Pasar al contenido principal


At the Regional Conference on Development Programmes for Africa’s San Populations held in Windhoek, Namibia, in 1992, the San representatives resolved that "San peoples should be assisted to form committees to represent themselves at local, regional and international levels." (Government of the Republic of Namibia, 1992) This need was reiterated during a follow-up conference held in Gaborone, Botswana, in 1993, where the San delegates called on national governments "to support the formation of Basarwa national for a." (Government of Botswana, 1993) A needs assessment study in 1994, involving San representatives, government officials, NGOs, and international academics, strongly supported the San’s unanimous hope for a forum where they can exchange information and experiences and for increased involvement in regional development processes.

The regional WIMSA office was established in Windhoek in early 1996; WIMSA/Botswana was established shortly thereafter in D’Kar. Regional WIMSA’s focus would be on supporting and networking with San communities in South Africa, Angola, and Namibia, whereas WIMSA/Botswana’s would be on San affairs in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.

WIMSA’s Structure

During their first meeting in Schmidtsdrift, South Africa in January 1996, WIMSA trustees discussed a draft WIMSA constitution and referred it for approval to the first WIMSA Annual General Assembly (AGA) held in Namibia in the same year. The constitution determines, inter alia, WIMSA’s aims, structure, and powers, the duties of the Board of Trustees and general assembly, and membership eligibility criteria.

The General Assembly, the highest official organ of WIMSA, meets once annually and consists of San representatives delegated by member organizations. It is responsible for formulating recommendations and policies on major issues affecting WIMSA’s future. The Board of Trustees is currently composed of three San members and three alternates each from Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. The Board members’ powers and duties as set out in the constitution guide WIMSA’s management.

WIMSA’s 24 member organizations in Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa form the backbone of the network. These San organizations, including the Kuru Development Trust (Kuru) and the Trust for Okavango Cultural and Development Initiatives (TOCADI), help formulate WIMSA policies and work programs, receive WIMSA services, delegate representatives to the AGA, and nominate candidates for election to the Board of Trustees. Member organizations are obliged to comply with WIMSA’s aims and policies and to supply WIMSA with copies of their publications.

In addition to its 24 member organizations, WIMSA has 11 support organizations—regional and international institutions in Europe, America, and Africa concerned with indigenous minority groups worldwide. The support organizations may participate in the AGA but do not vote. They provide professional expertise and logistical support to WIMSA where called upon, bringing urgent matters to the attention of the media and government in their countries, and providing moral and sometimes financial support for WIMSA activities.

The Regional WIMSA office in Windhoek is run by a small team composed of two San trainees, a part-time mentor, the assistant to the coordinator, and a coordinator. The WIMSA education and culture coordinator and her assistant are presently based in Shakawe, northern Botswana. The WIMSA/Botswana office is run by a coordinator and a field worker with support from staff of the newly established (2001) Kuru Family of Organizations. WIMSA coordinators are mandated to implement decisions taken by the Board of Trustees, the Regional San Education and Language Committee, and the Regional San Heritage and Culture Committee in their biannual meetings.

WIMSA’s Objectives

The WIMSA mission statement, formulated by the San delegates during a Board meeting in May 1997, focuses on the assistance that WIMSA should give the San to help them:

—Gain political recognition.

—Secure access to natural and financial resources.

—Raise human rights awareness among their communities.

—Become self-sustainable through development projects.

—Regain their identity and pride in their culture, improving their self-esteem.

To these ends, the San delegates at successive AGAs have requested WIMSA’s support in education and training, securing land and rights of access to natural resources, obtaining project funds, advocating and lobbying for San rights, and procuring legal advice and co-ordinating San affairs across regional borders. The ultimate goal is to form the Regional San Council, which will be fully representative of the San in southern Africa.

WIMSA’s Activities

In accordance with General Assembly requests, the WIMSA team tries to focus on the above-mentioned areas despite the need to direct attention to requests and queries brought daily by individual San, researchers, government officials, fellow development workers, academics, and media representatives and donors. Naturally, WIMSA’s first priority is to attend to the needs of San. Since most San are non-literate, unfamiliar with bureaucratic demands, and live in remote areas without access to telecommunication links, this process is often time-consuming, but can be creative. And the difficulty is often forgotten by members of the public, particularly the media. While space here permits coverage of just a few of WIMSA’s activities, detailed critical descriptions of the network’s many activities can be found in the WIMSA annual reports and on our Web site.

Training: Since 1997 WIMSA has provided six- to twelve-month on-the-job training courses for young San (four women, four men), and short internships for five other San (four women, one man) from Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. The courses have focused on administrative procedures and development issues. A number of these trainees have returned to rural areas to put their newly acquired skills to use in serving their communities.

Workshops: With national and international collaborators, WIMSA conducted a series of training workshops with San Traditional Authorities in Namibia covering the Namibian Constitution, the Traditional Authorities Act of 1995 (and the 1997 Amendment Act), customary law, land tenure, income-generating possibilities, and specific community problems. At the end of 2001, the San Traditional Authorities and some community members determined further training needs, resulting in a training plan for 2002 covering human rights, specific laws affecting traditional leaders and San workers, leadership and representation skills, and social literacy and English communication skills.

Education: WIMSA played an important role in organizing both the First Secondary School San Learners’ Conference held in Windhoek in 1997 and the First Regional San Education Conference held in Okahandja, Namibia, in May 2001. The latter was the outcome of a three-phase study, the WIMSA Regional San Education Programme, aimed at assessing the educational situation of the San in southern Africa. The first phase commenced in 1999 with a report titled, Torn Apart: San Children as Change Agents in a Process of Acculturation, prepared by Willemien le Roux (see CSQ 24:2 for a review). The second phase entailed collecting feedback on the report and additional reactions from policy-makers and institutions involved with San. The Okahandja Conference marked the beginning of the third and current "action phase," the establishment of terms of reference for a regional task force on San education to be composed of representatives of national bodies or task forces in each of the three countries involved--South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia.

Oral Testimony and Mapping: With help from others, WIMSA has facilitated the three-year Regional Oral Testimony Collection Project. Intended to serve as an alternative to conventional academic research projects on the San by placing the research process and field work in the hands of the San themselves, it involves regional cultural resource documentation and land mapping exercises. To date, 12 San interviewers have conducted over 200 interviews in three locations: among the Ju|’hoansi, Khwe, and ||Anikhwe in Ngamiland, Botswana; among the Hai||om of the Etosha Park area in northern Namibia; and among the Naro of the Omaheke Region in eastern Namibia. The interviews are now being analyzed to determine appropriate themes for outputs such as school materials and history booklets for public consumption. In Botswana, seven maps have already been developed by a team of community members and a consultant for use in developing a management plan for the Khudicgaoa area.

Networking: WIMSA has provided opportunities for San delegates to participate in the annual sessions of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations in Geneva, as well as international conferences and training seminars, exchange visits abroad, and regional and local workshops. To foster capacity-building, WIMSA has organized meetings of the Board of Trustees and General Assembly, provided support to and/or advised WIMSA member organizations, and visited San communities to discuss their development needs and progress.

Tourism: As a networking organization, WIMSA is not involved in implementing projects. However, San communities have continuously requested WIMSA’s advice in their efforts to plan projects, raise funds, and generate income. One of the community-based projects to which WIMSA has provided assistance since 1996 is the Omatako Valley Rest Camp (see page 41).

Land Rights: The issues of San control over tourism and land have required a great deal of patience, motivation, and commitment from all parties involved. In 1998, for example, the San communities of Tsumkwe District West in northeastern Namibia submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) the required application for a conservancy.1 But it has not yet been granted. Although a boundary dispute between the Nyae Nyae Conservancy and the envisaged N‡a Jaqna Conservancy has long since been ironed out, and though the applicants have fulfilled the uncommon MET requirement that the Chief of the !Kung Traditional Authority should obtain the signatures of all 1,346 N‡a Jaqna Conservancy members to serve as proof that they are indeed legitimately registered members, the MET has yet to tell the community why the conservancy has not been granted.

As reported elsewhere in this issue, the increase in human rights abuses is a growing concern, especially in Caprivi (see page 30). The Osire/M’Kata refugee resettlement issue (see page 31) is another of WIMSA’s major concerns. And WIMSA/Botswana is playing a significant role as a member of the negotiating team representing the residents of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve who have been evicted on an ongoing basis since 1997 (see pages 25 and 56).

Challenges for the Future One of WIMSA’s biggest challenges is to achieve its aim of convincing the Government of Namibia to recognize the Traditional Authorities of all six broader San communities in Namibia and not only the widely-known Traditional Authorities of the Ju|’hoansi and !Kung of Tsumkwe Districts East and West, respectively.

Other challenges include helping local San organizations form their own umbrella organizations to serve particular geographic areas. One such organization is the Omaheke San Trust (OST) (see page 17). As southern Africa now has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world, the San are extremely concerned about appropriate actions in their communities (see page 33).

WIMSA’s long-term goal is to unite all San communities of the southern African region through a San council officially recognized by the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The first step in this direction was the establishment of the South African San Council in November 2001. San delegates at the WIMSA AGA expressed their hope that the San in Botswana and Namibia will also form national for a in 2002 so that WIMSA’s long-term goal of establishing the Regional San Council can be achieved.

For more information, contact: WIMSA, PO Box 80733, Windhoek, Namibia. Tel: +264-61-244909. Fax:+264-61-272806. Email: Web site:


1. “A ‘conservancy’ is a geographically defined place, and the wildlife and people in that place. The people jointly manage, use, and benefit from the wildlife in the conservancy. The main objective is to promote sustainable use of the animals through co-operation and improved management by members through a committee. The need and desire for forming conservancies has to come from the communities themselves.” Ministry of Environment and Tourism (undated). A Toolbox for the Establishment of Communal Area Conservancies. Windhoek: Government of the Republic of Namibia.

References & further reading

Government of the Republic of Namibia (1992). Regional Conference on Development Programmes for Africa’s San Populations, Windhoek, Namibia, 16-18 June 1992. Windhoek.

Government of Botswana (1993). Common Access to Development: Second Regional Conference on Development Programmes for Africa’s San/Basarwa Populations, Gaborone, Botswana, 11-13 September 1993. Gaborone. Pakleppa, R. (2001). Report on Community Consultation and Human Rights Education held in Tsumkwe District West, Namibia, between 20 September and 1 October 2001. Windhoek: WIMSA.


WIMSA Publications

First Peoples Worldwide & WIMSA (2001). Traditional Authorities Handbook. Produced for the San of Namibia. Windhoek: First Peoples Worldwide & WIMSA.

Le Roux, W. (1999). Torn Apart: San Children as Change Agents in a Process of Acculturation. Windhoek and Ghanzi: WIMSA & Kuru Development Trust.

Research and Development Unit of the University of Botswana & WIMSA Regional San Education Project (2001). Education for Remote Area Dwellers in Botswana – Problems and Perspectives. Gaborone and Windhoek: Research and Development Unit of the University of Botswana & WIMSA Regional San Education Project.

WIMSA (1996). Report on the San Conference held at Gross Barmen, Namibia, on 8-12 September 1996. Windhoek: WIMSA.

WIMSA (2001). Report on The First Regional San Education Conference, held in Okahandja, Namibia, on 7-11 May 2001, hosted by the Ministry of Basic Education, Sport and Culture of the Government of the Republic of Namibia. Windhoek: WIMSA.

WIMSA & Kuru Development Trust (1999). Principles adopted by an Indigenous Peoples’ Consultations. Windhoek and Ghanzi: WIMSA & Kuru Development Trust.

WIMSA & Kuru Development Trust (1999). Indigenous Peoples’ Consultation: Report on an Indigenous Peoples’ Consultation on Empowerment, Culture and Spirituality in Community Development, held in Shakawe, Botswana, on 6-9 September 1998. Windhoek and Ghanzi: WIMSA & Kuru Development Trust.

WIMSA annual reports on activities from 1996 to 2001.

Our website houses close to five decades of content and publishing. Any content older than 10 years is archival and Cultural Survival does not necessarily agree with the content and word choice today.