Nursing Nyae Nyae towards the future

Nyae Nyae conservancy manager, Erastus Heinrich
Nyae Nyae conservancy manager, Erastus Heinrich

Last week Nyae Nyae Conservancy held its AGM at Baraka village. The venue is significant. For many years it was the centre of the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia, and before that the Nyae Nyae Farmer’s Cooperative. The conservancy is looking to the future. Its manager, Erastus Heinrich, is part of the management team setting the agenda. Most of the article below appeared in the Namibian newspaper, and shows how conservancies are benefiting from and building a wealth of talent in the community.


As a qualified nurse, Erastus Heinrich should be caring for patients in a hospital. That was to be the start of his dream – a dream dashed by the Ministry of Health, which is not currently employing new nurses.

The health sector’s loss is conservation’s gain. Heinrich has stepped in as the manager of Nyae Nyae Conservancy in the far east of the country, bordering Botswana. This used to be ‘Bushmanland’ and its people are overwhelmingly Ju/’hoansi. The conservancy was the first of its kind to be formed, in 1998, and it faces a multitude of management problems.

Heinrich faces them with a smile. When he is not supervising fence cleaning or water point maintenance, he is running management meetings. Organizing the September AGM was a major headache. The conservancy needs to involve all its members, and transporting them from far flung villages is a challenge.

Nyae Nyae’s inhabitants are some of the poorest people in Namibia. Creating and managing benefits for them is a full time task. Income from hunting brings in around four million Namibia dollars per annum, which is spent on vehicles to patrol the vast terrain, 12 game guards and 4 rangers, office expenditure and cash benefits to residents.

Each conservancy member receives N$ 1,700 a year from Nyae Nyae, which provides for basics such as soap, blankets and clothing. But the conservancy facilitates other benefits too. The harvesting of organically certified Devil’s Claw brought in N$ 876,982 last year, money that went directly into the pockets of harvesters, bringing a typical harvesting family between two and three thousand dollars a year.

Heinrich is fully focussed as a manager, but his dream is to be a medical professional – even a doctor. For a boy who grew up in a San village, that would be something remarkable. Getting a good education in Nyae Nyae is not easy. The school at Tsumkwe has high dropout rates due to the low esteem San children are held in, their lack of English or Afrikaans, and their often-ragged clothes.

Heinrich made it to Grootfontein Secondary School where his hostel fees were paid by Dr Melitta Boshard, who practices at nearby Mangetti Dune clinic. Finding work after school was difficult. The would-be nurse and doctor worked as a driver for Tsumkwe lodge and, for a while, as a barman. But, as he says, he “did not enjoy working with drinkers.” He had been selected to sit on the conservancy management committee when the letter came from the Office of the Prime Minister, which was supporting nursing candidates from San communities. This was the big chance for Heinrich, and he grasped it with both hands.

Study at Keetmanshoop was hard. Money was short. The Office of the Prime Minister provided N$ 1,000 a month. The rest had to be found. Luckily Heinrich had inherited some cattle he could sell. But he managed to qualify and also did a course in midwifery. He hoped to work in a hospital for three years and then go on to do a Bachelor of Nursing Degree.

But until the government starts to employ nurses again, and recoup the investment made in Heinrich and other nurses like him, he will continue to work as the conservancy manager. He enjoys the job very much, but he continues to keep his career hopes intact. He says: “I still have a dream to become a doctor. I’m preparing myself by working in the community.”

One benefit that the community of Nyae Nyae gives to residents, as a result of decisions taken at the AGM, is assistance to students to get through school: small things like uniforms and toiletries make it possible.

NACSO measures the financial benefits created by conservancies – see the State of Community Conservation in Namibia – but who can measure the intangible benefits? As more San children leave school headed for college and, hopefully, jobs, we will see that conservation is every bit as much about rural development, as about wildlife.

Steve Felton
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