An Assessment of the Status of the San in Namibia

Dublin Core


An Assessment of the Status of the San in Namibia


Namibia is home to between 30 000 and 33 000 San, who comprise less than 2% of the national population. As a language group they are conspicuously disadvantaged vis-à-vis all other language groups in Namibia on almost every available socio-economic indicator. Their Human Development Index (HDI) (1998 figures) of 0.279 is considerably below the national HDI of 0.77, while their Human Poverty Index (1998 figures) of 59.9 is also considerably higher than the national average for Namibia, which is only 26.9. Landlessness, a lack of education, social stigmatisation, high mobility, extreme poverty and dependency conspire to prevent San from breaking out of the self-reproducing cycle of marginalisation in which many feel they are trapped. The per capita income of San is the lowest among all language groups in Namibia. The majority of San in Namibia lack access to any independent means of subsistence, and a sizeable proportion of them have no direct cash income. San consequently consider pensions, food aid and other forms of welfare as being vital for survival. In addition, they generally have to pursue a variety of economic strategies for income generation, as rarely is any single strategy sufficient for satisfying their basic needs over an entire year. Food security is a major problem and as many as 70% of Namibian San are dependent on erratic state-run food-aid programmes. Pensions are the only form of cash income for a large number of San households. Hunger is therefore a common feature of San life, and San in poorer areas sometimes go for several days without food. Others depend primarily on piecemeal work, for which they are often paid with food or alcohol. No San depend entirely on hunting and gathering. The fact that San life expectancy is some 22% lower than the national average is indicative of their poor nutritional and health status. San are particularly vulnerable to poverty-related diseases such as tuberculosis. In addition, high levels of alcohol abuse, domestic violence, crime, apathy, depression and boredom have arisen in San communities. Dominant stereotypes of San are almost uniformly negative. Perceptions of San social inferiority are so widespread that they clearly influence policy and its implementation.


James Suzman



Legal Assistance Centre




© Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) 2001







James Suzman, “An Assessment of the Status of the San in Namibia,” Namibia Digital Repository, accessed October 5, 2023,

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