On-Line, 06 December 2002, Africa: a continent in denial about Aids
- Aids has been ravaging Africa
for 20 years now, with 2,4 million people dying of
the disease last year and close to 30 million people infected by its precursor
HIV, but some communities maintain it does not affect them.
In Namibia, the Himba hunter-gatherers tell you that Aids is
not a disease that affects their tribe, though they acknowledge it exists on the
"We do hear about it a lot, but we haven't seen one person dying from it in
our community," says Vetuetera, a leading figure in the northern
of Otjandjamuenjo, which has some 700 inhabitants.
Vetuetera does note, however, that when she was young, somebody around her
current age (about 30, she does not know exactly when she was born) would die
about once every five years, but that "nowadays it's very common that you
find people of my age dying".
Marianne Shalumbu, of
the ministry of women's affairs and child welfare, says the impact of Aids
"is not a reality yet" for the Himba.
don't acknowledge this disease. They say 'it is an Ovambo disease, it is not our
"They don't make the connection (between Aids
and) frequent deaths, and hospitalisation for (Aids-related) tuberculosis and
pneumonia," she says.
The Himbas-Herreros, one of 11 tribes in Namibia, which has 1,8 million people, keep to themselves, a
minority in the north, which is dominated by the Ovambo, the tribe of President
The Himba remain semi-nomadic, and out of the
mainstream in terms of education, health care and machinery.
"But they are very, very strong people
culturally and traditionally, with very strong community links," which
allows them to absorb an ever-growing number of orphans, says a local government
official, who is of the Ovambo tribe. "They are far better than our people
in looking after their children," the official acknowledges.
Vetuetera recognises that Aids is a threat to her
people, but only to those in contact with the Ovambo - the young who go off to
the towns, or enrol in the army.
As a result, the people of the village tend to keep
their daughters at home after primary school rather than sending them away to
For Vetuetera, keeping Aids away from the Himba boils
down to strengthening traditional values - which she teaches at the kindergarten
she runs - coupled with extreme vigilance over outside contact.
"We instruct our girls from an early age to be
very careful with anybody who has gone outside of our community," she says.
As well, she believes in traditional medicine -
"people sometimes come from the hospital with tablets, which don't make
them better, and sometimes they die in spite of the tablets".
Shalumbu, who is trying to help without interfering,
notes that the Himba are slowly integrating with the rest of the people in Namibia.
"There is nobody that can prevent or control the
process of integration," with the attendant danger of the spread of Aids,
"What we are trying is coming and bringing the
reality to them, disseminating information, but communities will turn their back
on you if you don't accommodate them."
Vetuetera, one of the few people in the village to
have travelled, is seen as a "bridge" between the community and
Time is running out.
The Himbas' grazing land has been drought-stricken
for several years, and officials have provided them with maize and millet seeds
to plant - a new way of life for them.
The danger they run now is that Aids will decimate
those strong enough to sow and reap. - Sapa-AFP