More info on San and the region
Who are the San?
The San are some of the earliest inhabitants and the last remaining members of an indigenous hunter-gatherer culture that spread over most of the Southern-African subcontinent. Small groups with distinctly different languages now live in dispersed and isolated locations in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.
With an approximate population of 36 000 the San in Namibia make up 1,8% of the national population. Their lack of group organisation, education in their own languages, knowledge of their own human rights and under-representation in local and national decision-making processes, puts them in an extremely vulnerable position.
In most cases San are settled along tribal lines subjected to the socio-economic conditions of the region in which they live. The economic base is the production of cultural crafts, guiding or performing for tourists, earning small salaries as labourers on farms or from government pensions paid to those elderly community members in possession of identity documents.
Who are the Ju/’hoansi (San) Bushmen?
While the terms “Bushmen” or “San” both have derogatory origins, the Ju/’hoan people prefer to be called Ju/’hoansi Bushmen, referring to a specific group of Bushmen.
The Ju/’hoansi Bushmen were a skilled hunter-gatherer society migrating seasonally over vast distances between north eastern Namibia and the north western Kalahari Desert region of Botswana. The population's ancestors were the indigenes, and once the sole occupants of much of Southern Africa and the Ju/’hoan people represent one of the few remaining indigenous populations in Africa. Unlike most San, the Ju/‘hoansi have managed to maintain at least a part of their traditional lifestyle, living on a portion of their ancestral land for over 20,000 years.
Historically the Ju/‘hoan culture was not based on tribal structures; they had no paramount leader and their ties of kinship were fairly relaxed. They were a loosely-knit kinship culture where decisions were made by universal discussion and agreement was achieved by consensus. Although structures have changed a bit and not all young people participate, most decisions are still make by and for the community as a whole.
Like many indigenous peoples around the world, the Ju/‘hoansi Bushmen are currently experiencing drastic social change, extreme marginalisation and poverty. The Ju/‘hoansi are, however, more dependent on natural resources within their living environment, and still derive much of their livelihood from traditional hunter gathering. Unlike many other surviving Bushman communities, and partly because they continue to reside in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, the Ju/’hoansi enjoy a hunting concession, which is crucial to the survival of their extremely threatened culture.
Nyae Nyae Conservancy
Namibia was the first African country to incorporate protection of the environment into its constitution, and the government gave people living in communal areas the opportunity to manage their natural resources through the creation of communal conservancies. In 1998 the Nyae Nyae Conservancy became the first communal area in Namibia to be declared a conservancy by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. This gave the Ju/hoan people the right to hunt traditionally, manage natural resources including wildlife and promote tourism. It is a community based organisation run by a democratically elected management committee and board.
The conservancy, (9,003 sq/km) located on the western rim of the Kalahari basin, is a vast tract of Kalahari wilderness in north-eastern Namibia, situated south of Khaudum National Park, lying along the western side of the Botswana border. The combined area of Khaudum National Park and the Nyae Nyae Conservancy represents 12,800 square kilometres of free range wilderness.
It is an important region, and represents the last stronghold of 3,000 to 4,000 Ju/’hoansi living on ancestral land with the rights to utilise wildlife and other natural resources. The formation of the conservancy provides a unique opportunity to explore strategies for community upliftment through the sustainable use of natural resources, integrating indigenous knowledge and skills adapted to survive in the Kalahari Desert ecosystem with modern forms of natural resource management.