sources, the trees, also resulting in wild animals fleeing the areas this tribe lives in,” Nyson Dhumbuchena, a government climate change officer based in Gweru, Zimbabwe’s Midlands Province capital, told IDN.

Ndlovu insists that the “Khoisan’s hands are clean” when it comes to climate and environmental hazards.

“The sad truth is that the Khoisan never contributed to the deterioration of climate, but now they are feeling the effects of climate change and are the worst affected. When Earth Summits, climate change meetings are called, you can hardly find Khoisan or Indigenous minorities chairing the meeting. Their voices are hardly heard,” he said.

According to 71-year-old Markson Ngcoli Sibanda, one of the traditional healers among the Khoisan communities in Zimbabwe, “our lifestyle is seriously threatened by encroaching Western cultures and the effects of continuous drought.”

Meanwhile, Khoisan communities in South Africa face even tougher times, according to climate change experts there.

“Here in South Africa, the Khoisan – who are few but still stick to their culture – face arrest if they continue to hunt wild animals or do anything damaging to the environment although this is known to be part of their lives,” Nomphumelelo Zulu, an independent climate change expert based in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, told IDN.

“Some of the Khoisan are languishing in jails here for failing to respect government’s efforts to combat the effects of climate change … government should rather have listened to the needs of the Khoisan rather than starting to enforce the law on them when, in fact, almost all of the primitive minority race here is stateless, undocumented and rarely benefitting from government.”

For Hakainde Mwanawanga, an independent environmental expert based in the Zambian capital Lusaka, the climate change fight across Southern Africa has discriminated against the Khoisan tribal groups dotted across the region.

“When important matters relating to climate change are discussed, the Khoisan people are never represented, a clear indication that they are regarded as less important in major matters,” Mwanawanga told IDN.

And so for many Khoisan people like Ndliso-Ndliso, the climate change war has turned their minority tribal groups into enemies of Zimbabwe’s climate change fighters.

“We are being blamed for oiling the effects of climate change by tribes that see themselves as better than us, yet we don’t know what climate change is,” said Ndliso-Ndliso. [IDN-InDepthNews – 05 March 2017]

Photo: 67-year old Meleli Sibanda, a member of the Khoisan tribe in Zimbabwe’s Tsholotsho district sits outside her home with her one year old granddaughter who is leaning on the granny’s shoulder. The tribe has fallen prey to the blame of fuelling climate change impacts here. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo | IDN-INPS

Note: This report is part of a joint project of the Secretariat of the ACP Group of States and IDN, flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate

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