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A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHANGE IN NYAE NYAE

A Kalahari Family - map of Namibia


The Early Years

The Marshall family's encounter with the Ju/'hoansi occurred as the outside world was increasingly encroaching upon the people of Nyae Nyae. By the 1950s, there were very few hunting-gathering populations left in southern Africa. The Ju/'hoansi of Nyae Nyae were the only Ju/'hoan group still leading independent lives, and controlling their permanent waterholes. Many San hunter-gatherers, including most Ju/'hoansi who lived in lands outside Nyae Nyae, had been exterminated or forced into servitude by white colonialists between the 1700s and the first half of the 20th century. Ju/'hoansi who worked for the white settlers in the 20th century lived in conditions of virtual slavery. After South Africa occupied the colony of South West Africa during World War I, active extermination of Bushman populations declined but the occupation of San lands by white settlers and the enslavement of the surviving San people accelerated.

During the 1950s, the demand for southern African gold and minerals was high and the economy of South West Africa expanded rapidly. Public and private investment in South West Africa increased. New roads opened up thousands of square miles of new land for white ranchers. As ranching increased so did the need for more labor. Blackbirding, rounding up Bushmen and other non-whites and forcing them to work without pay, became a common practice. Many Ju/'hoansi from Nyae Nyae were coerced and taken to become laborers on white commercial farms. Others gave up hunting and gathering by choice. Already by 1958, 475 of the 1200 Ju/'hoansi living in Nyae Nyae in 1951 had adopted sedentary lives on farms or with pastoral groups.

The Tjum!kui Years

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In the 1960s and 1970s the pace of change accelerated for the Ju/'hoansi that the Marshalls had lived with in Nyae Nyae. Government officials followed the roads the Marshalls had carved out across the Kalahari Desert. The South African government established an administrative post for Nyae Nyae at Tjum!kui in 1959. The first Bushman Commissioner of Tjum!kui was Claude V. McIntyre. McIntyre had first traveled to the Nyae Nyae region with the Marshall family during the Kalahari Expedition in 1951.

McIntyre predicted that the Ju/'hoansi would eventually lose most, if not all of their land. He realized, as did many Ju/'hoansi, that it was only a matter of time before hunter-gatherers in southern Africa would have no choice but to seek new ways of surviving. As Bushman Commissioner from 1959 to 1969, McIntyre encouraged the Ju/'hoansi to settle in Tjum!kui. He wanted to help the Ju/'hoan people replace their ancient economy with a mixed economy of cattle and goat raising, gardening and wage labor. The transition, he hoped, would be a step towards self-development.

McIntyre said he would give us corn meal, teach us to plant gardens and raise goats. Our family talked for a long time that night. We decided we would have a better life if we joined McIntyre. We would always have food. We would live like other people. The next day we left for Tjum!kui. At first, McIntyre had to bring water from /Aotcha. Later we helped him dig a well. After McIntyre put a pump on the well, more people came to Tjum!kui. One fly smells meat and comes. The other flies watch and follow. By Christmas, Tjum!kui was full of Ju/'hoansi. -- ≠Oma Tsamkxao, END OF THE ROAD

By the winter of 1960 ≠Oma Tsamkxao and his extended family were among 120 Ju/'hoansi from different groups who had settled at Tjum!kui. They came in search of water, food, housing and social services. To supplement their agricultural production and corn meal rations, many Ju/'hoansi continued to gather bushfoods and hunt wild game. According to John Marshall and Claire Ritchie, until the mid-1970s at least 20% of the Ju/'hoansi living in Tjum!kui visited their traditional places (n!oresi) to hunt and gather for at least four to six weeks during the rains. The foods they obtained this way accounted for approximately 40% of the Ju/'hoan diet in 1969. (Marshall, Ritchie. Where are the JU/WASI of Nyae Nyae, Center for African Studies, University of Cape Town. 1984, p96)

When McIntyre retired as Bushman Commissioner in 1969 many small Ju/'hoan settlements had been established around Tjum!kui. The people raised livestock and cultivated small family farms. By 1970, 700 people were living in Tjum!kui. A decade later, the population would peak at 1,090. As more and more Ju/'hoansi settled at Tjum!kui, resources were depleted. Hunger and disease increased.

We earned goats by building the goat kraal. But there were too many of us in one place. Hungry people ate each other's goats. In the end we had no goats. When McIntyre's wife Beryl came she gave us white people's medicine. She saved lives. She taught us to grow our own small gardens. We grew carrots and peppers. Sometimes the McIntyres hunted meat for us. But our youngsters were learning how to cook and wash dishes, instead of hunting. ≠Oma Tsamkxao, END OF THE ROAD

Overcrowded conditions bred diseases of poverty such as tuberculosis and other respiratory ailments, malaria, anemia, hookworm and parasite-related illnesses. The death rate soared and Tjum!kui became known as a place of death.

The resident Tjum!kui population became increasingly dependent on rations and other food purchased from the Tjum!kui store as bushfoods and wild game were depleted in the area around Tjum!kui. Women, who had once supplied 70% to 80% of the Ju/'hoan diet by gathering bushfoods were essentially stripped of their role in community life. As adults abandoned hunting and gathering the chain of knowledge passed from one generation to the next regarding traditional means of survival and Ju/'hoan customs was broken. Simultaneously, Ju/'hoan social networks based on reciprocity and sharing that had shaped Ju/'hoan society in the bush began breaking down.

Competition over the few available jobs provoked growing social conflict. People felt a greater need for cash that would allow them to buy things. Those with jobs or pensions lived a better life than those with no means to obtain cash. Inequalities, that had never existed in traditional Ju/'hoan society, inflamed tensions and jealousies. There was even greater devastation of the society after the administration opened a general store that sold alcohol to the Ju/'hoansi. Drunken violence became commonplace. Vast distances had once separated the people, but in Tjum!kui there was no escaping violent conflict, which was exacerbated by the consumption of alcohol and the growing presence of the South African army in Tjum!kui.

In 1966 the South West African Peoples Organization, or SWAPO, began a military campaign to free South West Africa from South African colonial rule. To fight SWAPO forces, the South African Defense Force, or SADF, began aggressively recruiting Ju/'hoan men, young and old as soldiers and trackers. The myth that prevailed in South African propaganda and in media around the world was that Bushmen would make good soldiers because they were natural hunters. However, most of the young men who signed up for the army were born in Tjum!kui and had never hunted by traditional Ju/'hoan methods in their lives. The military, employing ten percent of the male population, flooded Tjum!kui with cash increasing the dependency of Bushmen upon the money, food, goods, and services provided by the South African government. Bushmen were also employed by the government departments of Veterinary Affairs and Nature Conservation.

As the military presence increased in the region, the social and economic stratification of the Ju/'hoan population increased as well. Ju/'hoan soldiers received high salaries – with much of it spent on alcohol – as well as rations and other goods for their extended families. The disparities of wealth and power between the minority with government jobs and the impoverished majority of people living in Tjum!kui intensified frustration and hostilities. Abuse and murder increased the already high rate of mortality in Tjum!kui. By 1981, the death rate actually exceeded the birth rate. This is almost unheard of in a society that has some access to modern medicine and does not practice birth control. A very high rate of homicide (due to gunshot and stab wounds) was largely the cause.

Meanwhile, the war fueled the economy for the whites in South West Africa. Windhoek, the capital, boomed as money flowed into the hands of a few. The construction of dams and roads became a priority.

Decentralization of the Ju/'hoansi and the Independence of a Nation

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Starting in 1970, when a majority of Ju/'hoansi had abandoned their traditional territories to settle in Tjum!kui, the colonial government began allotting pieces of Nyae Nyae to other groups. Large areas were reserved for white ranchers. The northern part of Nyae Nyae was declared the Kaudom Game Reserve where no hunting was allowed. Southern Nyae Nyae was allocated for the Herero ethnic group who raised cattle. Only a small portion of the original 30,000 square miles of land that the Ju/'hoansi had occupied was designated as a homeland for people classified as Bushmen by the South African government.

By the 1970's, 20,000 people, among them thousands of Ju/'hoansi, were classified as Bushmen under the government's racist apartheid system. The homeland that was created for them, called Bushmanland, contained approximately 7,000 square miles, but only the eastern third had water and was habitable. In essence, the South African Colonial Administration in South West Africa had expropriated 70% of Nyae Nyae from the Ju/'hoansi. Forevermore, an economy based on hunting and gathering would be impossible in the region.

By the late 1970s many Ju/'hoansi were desperate to escape the appalling conditions in Tjum!kui. They realized that it was crucial to establish rights to their land in Nyae Nyae. To do so, they would need to take steps to re-occupy their traditional territories.

In 1981, with funds from Laurence Marshall, John Marshall and Claire Ritchie established a cattle fund, now known as the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia (NNDFN), to help the Ju/'hoansi return to their traditional lands. By the end of the year, three fledgling Ju/'hoan communities were established outside of Tjum!kui. They were based on a mixed economy of farming and livestock management.

As agricultural development in Nyae Nyae was gaining momentum, the Ju/'hoansi learned of a plan being pursued by the South African Administration to establish a game reserve in eastern Bushmanland, the last fragment of Nyae Nyae occupied by Ju/'hoansi. Within the game reserve Ju/'hoansi would be required to live by hunting and gathering as children of nature – could raise no crops and own no livestock or pets. The reserve would effectively dispossess the last population of people called Bushman in South West Africa.

Since it would be harder for the government to evict people actually farming on their land, the threat of a game reserve made occupying the land more urgent. The NNDFN stepped up its efforts and provided each farming settlement with a bull and cattle feed. Marshall and Ritchie visited the settlements regularly to keep people informed and to hear about their problems.

In 1986 the Nyae Nyae Farmers Cooperative (NNFC) was established as a grassroots Ju/'hoan advocacy organization run by Ju/'hoansi. The primary objectives of the NNFC were to create a Ju/'hoan council to represent the Ju/'hoan people of Bushmanland to the government, to inform the people of government policies that could affect their lives, and to block the creation of a game reserve in Bushmanland.

While Nature Conservation was establishing and protecting boreholes for wild game, the NNDFN and the Ju/'hoansi began to drill their own boreholes to sustain their agricultural settlements. With more water, they reasoned, people could establish more farms and strengthen their claim to the land.

Although Ju/'hoan law states that people inherit rights to n!oresi through inheritance from their parents, the NNFC Council empowered its leaders to allocate Ju/'hoan traditional land to Ju/'hoan people without land of their own. They hoped in this way to increase the number of people occupying eastern Bushmanland and defeat the proposed game reserve. Members of the NNFC traveled through Gobabis and Hereroland to look for relatives and bring them back to Nyae Nyae to establish more farming communities.

Meanwhile, major political changes were imminent. International pressure for South Africa to leave South West Africa had intensified and an interim government was setup in Windhoek as a step toward independence. For the first time in history, a government official, Minister of Nature Conservation, Mr. Andreas Shipanga, traveled to Tjum!kui to meet with the members of the NNFC and NNDFN. Shortly afterwards Tsamkxao, ≠Oma's son, led a delegation to Windhoek with a petition protesting the game reserve. Later that year, the Department of Nature Conservation announced that instead of a game reserve, trophy hunting would be promoted in the region. Mr. Shipanga stated that hunting would take place under strict control by the directorate of Nature Conservation and the numbers of game would be regularly monitored. He said Nature Conservation was proposing to apply the money earned from trophy hunting to agricultural development projects in Bushmanland.

Although less of a threat than a wildlife reserve, trophy hunting in Bushmanland still had the potential to undermine the Ju/'hoan agricultural settlements. To attract more lions and elephants into Bushmanland – to eventually sustain trophy hunting and tourism – the government began to drill more boreholes for wild game and to restrict access to water within the Ju/'hoan village settlements. In a very short space of time elephants and lions did migrate to Bushmanland, with many following the roads into Nyae Nyae. By 1988 there were an estimated 400 elephants in Bushmanland where there had been none a few years before. The elephants regularly destroyed people's wind pumps and water tanks. Lions also wreaked havoc on the Ju/'hoan farms, feeding on livestock. According to Nature Conservation regulations, Ju/'hoansi were not allowed to kill lions even if they posed a threat to the people. In fact, Bushmen were not allowed to hunt with guns and/or on horseback within Bushmanland. A man caught killing a giraffe with a gun on horseback could spend years in prison.

Current Resource Management and Development Initiatives

After more than 30 years of conflict, SWAPO's fight against colonial rule by South Africa resulted in the creation of the independent nation of Namibia on March 21, 1990. Following independence the international community developed a great interest in the indigenous peoples of the Kalahari Desert. Researchers and development workers began to pour into the region. With them came vast amounts of foreign aid and investment. In Nyae Nyae alone, according to the financial reports of the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia (NNDFN), international donors spent approximately 17,681,951.09 Namibian dollars (over $2 million US), between 1988 and 1999 to support development efforts.

Initially, the NNDFN and the Nyae Nyae Farmers Cooperative (NNFC) worked to create jobs for the Ju/'hoansi and to provide support and technical assistance for Ju/'hoan farming settlements. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Ju/'hoan grassroots development efforts resulted in some achievements including legally recognized land rights, the creation of permanent wells, the establishment of village schools, improved health services, and Ju/'hoan representation on Namibia's Traditional Leaders Council and in Parliament. By 1992, 31 Ju/'hoan farming settlements had been established in Eastern Bushmanland. As part of the grassroots land rights and development program, Claire Ritchie and /Kunta Boo created a n!ore map to locate Ju/'hoan territories and to demonstrate Ju/'hoan ownership of land within the borders of Bushmanland. In 1991 the map was presented to a national audience at the Land Reform Conference held by the newly established independent nation of Namibia. The map was vital to securing Ju/'hoan land rights in the region.

A Kalahari Family - map of NamibiaN!ore map created by Claire Ritchie and /Kunta Boo – Download PDF (2.5MB)

During the early 1990s, however, the priorities of the NNDFN shifted from supporting the development of a mixed agricultural economy to the pursuit of income generation from natural resource management and tourism. These development initiatives are deepening the dependency of the people in Nyae Nyae on activities such as tourism that are subject to the uncertainties of the world economy and international political trends. As a result, many of the farming communities that flourished in the 1980s no longer received the technical assistance they needed from the NNDFN and the NNFC.

By 1993 many Ju/'hoan village settlements began to collapse. Something as simple as a broken water pump or irrigation line could have disastrous effects on an entire village. When repairs were not made in a timely manner, gardens failed and people and their cattle suffered from thirst and hunger. Angry and feeling helpless, the Ju/'hoansi asked, "Where is all the money going?"

In 1994 plans for natural resource development gained momentum as the NNDFN won the attention of the US Agency for International Development (US/AID) and the World Wildlife Foundation. Two years later, with promises of income generation from cultural and eco-tourism and trophy hunting, members of the NNFC voted to establish the Nyae Nyae Conservancy in Eastern Bushmanland. In 1999 and 2000 the Nyae Nyae Conservancy generated an income of $120,000 (NAD) equal to $11,650 (US), primarily from trophy hunting. In 2001, the Conservancy spent $60,000 (NAD) on staff salaries and expenses at Baraka, including vehicle maintenance. The 800 Ju/'hoan Conservancy members received a meager $75 (NAD) or $10.50 (US) each, as their share of the profits from trophy hunting. The Conservancy income was far too little to support the development efforts of the Ju/'hoansi. Without a means to sustain themselves, many Ju/'hoansi were forced to move back to the drunken squalor of Tjum!kui where an estimated 56 shebeens (bars) were operating.

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