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1992 photo of N!xau from the film "Gods Must be Crazy".  Died in 2003.  Click here for more Pics. Geelboy Gasha's house, supplied by the Turnhulle Alliance (along with a Mercedes) upon his promotion to the "Bushman Minister" in 1978. "Parana" the respected (witch) doctor of the Kwa Bushmen of central Botswana. Distinctive Bushman features unlike nearby Khoihoi
"How the Zebra got its Stripes" - A legend illustrated by Mike Elliott. This Legend as similar amongst all of the Khoisans
More recent persecution of the Bushmen has tended to be less violent and in some cases deliberately kept out of the public eye. It has however continued, although at a slower pace because of the many concerned people that have been watching events and frustrating the efforts of the various ruling interests.

Current Bushman Situation

Now that the many romantic, ideological and other diverse and opposing views have confused the whole situation, it is often difficult to get a clear picture of what is happening. Suffice to say, that during this wrangling between opposing forces, the Bushmen themselves are most often the ones left significantly worst off. I have itemised some of the more important events to give you an idea of what is going on and to illustrate just how convoluted the situation is.

South African Military Employment of Bushmen

Almost universally condemned, this event has an interesting history and not entirely exploitation by South Africa. In other words, most doing the condemnation do not understand the full story.

During the meltdown in Angola following the Portuguese departure, the Bushmen, largely in the southern regions, were almost universally persecuted by the MPLA because some had been employed by the Portuguese or had been working with the FNLA opposition as trackers during the ensuing civil war. Many fled into South West Africa (now Namibia) while others remained in hiding in southern Angola.

The South African government formed 31 Bushman battalion in secret during 1974 to utilise these guys and make full use of their hunting & tracking skills, thereby offering them a bolt hole to relative safety. The following year 32 Battalion was formed to accommodate the x FNLA black Bushman recruits. At no time am I suggesting the South Africans were doing this just out of the goodness of their heart but the conditions within the battalion were good and their families were fully supported. These activities also gave rise to a very high degree of respect for the Bushman amongst the South African community, something noticeably absent in the past.

After the withdrawal of the South Africans from the emerging Namibia, the Bushmen were in an uncomfortable position. They could not return to Angola because, not only their involvement with the Portuguese and FNLA, they now had the stigma of fighting for the white South Africans. For this reason, in the early days, they were not particularly welcome in Namibia either, with the common cry that they are not citizens of that country and receiving many, not so veiled threats, from nearby Kavango communities. Many had settled in the Caprivi Strip along the Okavango river banks.

One of the last things the white South African government did, before relinquishing power to the full democratic election process, was to offer sanctuary to these Bushmen in South Africa.

About half accepted the offer and settled near Kimberly at Schmidt's Drift. Despite many problems, not least among them attempts by ANC and other factions to disenfranchise them, they remain there and generally, with the support of various independent agencies, are making a go of becoming a self supporting community. Their experience from military service and their increased understanding of modern economy have meant a somewhat easier transition than other Bushman groups.

The others that remained in Namibia have apparently managed reasonably well, not having experienced the violence threatened by local communities. It could be argued that this was because Namibia was in the world spotlight and could not afford any internal strife but, that aside, the Government had openly promised that they could develop unhindered in this new free country as long as they lived and worked within the Nation's democratic structures. This promise that has been largely honoured.

The Schmidt's Drift Bushmen moved to Wildebeest Kuil, a farm they purchased in 1996 when their Schmidt's Drift settlement was returned to Tswana ownership by the new Government. Subsequently in 1999, Nelson Mandela donated Platfontein Farm to these Bushmen and they have developed a vibrant and sustainable 'Tourist based' economy. Not without problems, they seem to be faring better than most other groups in Southern Africa

Namibia - Bushmanland situation

This group, currently called the Ju'hoansi (and various other spellings), straddles the border between Namibia and Botswana, with the majority on the Namibian side, in Bushmanland East. When the border fence was erected in 1965 between the countries, ladders were erected to allow them free passage, becoming the only People allowed to cross the border without passports.

This group has been studied, filmed and assisted by various members of the Marshall family from the USA between 1951 and 2002 and have been the single most researched Bushman group in history. The academic studies continue to this day and they are under the general guidance of the "Ju/wa Bushman Development Foundation" which is essentially a group of concerned individuals and academia. John Marshall & Claire Ritchie were the founder members of the original "Cattle Fund" in 1981, the predecessor of the Foundation.

With the independence of Namibia, their position seemed precarious for a while. Their white nominated government representative, Geelboy Gasha, in the Turnhalle Alliance, was rejected as a true spokesman for the Bushmen as he had not been chosen by his people. The SWAPO government had indicated that they could have no land rights unless they elected/selected a local representative for themselves, a difficult concept for a people who had no understanding of elections, voting, democracy (in the western style) or even the concept of having a leader.

Added to this the Herero to the south, who hold significant voting clout, had an eye on Bushmanland as further grazing land for their cattle. Suffice to say that in 1991, with the formation of the "Nyae Nyae Farmers Cooperative" and with representation and guidance from the "Ju/wa Bushman Development Foundation", they managed to secure land rights within Bushmanland and kept the Herero at bay. By this time Megan Biesele had a long association with these Bushmen and was fundamental in helping to establish these land rights.

They are still permitted to hunt within the boundaries, despite being a game conservation area, as long as they use traditional methods. It means no firearms, dogs, vehicles or horses, rules that are occasionally broken and usually results in a prison term for the offenders. When the international press gets hold of this news, however, the furore usually achieves a reduction in the sentence.

A fair number of Ovambo, with a significant SWAPO political contingent, moved into the local town of Tsumkwe several years ago, bringing with them various retail businesses including alcohol, despite a government ban on bringing in spirits and brown sugar (used for beer brewing). With the Ju'hoansi having virtually no tolerance of alcohol, there was a massive increase in drunkenness and alcoholism, injury and rape with a general decline in family structures and community well-being. Many were spending inordinate periods away from their villages, attracted by the readily available liquor in Tsumkwe and ignoring their basic family responsibilities.

Several learned academics expressed to me the opinion that this was OK, as the Bushmen had to hit rock bottom before they could pull themselves up by the bootstraps and become worthwhile citizens of the new Namibian democracy. Maybe I am wrong, but my conscience would not permit me to condemn a whole generation to abject poverty and disease on the assumption that their children may rise up from the ashes. This attitude to me smacks of impatience and western arrogance, particularly as I can show them examples of Bushman groups who have made effective transitions to agricultural and pastoral lifestyles, at their own pace, without the direct interference of western ideologues, without the wholesale destruction of their cultural foundations and without a massive influx of alcohol.

An interesting aside has been the attempt to turn them into a cattle and agricultural culture. This was definately the direction that many concerned organisations and John Marshall wanted to go. I question this project simply because independent environmental studies have shown that this region as an extremely fragile ecosystem. Cattle in any numbers would quickly destroy this arid region. Ironically, the Bushmen on my last visit had really developed a taste for beef, and actively contrived situations where Lion were allowed to kill cattle. The Bushmen then chased them off and had a feast. This elaborate scam was employed to disguise the loss of cattle when the Foundation monitors came around to check the herds. Their statistics indicated a horrendous loss of cattle to Lion resulting in a strenuous call from the Foundation to reduce (eliminate!) the Lion to preserve the herds. Their drive to encourage the development of a cattle based culture was based on some much earlier studies which determined that the Bushmen could not survive on traditional resources. These studies however, did not take into account a long depleted wildlife population that could easily be restocked and an abundance of new boreholes which could be utilised to increase animal numbers further, with possible tourist potential. This later option would need to be carefully monitored but in any event would be less damaging to the environment and would lead to a greater supply of nutrition, than herds of cattle and fields of maize.

In direct conflict with this agricultural approach was the formation of the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, which was a joint effort between the Ju'hoansi and various Governmental and Non-Governmental organisations. Once Nyae Nyae was registered in 1998, USAID assisted the conservancy in electing a management committee, adopting effective game management practices, negotiating with the private sector, and benefiting from tourism. I personally experienced the confrontational stand-off between the Foundation & Conservation. Tourism has definately grown significantly and I am sure funds are channelled into Bushman projects. However recent concerns have been raised as to exactly how the Conservancy operates, how much input the Bushmen have and exactly who is really benefiting from it.

Other independant community developments include a loosely related Bushman group, having previously been working as herders for the Herero in the South, moving back into southern Bushmanland with a few cattle. Shunned by the Foundation and surviving without any assistance, these people became the only Bushman pastoralists in this region who's herds increased in numbers. Another group, of x military Va'ekela Bushmen, settled at M'kata in Bushmanland West and were also shunned by the Foundation. I am not sure of their livestock situation but they were successfully growing Maize without assistance. Both of these groups had developed agricultural skills by association with other cultures rather than by imposed acculturation.

Despite the many problems, things seemed to be fairly manageable until moves were made by the government in 2001 to resettle Angolan refuges from Osire to M'kata. The plans were to relocate around 20 000 people (4x the Bushman population). This would have resulted in the total destruction of the Ju'hoansi and their precarious resources. Various agencies put a good case forward to the UN who, vehemently denying support for the plan, have persuaded the government to carry out a full impact study on the proposals. This has remained hanging in the balance, as the government has merely put things on hold pending these further investigations. However this has left the Osire refugees in an almost prison type environment with many restrictions and demostrations resisted with heavy-handed behaviour by the Namibian authorities. Whilst I am sympathetic to the Refugeees plight, I cannot support a move to M'kata. USCRI Report on the Refugees

Botswana - Ghanzi Bushmen

This story actually starts back in recorded history, as the plight of these Bushmen was intrinsically linked to a group of Afrikaans Farmers who settled at Ghanzi in1898. There is a story around that some of these originated from a group of Voortrekkers who, having tried the Okavango delta, lost their cattle to Tsetse Fly and retreated back to Ghanzi penniless (Another rumour that I am investigating). They were however allocated farms in areas freely hunted by Bushmen, who either had to take work as herders, move into the developing township of Ghanzi or disperse.

In time, during the early days of Botswana's developing cattle industry, these Afrikaaners had a distinct advantage over the competing Tswana. They increased their herds by careful management and later regularly sent batches to the Abattoir in Lobatse to convert to cash. The Tswana, as with most Bantu cultures, could rarely be persuaded to send cattle for slaughter as their herd represented their total wealth. Their prestige was measured in cattle, not cash.

The Afrikaaners quickly became powerful and wealthy ranchers, who used the local Bushmen as herders in largely unfenced ranges. There were still some benefits for the Bushmen as game was still fairly abundant, while getting the spin-off benefits of some milk, some money and even the occasional cow that died naturally.

All this changed significantly, courtesy of the European Common Market, who in their wisdom offered a very high price for Botswana's beef as long as they instituted major disease control measures to eliminate foot & mouth, anthrax and a few other endemic ailments. This resulted in an extensive game control fencing operation to separate the cattle from the disease ridden wildlife. Unfenced ranges with moderate levels of wildlife became fenced in lands with a dramatic drop in game numbers. The Common Market (later the European Economic Community) were happy and paid the massively inflated prices.

Wealthy cattle owners started employing more trained professionals, which left the Bushmen without work, without food (cattle intensive monocultures also destroy most Bushman plant food resources) and essentially without hope. Prostitution, alcoholism and disease was rife. Many non governmental efforts were made to address the problems and a few attempts by government agencies also tried and all but failed.

It is worth mentioning a couple of initiatives that seem to be holding their own in an otherwise disastrous situation. The "D'Kar Trust", near Ghanzi and part of the "Kuru Development Trust", has been working long and hard encouraging the development of art & craft industries and other means of self sufficiency amongst the Bushmen. Very much involved is Braam Le Roux who, with the Dutch Reformed Church at D'Kar, worked for many years focusing on Bushmen needs. His wife, Willemien, has been tackling family, education and social problems amongst them. The impression I get is that, although its roots initially lay within a strong Christian foundation, religion had taken the back seat early on in deference to a need to directly address the future well-being of these people.

The other organisation is the "First People of the Kalahari" which is essentially the Bushman's own initiative. This NGO was formed by John Hardbattle and Roy Sesana. John unfortunately died in 1996 but fought long and hard to get recognition of the Bushmen as an entity with rights. To enlighten the reader, Bushmen are at the very bottom of an extremely hierarchical social and political structure. Despite Botswana's privileged human rights reputation around the world, only members of the top few tribes can hold government office. The remaining tribes and the Bushmen have no opportunity to involve themselves in the political arena. Additionally, the Bushmen have repeatedly been denied any claim to land, particularly in the Central Kalahari. The "First People of the Kalahari" have lobbied in the national and international arenas to get changes to these onerous laws and Roy Sesana has kept the torch alive in raising a civil case against the government, as explained in the next chapter.

Botswana - The Central Kalahari Reserve

This is the most recent tragedy. Around 1997 information came to light of an imminent move by the Botswanan government, to remove the Bushmen from the Central Kalahari Reserve. This has been a long running program by the government, apparently a reaction to attempts made to get formal land rights for the Bushmen proclaimed within the reserve. The initial information that came to my notice originated from Caitlin Davies (then journalist & publisher of the Okavango Observer in Maun), who was attempting to get wide media exposure of this impending event. Others tried, unsuccessfully to get an International response from the many organisations professing concern for downtrodden cultures. Not even the upstanding Mail & Guardian in South Africa responded.

The Botswana objective has been to get the Bushmen to relinquish any historical or future claims to lands within the reserve, in return for a new start, with water, goats and cattle at proposed township developments, including New !Xade, outside the western border of the reserve. In those early days with threats of losing their water supplies in the Reserve and a little persuasion by the Botswana Defence Force, wildlife officials and the Police, about 600 complied (The Government agencies mentioned have an unsavoury reputation with respect to the Bushmen, being rather heavy handed in their negotiations). Using a typical carrot and stick approach, the Bushmen had been over many years enticed to become more reliant upon government supplied water sources and food at specific villages within the Reserve. During 2002 the crunch came for the remaining 400, when all these facilities were stopped dead. Despite efforts to avert this disaster, the project was more or less completed during 2002 with only about 50 staying put.

Last time I checked, New !Xade was a depressing place, with the people totally dependant upon government handouts as hunting is prohibited and they have no knowledge of the area for veldt foods. The promised cattle were nowhere to be seen. Apparently many were supplied with a few calves but they were killed by predators very quickly. Schooling is in Setswana and English, so the children, who only speak their Bushman tongue, are at a distinct disadvantage. Few achieve a high enough level of education for decent jobs, with government regulations even preventing them from getting mid level positions in those non governmental organisations and Trusts that have been set up to advance Bushman causes.

More recently the "First People of the Kalahari", under the direction of Roy Sesana and with the support of "Survival International", have taken out a civil action against the Botswana government over this forced removal, which was dismissed by the Judge on a technicality on the 16th April 2004. However the fight was apparently won in December 2006 withy the court giving the Bushmen freedom to return to the Kalahari Reserve. I along with a few others noted that the Judge gave no directive to the Government to resume the availability of Borehole water there. Remembering that cutting this off was an earlier strategy of the Government to get the Bushmen to leave, it does not surprise me that they have again resorted to this violation. There is in 2010 another court case pending to address this issue.

The real question still raging, is - "Why were they removed?". The government claimed that it was to preserve the wildlife, which is a blatant lie. The Bushmen have lived there without interruption for ever, without any impact on the wildlife. The only wildlife decline in Botswana have been the direct result of the Game Fences, hunting with firearms and the cattle expansion. They claimed that they had no serious plans to open up the reserve to wholesale tourism which leaves Diamond Mining as the only logical reason. De Beers have conducted a total assessment of the reserve for diamond deposits and have found an abundance of Diamond bearing pipes. They already have the Orapa Diamond Mine in the reserve, operational since 1971, with some Bushmen settling quite close. My guess is that they want to turn parts of the reserve into "Closed Diamond Areas", similar to that between Oranjemund and Luderitz in Namibia. This would dramatically reduce their headaches with smuggling and illicit gemstones reaching the world markets and prevent spurious claims of mineral rights ownership from the Bushmen.

Whatever the reason, the effect on about 1000 people representing the Gana and the Gwe clans, have had their lives severely disrupted, with a good chance this harrassment will continue into the next generation.

South Africa - Khomani Bushmen

These Bushmen from the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (now the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park) region were ejected from the Reserve between 1931, upon its formation, & 1973 when the last were finally evicted. They had initially during this period been allowed limited assess and work within the reserve but were finally removed by the management. Despite many attempts to get access to their traditional hunting areas, entry was denied on the basis that they would become a problem begging from tourists. This was despite the valid argument that the large south-western region requested was off limits to visitors to the reserve and therefore should not present any difficulties. They remained a small impoverished group largely integrating themselves within the mixed coloured communities that developed along the fringes of the Reserve, working where possible for local farmers.

One small group though, appeared to retain a measure of their traditional culture and in 1987, under the supporting wing of a white entrepreneur, continued to strive for the return of their lands. This claimed charitable foundation, however, had obvious ulterior tourism based objectives using then in shows, film and tourist promotions. This supporting role disappeared in 1989, leaving the group destitute once again.

In 1991, they were offered sanctuary by the Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve, in the Cape, which they accepted. This event was met with horror by most concerned people and organisations but in fairness, although this undoubtedly was exploitative most detractors were unaware of the Khomani's past dire circumstances. Kagga Kamma, had offered these people a village that would be completely off limits to everyone except the Bushmen, where they could live unhindered, and would be allowed to hunt. In return they were asked to work in a "Show Bushman Village" demonstrating their skills and making crafts. Although a very tacky set-up, all indications that I have received, showed that their privacy was respected, although their "village" conditions were very basic, and were apparently not under undue pressure to "perform", being free to stay at home if they wish.

"Vetkat Regopstaan Kruiper" the 90 year old elder Bushman, was taken back to his Kalahari homeland, at his request, to die and Kagga Kamma appeared to have accommodated many requests for return trips and assistance during their ongoing fight to get their traditional lands back. The Bushmen under their leader Dawid Kruiper were finally successful in 1999 when 40 000 hectares of land next to the Kgalagadi Park was purchased by the government from local farmers and given back to the Khomani community. In 2001 it was agreed that an additional 25 000 hectares of the Kalahari Gemsbok park was to be returned to them for managed utilisation but not for residence.

This seemingly magic result however has a completely different "inner story" which is rarely mentioned. When the original land claims by Dawid Kruiper's clan numbering, 100 to 200, were accepted as valid in principle, it was suggested that they increase their numbers in order to add weight to the legal claim. Other loosely related, but more westernised, Khomani were taken on board, raising the numbers to between 1000 and 2000. With the successful first stage completed and under the auspices of the South African San Institute (SASI), a Committee was formed to manage the land and to develop its income earning potential.

There was already much friction between the SASI, Dawid Kruiper's more traditional people and the large dominant westernised group. The SASI was pushed to one side and the committee, through mismanagement and possible fraud, succeeded in accumulating a debt of about R150 000. The ensuing melee left a chasm between the traditionalists and the westernised group and the threat of having to sell off some land to clear the debt. Dawid has stated that the split is irreparable and has asked for one of the 6 farms for his group to develop independently and to be left alone. With the active involvement of various government & provincial bodies and the SASI, there have been major efforts to try and resolve the issues but the power struggles appear to remain between different Bushman factions.


This last case history probably illustrates the complexity of the Bushman situation most clearly. The reality is that, despite the claims, Dawid Kruiper's group is not truly traditional, although apparently holding to more historical values. Much of this may well have come from commercial tourist interests actively promoting the "Noble Hunter/gatherer" image, but without a doubt this group, although maintaining fairly strong family cohesion, had in the past become accultured, with some interbreeding with local Nama communities. Other Khomani, unlike the Kruiper group, failed to keep any real family cohesion, integrating more fully within the mixed communities. The friction between them today illustrates the problems to be expected when attempting to reintegrate dispersed peoples.

It also illustrates the many different forces that impact directly on the Bushmen, rarely for altruistic reasons. While I believe that any who still actively follow more traditional lifestyles should be free to pursue those avenues for as long as they are sustainable, I have a problem with attempts to encourage the re-creation of a lost romantic vision. Far better to allow them the freedom and space to handle the inevitable transition in their own manner and at their own pace. Forcing rapid change is a crime in my books, but so too is developing an artificially "protected species".

Sadly, like most other people, I have no real answers, other than kicking up a stink when things are obviously very wrong, such as the Bushman ejection from the Central Kalahari Reserve. Outside of that, there are other avenues to address issues should you feel strongly enough, including the support of one the many non governmental organisations (NGOs), particularly those that were formed from Bushman initiatives. However, in each instance, I would recommend that you familiarise yourself with the people themselves (their circumstances and history) and carefully study the NGO (their objectives, motivation and history) before committing yourself. This should ensure that you end up playing on the same side as your conscience in an otherwise confusing tournament. Things are rarely as they first seem and most people involved have their own distinct ideals & objectives (myself included) which can color their perception and quality of reporting.

I have no wish to be prescriptive, so I have included on the Links Page a list of key NGOs, without any comments. There will also be links to other important Sites with a more critical opinion on all matters Bushmen, including NGOs. Where opinions differ markedly, I will try to include a balanced selection of links giving all sides of the story.

Copyright © Mike Elliott 2004 email Mike Elliott