The Bushman has called southern Africa home for thousands of years. A study by the University of Pennsylvania, published in April 2009, revealed that the San of southern Africa are the most genetically diverse population on earth and that the San homeland could be the spot where modern humanity began. This lifestyle is rapidly being squeezed towards extinction – a situation worsened by governments that do not consider San culture legitimate or allow them any political participation.
Basic human rights have been taken away from communities. No longer allowed to roam freely on land that was traditionally theirs, the modern-day Bushman has had to adopt a new way of life. They are excluded from mainstream – forced to rely on state hand-outs, and with their survival threatened by social breakdown.
Images and knowledge of the Bushman are known worldwide. Portrayed in books, films and many anthropological studies, they are – however – frequently romanticised as a gentle people who live off the land and live a peaceful way of life.
The stark reality of the situation today is in total contrast to what has been depicted in the past.
The impact of the white settler in the 1800s affected the Bushman community in many ways. The San were exposed to the introduction of livestock, the migration of people from the north and colonisation. Some colonisers viewed them as savages, gatherers and hunters and colonial governments viewed the San as an inferior society. As the white colonists overran homelands, they were evicted from their ancestral lands.
Facing oppression and murderous attacks, the Bushman population soon dwindled from several million to less than 100,000. Many of the Bushman people today have not only lost rights to land, they have lost their rights as a people.
In 1978, the Botswana government declared the San to be nomadic and therefore without land rights. The San were warned that if they did not leave the Kgalagadi National Park – which the government wanted to restrict to wildlife only – military action would be used against them. The withholding of water from the community was another government tactic – one that was recently upheld as legal in a Botswana court.
As a result, only a handful of Bushmen live today within the Kgalagadi National Park. While hunting has been made illegal, many say they continue to live the way they have done for thousands of years and defy efforts by the government to eradicate their nomadic lifestyle.
Today’s Bushmen mostly live in camps, like the one in South Africa depicted in this documentary. They have no opportunity to work, the housing situation is dire, a people that once roamed the vast savannahs, idles in neglect awaiting modern integration. What was once one of the most self-sufficient communities on earth is now surviving on hand-outs from charities.
In 1999, ten years after they had been living in a camp, then-president Nelson Mandela handed the South African Bushmen the deeds to a farm called Platfontein, in the Northern Cape. However, Platfontein is not the utopia promised and suffers from a lack of investment and support from the government. With no running water, a lack of electricity and few job prospects, the community is suffering a rise in HIV, crime and substance abuse.
This project’s aim is to showcase how the modern Bushmen of southern Africa are adapting to their new way of life.
It concentrates on the larger Khwe/!Xho community in Platfontein, in the Northern Cape and the Kalahari San Bushman, who live near the borders of Namibia and Botswana.