Bushmen win right to roam on their own bit of desert

THE BUSHMEN of the Kalahari, made famous by the soldier-philosopher Laurens van der Post, will today complete their retreat from a nomadic lifestyle, once centred on tracking and hunting with poisoned arrows.

At a ceremony in the South African desert, 300 of the world's remaining hunter-gatherers, known as the San or Bushmen, will for the first time have their own land -125,000 acres given by the South African government. But it wil be land enclosed with fences.

The Bushmen have suffered cruelly over the years, though they have inspired. Sir Laurens's experiences in the Kalahari, where he lived with San and learnt their "click'' language, contributed largely to his visionary philosophy. "I do not want everyone to become like Bushmen," he said, "but we must become whole again."

The Prince of Wales, for whom Sir Laurens was a kind of guru, has taken a personal interest in the Bushmen's fate. He telephoned Clare Short's Department for International Development last month to ask what was being done specifically for the Khomani.

The Prince, who in 1987 spent several days in the Kalahari with Sir Laurens, was inspired by the values that he found here. But though much of what he witnessed is vanishing, the change to land ownership is also a victory of a kind.

Dawid Kruiper, 64-year-old headman of the Khomani clan, is not a purist. "I felt choked and bound," he said, holding his arms in a cross over his chest. "But the day has come when everything that was closed is open," he added, holding out his hands in a cup-shape.

At today's ceremony, on sun-baked scrubland between vermillion dunes, the 300 Khomanis - who make up one of only three San clans remaining in South Africa - will receive 60,000 acres around Molopo.

They will also become the landlords of about 65,000 acres of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, 30 miles north of here, from which they were evicted in 1973 because the South African government deemed them "too westernised" to cohabit with wild animals.

With their transistor radios, T-shirts and bottles of beer, the Khomanis were moved to shack-land - a local authority-owned sand patch called Welkom, situated between two cattle farms near the southern Twee Rivieren entrance to the park. It was the final humiliation in a genocide that had continued for generations. White settlers who arrived in the 17th century hunted Bushmen for sport.

Despite the land settlement, Kruiper believes the majority of the Khomani will remain at Welkom, eschewing a nomadic lifestyle in favour of "sharing our knowledge with the world" - a metaphor for becoming a tourist attraction.

Welkom villagers change from jeans and T-shirts into buckskin loincloths when visitors arrive. Necklaces and bracelets made from porcupine, cattle bone and ostrich-egg beads are produced for sale.

It all accentuates the San's difference - the honey-coloured, elephant- wrinkled skin, high cheek bones, oriental-type eyes and stunted growth - and the fact that, in a world of fences, only tourism can save the relics of this 30,000-year-old culture.

Fiona Archer, director of the South African Sani Institute, which provided the legal back-up for the land claim, said: "The San know very well what appeals to the rest of the world. In a sense they have created that image. I think it is a credit to them that they have found a niche in the new- age market." But Archer can see many pitfalls ahead for this culture impaled on a telephoto lens. Using funding from Britain, the institute's role will be to manage the new land and help the Khomani.

In Welkom, the problems are clear - alcoholism, a tendency by the San's neighbours to treat them as vermin, the loss of traditional hunting skills, failing language knowledge and changes to the vegetation.

Klaas Kruiper, 36, reeks of alcohol and proudly shows off the ingredients of his brew - moss, roots, lentils and the lining of a bird's nest, fermented in the juice of melons. He talks with disdain of the local farmer who pays a day rate of just 10 rands (pounds 1) for odd jobs. Kruiper believes he is worth 50 rands.

Near Kruiper's pre-fabricated one-room house, a woman is skinning a buck. "Hardly any of the men has the skill to hunt with a bow and arrow or the patience these days to follow an adult buck for the hours it takes before the animal dies from the poisoned arrow," she said.

Archer says support from the park warden is "non-existent" for plans to develop hiking safaris for tourists on which San would share their knowledge of tracking, plants and animals.

There is also tension with the area's 5,000-strong Mier community - settled, mixed-race farm workers - who will receive a similar land settlement.

Nevertheless, the Khomani are the luckiest San alive. Up to 100,000 San are believed to have survived - half in Botswana, and the rest spread between Namibia, Angola, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The vast majority live in shanty towns.

Kruiper said: "We do not expect problems, as long as everyone respects us." Always fenced out of the cattle-rearing, acquisitive world around them, the San have never commanded respect. Perhaps being fenced in will finally give them a measure of protection.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Management Accountant

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Manag...

Recruitment Genius: Manufacturing Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a rare opportunity for ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'