Dis­pos­sessed Bush­men’s woes told

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

pri­vately owned by the Khomani, and the South African National Parks (SANParks) would be re­spon­si­ble for its con­ser­va­tion man­age­ment. The com­mu­nity would be awarded com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment rights to a fur­ther sec­tion of the park, as far north as the Auob River (re­ferred to as the Vzone), and cul­tural and sym­bolic rights to the rest of the claimed area. This en­ti­tled them to visit their her­itage sites, gather plants and hunt and live there tra­di­tion­ally, but not per­ma­nently, by agree­ment with man­age­ment.

But re­sis­tance to this pro­posal from the old-guard Afrikan­ers and oth­ers within SANParks was huge. There were even al­leged in­ci­dents of park man­age­ment cut­ting down trees that had been homes to the Khomani so as to de­stroy ev­i­dence of them hav­ing been there. Dries En­gle­brecht, head of the park at the time, fa­mously ex­pressed the view that “tourists come to the park to see an­i­mals, not peo­ple”. The fight got ugly, with ac­cu­sa­tions fly­ing that the fam­i­lies who had lived in the park were a bunch of drunken poach­ers; that they had de­stroyed any­thing they were given; and, be­sides, they were not proper Bush­men any­way.

The task of as­cer­tain­ing whether or not the Khomani were “the real thing” fell to Nigel Crawhall. Shortly af­ter start­ing his re­search, Nigel was told that there was an old woman liv­ing in Ri­et­fontein who spoke “Bush­man”. He rushed to the bleak set­tle­ment and was in­tro­duced to 102-year-old Elsie Vaal­booi. Their meet­ing turned out to be lifechang­ing for both of them. With a por­ta­ble CD player, Nigel played Elsie some 1936 record­ings of Nuu, one of the orig­i­nal Bush­man lan­guages of the ter­ri­tory that had been thought to be ex­tinct since 1974. “A veil lifted from Ouma’s face,” Nigel told me. “Time evap­o­rated, she was trans­ported back across a life­time. She… un­der­stood ev­ery word.”

With the help of Elsie’s son, Petrus, Nigel found a fur­ther 26 speak­ers of Nuu, scat­tered across the farms and town­ships of the North­ern Cape. “Each dis­cov­ery brought back this mo­ment of be­com­ing a hu­man again, of a re­turn of dig­nity, of be­ing seen and heard,” Nigel wrote of th­ese en­coun­ters.

Nuu was older than all the other Bush­man lan­guages of our sub­con­ti­nent and the peo­ple who spoke it were the orig­i­nal oc­cu­pants of the south­ern Kala­hari and the Ka­roo. It was the only Bush­man lan­guage from South Africa’s past that had sur­vived con­tact with its sub­se­quent mi­grants and colonists, in part be­cause its speak­ers lived in a cli­mat­i­cally harsh area that was not at­trac­tive to the new­com­ers. Sadly, since the land claim, so many of the Nuu speak­ers have passed away that the lan­guage must now be re­garded as all but dead, de­spite the fact that Nigel Crawhall and some com­mu­nity el­ders es­tab­lished a Nuu lan­guage school. The speed at which it reached its mori­bund state was ex­tremely fast – it hap­pened within one gen­er­a­tion – not only be­cause of the dis­place­ment of its speak­ers but be­cause those who spoke the lan­guage were of­ten beaten by their em­ploy­ers for us­ing a skinder taal (gossip lan­guage). Dur­ing apartheid many Bush­man chil­dren be­came ashamed of their her­itage and their grannies of­ten hid their knowl­edge of the lan­guage from their descen­dants.

Find­ing liv­ing Nuu speak­ers put paid to SANParks’ le­gal at­tempts to stop the land claim process but it did not re­sult in im­proved re­la­tions be­tween the two par­ties. Part of the prob­lem was that key in­di­vid­u­als from ei­ther side did not fully un­der­stand the pro­vi­sions of the set­tle­ment pro­posal, a lengthy con­tract re­ferred to as the “Brown Book” – 55 chap­ters of rules and pro­ce­dures, drafted by lawyers, that were com­pli­cated even for the ed­u­cated, let alone for il­lit­er­ate Bush­men.

Years passed with­out the Khomani vis­it­ing their land in the park, even though its al­lo­ca­tion had been agreed upon in 1999. Phillipa and Grossie in­creased their pres­sure on SANParks to find a so­lu­tion to the im­passe. Then the au­thor­i­ties saw the per­fect op­por­tu­nity for a well­timed trans­fer of the land. The World Sum­mit on Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment was be­ing held in South Africa in Au­gust 2002, and, with the global me­dia in Jo­han­nes­burg, it would be an ideal time to max­imise the pub­lic­ity po­ten­tial of the han­dover. With fit­ting fan­fare, but not nearly enough me­dia cov­er­age as far as the min­is­ter was con­cerned, the dummy was given to the Khomani.

But any hopes they had of see­ing it soon were slowly crushed.

For a start, the Con­tract Park is about 80km from An­dries­vale. The com­mu­nity had no ve­hi­cles and walk­ing there was com­pletely be­yond the old folk. A doc­u­ment called the “Welkom Dec­la­ra­tion” throws some light on the depth of the Bush­men’s anguish and frus­tra­tion dur­ing the long years of wait­ing. It was writ­ten in 2004, when they still had not vis­ited their land, and was the re­sult of a meet­ing at­tended by Khomani who were born in the park and wanted to prac­tise their cul­tural tra­di­tions there. The pe­ti­tion was sent to SANParks, the Depart­ment of Land Af­fairs and the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs and it be­gins with touch­ing grat­i­tude for the Con­tract Park. Then it adopts an un­com­pro­mis­ing tone: “We are deeply heart­sore, and have car­ried this pain with us for the past years, and we are bit­terly dis­sat­is­fied over the man­ner in which our Kruiper clan has been treated, we are in­sulted, be­lit­tled and dis­crim­i­nated against… we feel like strangers on our land of birth [and] are be­ing com­pletely brushed aside.”

The doc­u­ment ends: “We are the last and orig­i­nal clan and in­sist on go­ing back to… liv­ing on the land of our fore­fa­thers, we in­sist on this.”

But still, go­ing to the park re­mained but a dream. Phillipa and Grossie kept bang­ing on SANParks’ doors and ask­ing for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the agree­ment. Even­tu­ally SANParks’ head of­fice ap­plied pres­sure on lo­cal park man­age­ment and in April 2006 – a full seven years af­ter the land claim set­tle­ment in 1999 – Phillipa ar­ranged for the clan el­ders to go to the Con­tract Park and they stood to­gether on their land for the first time.

They named it the !Ae!Hai Kala­hari Her­itage Park, a Nuu name mean­ing “oryx tail” be­cause they had man­aged to catch the park by its tail and hang on to the great beast. It is com­monly re­ferred to as the Con­tract Park by the com­mu­nity.

This is an ex­tract from What Dawid Knew, pub­lished by Pi­cador Africa, an imprint of an Macmil­lan. Avail­able from all good book­stores at an RRP of R220.

A MAT­TER OF TRUST: Dawid Kruiper and author Pa­tri­cia Glyn jour­neyed through the Kala­hari to re­lease Dawid’s se­cret to his sons.

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