Indigenous peoples in Namibia

The indigenous peoples of Namibia include the:

  • San
  • Nama
  • Himba
  • Zemba
  • Twa

Taken together, the indigenous peoples of Namibia represent some 8% of the total population of the country.

The San

The San (Bushmen) number between 27,000 and 34,000, and represent between 1.3% and 1.6% of the national population. Each of the different San groups speaks its own language and has distinct customs, traditions and histories. They include the:

  • Khwe
  • Hai||om
  • Ju|’hoansi
  • !Xun
  • Naro
  • !Xoo 

The San were, in the past, mainly hunter-gatherers but, today, many have diversified livelihoods, working as domestic servants or farm labourers, growing crops and raising livestock, doing odd jobs in rural and urban areas and engaging in small-scale businesses and services.

Over 80% of the San have been dispossessed of their ancestral lands and resources, and today they are some of the poorest and most marginalized peoples in the country. 

Marginalization of the San

The extent of San marginalization is clearly evident in the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) socio-economic indicators of human development, where the situation of the San is consistently worse than for other groups in Namibia.

The Himba

Another group usually recognized as indigenous to Namibia is the Himba, who number some 25,000 and who reside mainly in the semi-arid north-west (Kunene Region).

The Himba are pastoral (herding) peoples who have close ties to the Herero, also pastoralists who live in central and eastern Namibia.

Zemba and Twa communities live in close proximity to the Himba in north-western Namibia.

The Nama

Another indigenous group is the Nama, a Khoe-speaking group who number some 70,000.

The Nama include the Topnaars of the Kuiseb River valley and the Walvis Bay area in west-central Namibia, a group of some 1,800 people who live in a dozen small settlements and depend on small-scale livestock production, use of !nara melons (Acanthosicyos horrida), and tourism.

Legislation Concerning Indigenous Peoples

The Constitution of Namibia prohibits discrimination on the grounds of ethnic or tribal affiliation but there is no recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples or minorities in the Constitution  and the Namibian government prefers to use the term "marginalized communities" rather than "indigenous peoples".

In 2005, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) established the San Development Programme (SDP).

In 2007, the programme's mandate was expanded to cover other marginalised communities (the Twa, Zemba and Himba) who, it was argued, were also marginalised and would need special support.

 In 2009, it became the Division of San Development, still under the OPM. The implementation of this programme was an important milestone in promoting the rights of indigenous peoples/marginalized communities in Namibia.

In 2007, Namibia voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) although it has not ratified ILO Convention No. 169.

Namibia is signatory to several other binding international agreements that affirm the norms represented in the UNDRIP, such as:

In March 2015, the Divisionof San Development under the Office of the Prime Minister (established in 2009) was renamed the Division for Marginalized Communities and moved to the Office of the Vice-President.

It is mandated to target the San, Himba, Zemba and Twa with the main objective of "integrating marginalized communities into the mainstream og our economy and emproving their livelihood".

Yearly Update

Download the 2016 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in Namibia to learn about major developments and events during 2015.