South African woman

In South Africa

During the last 300 years, the San or Bushmen were displaced from their many territories and homes throughout southern Africa by herders and agriculturalists, both black and white. In South Africa, by the early 20th century, those who survived were confined to the Northern Cape, in and near to the southern Kalahari, living as shepherds and as hunter-gatherers. With the intensification of the apartheid regime in the 1950s and 1960s, they were forced out of this last refuge and scattered to live as squatters. By the 1980s, they were thought to have become extinct, their language deemed dead, their culture non-existent.

With the end of apartheid in the 1990s, San people began to make themselves known to non-governmental organizations and lawyers, keen to speak out for their right to a place in the new South Africa.

Soth African Woman 2San elders emerged who still spoke the San language, including Elsie Vaalboi (pictured right) who thought that she was the only person in the world who spoke her original language.

Today more than 1,500 ‡Khomani San have been identified in the Northern Cape.

In 1999, the ANC government and the San reached a settlement - the first of its kind in southern Africa - that gave the San 45,000 hectares of compensatory lands, and rights within the Kalahari Gemsbok Park that are still being negotiated.

Working in partnership with the South African San Institute (SASI), Open Channels supported this historic claim with an extensive mapping and cultural heritage project which was used to provide evidence of San rights to the land.

With the settlement in place, Open Channels continued to support the San as they re-established themselves in new communities and began to develop ways of living on their lands.

DVD Tracks Across Sand

Seen through the eyes and told in the words of the ‡Khomani San, Tracks across Sand is the result of more than fifteen years’ work with the San of the southern Kalahari by filmmaker and anthropologist Hugh Brody and Open Channels. From the gathering of oral histories and making of cultural maps for the ‡Khomani San land claim, through the settlement of the claim in 1999 and the twelve years that followed, Tracks Across Sand chronicles a struggle for indigenous rights that has parallels all over the world. It provides unique insights into what it means for a people to lose their lands, suffer extremes of injustice and endure the virtual disappearance of their language. It is also a remarkable testimony to their resilience and hopes for the future.

For more information and to order a copy of the DVD, please click here.

Listen to Hugh Brody talking about the project in an interview on CBC Radio.


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