The Khomani San of the Kalahari
To escape poverty, violence and alcoholism a group of Khomani San Bushmen are building a historical village in the Kalahari Desert where they hope to live sustainably through tourism and conservation. In 2002, together with the Meir community, they won a historic land settlement of 50,000 hectors that had been forcibly removed from them during colonial times. A small tourist lodge was established to create an income and an opportunity for the Bushman to reconnect with the land and traditions of their ancestors. Rotating between the lodge and their hometown some 42km away, they regard the lodge as a safe retreat away from the dangers of the town.
‘I would rather take my chances with the lions in the veld than with the skelms in the town. If I go back there they will kill me… It starts with the drinking and the smoking, dagga.. You can’t get out of it. You go to someone’s house and it’s just expected. This is like rehab for us, we don’t bring drink here, it is forbidden by the group. We want to bring up our children in safety. We are building this village because we want a different life.’ (Gregory Titso, image 03)
In the desert, they live and dress as their ancestors did, taking guests out and teaching them survival skills. Historically, they had no concept of land ownership, money or material possessions. They were semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers moving freely across the land until it got divided and fenced by colonial settlers. The Bushman were no longer able to hunt or access water sources and had little choice but to work on the farms. They were often paid in alcohol further destroying their family structures and societies and if they were caught hunting or trespassing they were often shot. It was legal for a farmer to buy a permit to shoot Bushman up until as late as 1948.
It may be an idealised nostalgic interpretation of the past, but the San Bushman lived successfully off the land for millions of years, resourceful, resilient and respectful of the land that sustained them. These survival skills and customs are transferred to new generations giving them a sense of pride and identity in contrast to the negative influences of the townships where alcoholism, unemployment and violence are rife.
‘Things are changing with the new generation. As they’ve become educated in a “Western” sense, the modern Bushmen have got one foot in the past and one in the present; Ray-Bans, Adidas, cell phones, they want those things. In time those guys can say to their children, you can have your Nike’s, you can go to school but you can also go to our Bushmen areas with our people and learn about our traditions and ancestry.’ (Richard, manager at !Xaus)