DER Documentary

To Hold Our Ground: A Field Report


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From the !Kung series
by John Marshall
color, 33 min, 1991




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For thousands of years Ju/'hoansi have lived in the Nyae Nyae region in northeastern Namibia. In the 1950s, most Ju/'hoansi had been exterminated or were dispossessed by white colonists and black farmers, but in Nyae Nyae Ju/'hoansi were still the only permanent inhabitants. Waterless approaches isolated their ancient communal land and protected them from enslavement.

In 1970 the Ju/'hoansi lost 70% of Nyae Nyae when Bushmanland was established as the only "homeland" for people classified as "Bushmen" in Namibia. The people huddled in a rural slum at Tshumkwe, the administrative capital of Bushmanland, where some Ju/Uhoan men did menial jobs for the Administration and some of the elderly received rations of mealie meal. No food was produced. The malnourished population declined from tuberculosis and other diseases. To survive, Ju/'hoansi had had to develop subsistence farming and produce food to eat in Eastern Bushmanland. They were the only people called "Bushmen" in Namibia who had the chance. In a country where most people had been reduced to extreme poverty under South African occupation, "Bushmen" were the poorest.

Until the mid 1980's, the Colonial Administration planned to complete the dispossession of the "Bushmen" by expropriating Eastern Bushmanland for a game reserve. In the reserve a few Ju/'hoansi were to be preserved wearing skins to entertain the tourists. About 2,000 people were to be evicted with no means to produce a subsistence and no work.

In 1982 a development foundation was started to help Ju/'hoansi keep Eastern Bushmanland and develop subsistence farming. The foundation was joined by a number of concerned Namibians and was funded by European Non-Government Organizations. This visual report, produced in conjunction with a major Land Rights Conference in Namibia in 1991 and aired on Namibian television, shows the Ju/'hoan struggle to hold onto their last fragment of land and farm for their lives.

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