Rehoboth Baster Community

Statement at the UNWGIP 1993

Published by Jul 30, 1993

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A summary of the statement on behalf of the Rehoboth Basters to the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1993.

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An indigenous people in the Republic of Namibia

A fact file prepared by

Dr. Y.J.D. Peeters International Legal Counsel

for the 11th Session of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations and the 45th Session of the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Geneva, July-August 1993


Permanent Representation to the International Organizations IEV - MONTOYERSTRAAT 1 BUS 20 - B-1040 BRUSSEL Tel. +32.2.428.56.14 Fax. +


An indigenous people in the Republic of Namibia

Independence of multi-ethnic societies does not necessarily bring benefits to all the ethnic groups in these societies. A very relevant case for this phenomenon is the newly established state of Namibia where small nomadic peoples like the Bushmen are now in great danger of being swamped by the immigration of settlers from other regions.

Another threatened group is the Community of Rehoboth Basters. This community numbers some 35,000 people, living in an area of 14.216 square kilometres south of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. They settled in their lands in the early 1870's. They developed their own legislation, years before the Germans installed their colonial rule over Namibia in 1885 and as such they constitute an indigenous people in present-day Namibia.

The first Baster communities emerged between the Cape Colony's northwestern frontier and the lower course of the Orange River at the end of the eighteenth century. In the beginning of the nineteenth century, missionary organizations, such as the "London Missionary Society" and the "Rheinische Missionsgesellschaft" established congregations in the territory of the Basters and supported the local communities (gemeentes) in developing written forms of regulations that were already in custom for a long period. Several of these political institutions were adopted from the neighbouring Khoi tribes, in particular the offices of "Chief" (Kaptein) and "Sub-chief" (Onderkaptein) and the annual tribal gathering. The regulation of public life depended largly on the introduction of written congregational constitutions (or "gemeenteordenings"), not only for the christianized people within the community but also for the Heathen, who were treated on equal footing. All community-members were liable to pay taxes and levies, to attend church services, to send their children to school from the age of seven and to have births and deaths within their families registered with the authorities. Every community elected yearly between their members a "Council" (Raad), responsible for the control of the civil and ecclesiastical order, the settlement of disputes between the community members, the punishment of offences and the distribution of garden-plots and arable land. During such meeting, the community decided also about the acceptance of new members. At their public gathering on the 24th of March 1868, the community of Basters of Tuin decided to emigrate beyond the borders of the Cape Colony. In order to find new places for settlement on the northern banks of the Orange River, the Council of Tuin sent out an advance party under the leadership of "kaptein" Hermanus van Wyk. He conducted several negotiations with the tribal governments in Nama- and Hereroland and he participated in a common Peace Conference at Okahandja in 1870. At the beginning of the people's "Great Trek" from de Tuin to Rehoboth, the Basters drafted a Provisional Constitution during the trekkers' sojourn in Warmbad on the 15th December, 1868.

A revised form of this Constitution was promulgated on the 31st of January 1872 at Rehoboth and it was again renewed and amended on the first of January 1874. This legislation became known as the "Vaderlike Wette" (Parental Laws). These laws did not only restrict themselves to constitutional matters (such as the election of a Chief and of a Council, citizenship,...) but included at the same time civil and criminal laws and regulations.

The German colonial administration concluded a "Schutz- und Freundschaftsvertrag" (Treaty of Protection and Friendship) with the Rehoboth Basters on the 15th of September 1885. According to this Treaty, "the German Emperor recognized the rights and freedoms acquired by the Basters at Rehoboth for themselves....". Further, the Treaty mentions that all disputes between Rehoboth community members "will be tried by their own judges and according to their own laws". An important passage in the Treaty is Paragraph 7, which reads as follows "if there should be any other matters to be settled between the German Empire and the Kaptein of the Basters at Rehoboth, these will later be solved by agreements between the two Governments". Despite the efforts of the German administration and legislation to increase their influence in the Basters community, the Council of the community continued to enact new laws. The Councillors also played a leading part in the rebellion of April 1915 against the Germans.

The form of local self-government remained unchanged during the period of military occupation of South West Africa by Union forces (1915-1919) and in the first years of the mandatory system. On the 17th of August 1923, two members of the Executive Council of the Basters (the Government) and seven members of the "Raad" (the Parliament) signed an Agreement with the South West Africa Administration. But a majority of the Rehoboth Basters rejected the Agreement because "it limited their rights to self-determination and it failed to restore rights to land filched under German regime." Finally, this opposition led to an open rebellion in 1925 and the formation of an oppositional "Nuwe Raad" (New Council). The S.W.A. Administration reacted with Proclamation 31 of 1924, whereby the "Kaptein", the traditional courts and officials appointed by the "Raad" were temporarily dispensed with and their powers transferred to the Magistrate and his Court. It is important to notice that Proclamation 31 did not repeal the Agreement of 1923; it only suspended a number of provisions. Local self-government of the Rehoboth Baster community was partly restored with the Proclamation 9 of 1928, whereby an "Advisory Council" was introduced. In a first period, the Council consisted of three elected members and three members appointed by the S.W.A. Administration. According to a Proclamation in 1935, the three appointed members of the Council were to be elected. The "Advisory Council" governed the community in all "internal matters", such as the approval of loans to citizens, buying and selling of land, village affairs,... The oppositional "New Council" continued to function in the period between 1925 and the early thirties. On their initiative, a number of petitions were sent to the "League of Nations", requesting the restoration of full self-government. Finally, on the 11th of April 1933, there came an end to the division of the community and a new "Advisory Council" was elected by all members of the community.

In 1946 the mandate of the League of Nations was transformed into the Trusteeship system of the United Nations and the Republic of South-Africa continued to be the administrating power. In 1966 the General Assembly, by resolution 2145 (XXI) terminated South-Africa's mandate and legally took over the responsibility of the territory. However factually the Republic of South Africa continued to administer the territory under various forms until the installation of the United Nations Transitional Assistance Group (UNTAG). In all this period, the Rehoboth Baster community save-guarded its ancestral institutions and organisation.

In 1976, South-African parliament voted a law No 56-(1976) which created a formal type of institutions which fitted in the traditional existing ones. This Law in no way replaced the so-called Paternal Laws but merely tried to insert them into the South African administrative structure for the territory. The UNTAG suspended the Act in 1989 without making reference to the Paternal Laws, which were not repealed as they formed in no way part of the South African legal system. By virtue of schedules to the Namibian constitution, all so-called discriminative South-African law ceased to have effect. This applied also to law 56-(1976). It seems obvious that the repeal of the above mentioned law recreated the "status quo ante" i.e. the Paternal Laws and eventual dispositions of the Treaty of 1885.

Under the excuse of eliminating all so-called "remnants" of the South African Administration, the government of Namibia has since Independence set out on a path of total destruction for the small Rehoboth-Baster People. By virtue of the Constitution which declares English to be the only official language, they have forcefully switched the whole administration and schooling of Rehoboth to English from Afrikaans, the mother-tongue of all the Baster People. The government of Namibia has tried to destroy the century old system of self-government and taken away all assets of the previously recognised authorities. The communal land has been illegally transferred to the Namibian State, under pretext that it was "public property", under the South African rule. The Namibian government got also hold of the assets of the Rehoboth Development and Investment Corporation, worth $3 million but sold to government allies and friends for next to nothing. Massive immigration, mainly from northern Owamba people has been promoted to try to destabilise the demographic and social structure of the area. In doing so, the Namibian government infringes on every and all articles of the U.N. Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and most of the provisions of the ILO-Convention on Indigenous Peoples in Independent Republics. In no more than two years, the very existence and survival of the Rehoboth Baster People is in danger.

We appeal to the U.N. Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities to pay the necessary attention to this case and to use its influence to halt this unacceptable situation by making its concern known to the Namibian government and to the relevant bodies of the U.N. system, especially in the perspective of the International Year of Indigenous Peoples.

On behalf of the captain, council and assembly of the Rehoboth Baster community.

Dr. Yvo J.D. Peeters International Legal Counsel