One of the few remaining aboriginal peoples in the world today, the San are among the poorest of communities. Their ancestral lands are shrinking, taken over by cattle ranches, mining concessions and wildlife conservation areas, and their traditional way of life is restricted by laws.
Most San now live in remote settlements, with poor access to education and in conditions that do little to foster self-esteem. They have become increasingly frustrated with outsiders’ attempts to represent them, however well-meaning, and feel that they must be the ones to define their concerns and articulate their history and hopes for the future.
We worked with the Kuru Development Trust (KDT), a self-help San organisation now part of the Kuru Family of Organisations, to support the collection of community-based testimonies. The interviews, conducted by young San men and women between 1999 and 2001, focused on people’s experience of having to adapt to a radically different lifestyle, and the pressure to modernise and settle.
The project has developed into a region-wide programme coordinated by WIMSA (Working Group, Indigenous Minorities, Southern Africa) that has considerably strengthened the San’s understanding of who they are, and given them a political voice. The acts of telling and hearing their stories – and sharing their interpretations – have contributed to a renewed sense of pride in their identity, after decades of stigma and discrimination.
The first of a series of booklets – The Khwe of the Okavango Panhandle: the Past Life – was published in 2002.
Extracts from the testimonies
“Of the two types of life the best one is the past, but there is no way I can change it because the government has taken over and everything is under their control. So there is no way that we can change things…[and] there are no jobs. Our children are in school, but they do not pass and find jobs and our tradition is not taught in the schools. Therefore our tradition is lost, and even if you want to hunt and if they find you have killed an animal you are caught.”
Katjire (male), 75 years old
“We collected mokgompata, motshontsholani, mogongo, and the roots of some other fruits and ogorogorwane. This was collected by the women, and the men were responsible for hunting and collecting of honey. Today we are no longer using or eating any of these foods, because of the government, and since our parents have died, we are…just working on the farms of the Hambukushu people…”
Xokwe Tendere (female), 60 years old