Survivor's Notebook

Survivor’s Notebook: Public Enemy #1 (Part 3)

Oupa Dawid Kruiper, leader of the ‡Khomani San in their claim for land rights in the Kalahari Desert. Oupa Dawid passed away in 2012.

Oupa Dawid Kruiper, leader of the Khomani San in their claim for land rights in the Kalahari Desert. Oupa Dawid passed away in 2012.

Extinction and endangered species, two terms that go hand in hand with the modern ideas of industry, economy and modernization. These ideas supposedly represent a revolution in human genius that has led to progress and advancement of humanity.  The reality has been an absolute terror unleashed on Earth by commercial and industrial empires. The introduction of money and wealth as the key to happiness for every human being has led to the justification of any act, however immoral, in the name of greater profits.

Let’s consider that 200 years ago, Arab and European merchants were busily establishing trade routes from the eastern, western and northern coasts of Meritah (Africa) into the center of the continent. Many trade routes crossing the Sahara Desert, the Indian Ocean and other harsh terrain were established for these merchants to access resources. Their objectives included hunting elephants for their tusks to be used for ivory and to capture human beings to be used as slaves. Of course this cannot happen without influencing the local populations. Guns, alcohol and other fashionable trinkets were introduced from abroad to buy the cooperation of the local royalty. By 1900, the elephants in Meritah were becoming much harder to find.

Logging, hunting, oil drilling and mining continue to destroy natural habitats and homelands to indigenous people across the world. As a result, many species have gone extinct or are on the verge of extinction. Some species may only live in one area or only eat one kind of plant. When their habitat is destroyed, survival of the species is at risk. The suffering and death resulting from these industries is beyond catastrophic.

The solution offered to protect some of the life on Earth is to create protected zones where any human activity is heavily restricted. As in the case of the elephants in Meritah, even humans native to an area can present a danger to wildlife if they corrupt themselve for their desires. This has become the excuse of the common policy that, even if a people has lived in an area for thousands of years, if their home becomes classified as a protected zone, they face eviction or heavy restriction in their activities. The results are usually tragic for the indigenous people who must completely alter their way of life as they can no longer live as their ancestors did.


The Kalahari Desert

This has been the case for the San people native to the Kalahari Desert in Southern Meritah. This desert is one of the most hostile environments inhabited by humans. The Kalahari is subject to extreme variations in temperature, ranging from 45ºC (113ºF) in the summer to well below freezing during the winters. The San ability to survive in such a climate without the modern technologies of heat, electricity and hot water is remarkable and an example of the genius of the world’s traditional cultures.

Since the 1800s, the San have been driven from the Kalahari, always by means adopted as legal by the colonial governments of the region, usually to establish protected areas in order to provide pristine areas of ‘wilderness’ for tourism and recreation of the upper classes. Outside of their traditional home, the San were forced to adapt and adopt the lifestyles of the region they “resettled” to. By 1970, they had been completely evicted from their land. By the 1980s, the various groups comprising the San had been so disconnected from their culture that they had ceased to even be an identifiable community in many cases.

In 1994, a group of the San who still remembered life in the Kalahari sought to return home. With the assistance of many outsiders, notably one Robert Chennels, a British lawyer, they began a campaign to unite the San people and reclaim their traditional land. In this effort, many of the traditions of the San were documented including the language which, at the time, was only spoken by about 15-20 people. The core group of this movement decided to include many descendents of the San from all over the region, most of whom had integrated into the modern society and were accustomed to a modern lifestyle, to give strength in numbers to the land claim. This second group far outnumbers the first. The people unified in this movement called themselves the ‡Khomani San.

The Khomani San, led by Oupa Dawid Kruiper, took their cause to the international community and eventually the South African courts. In 1999, they won the first phase of their land claim in the courts, but their challenge was just beginning. Instead of the right to return to their traditional home in the Kalahari, to practice their traditions there and to pass those traditions to their descendants, they were granted a large portion of land just south of the Kalahari in order to establish farms.

They were granted access to some lands inside the park, but with heavy restrictions. They were only allowed in the Kalahari under the supervision of park rangers and were not allowed to live according to their traditions within the park. For example, one of rivers where most of the animals tend to congregate is part of a game reserve, meaning the animals there are considered game, which is to be hunted for sport by rich people on safari, and not hunted by the San as the food they depend on for their survival.

The San are traditionally hunter-gatherers. To grant them land to farm is not restoring their right to live by their traditions. As Kruiper said,

“Without the Kalahari we are nothing. In the Kalahari, we know we belong, we know what to do with the land, we know who we are. The animals know us. The lion, he still knows that the bushmen, the San, are more clever than he is.”

On the land they were granted, the infrastructure, policing, and education system are all still under the control of the San ArcherSouth African government. There have been many complaints about corruption and abuse by the police, including the killing of an unarmed man. There have also been reports of sexual abuse of the children in the schools which in no way educates them in the ways of their culture. In fact, many of the San involved in the land claim are not even interested in returning to a traditional lifestyle. After being assimilated into the modern society via the education system, most San find a return to the harsh climate of the Kalahari and a lifestyle separate from modern conveniences to be undesirable.

Currently, the ‡Khomani San are continuing their efforts to reestablish their presence in the Kalahari. The story of the San and their reintroduction to the Kalahari Desert is proving valuable for the country’s tourism industry as you can visit to book a trip to visit the San today. The plight and struggle of these people is now being pimped by big businesses who have found yet another way to profit from humanity’s suffering.

The San are not the only case like this. More people are becoming aware of the plight of these communities being forced out of their native lands to produce these protected zones. To protect their image, some of the big non-profits that manage these parks have begun to adopt a new model for conservation called Community Conserved Areas.This model is supposed to present more opportunities for the indigenous populations to have input on how the parks are managed. However it’s clear that the authority over their ancestral lands will remain with the parks’ administrations, with the support of the armed rangers and local military to prevent any resistance. Nature conservation has proven to be yet another effective tool for political domination of the world.

Politicians, in their quest for power, make it their goal to leave no existing power structure intact, besides those that support them. The adage, either you’re with us or you’re against us summarizes the political model of the modern day. The indigenous human being with little to no contact with the modern world knows nothing of the modern systems of capitalism, democracy, science or religion. He has no need for modern technology. He owes the politicians nothing, content to live as he has since the dawn of civilization. His world represents a territory unconquered by the politicians. Once comprising nearly all, if not the whole humanity, the societies who are simply following their traditions are now considered like an antique typewriter: nice to look at in a museum, but otherwise useless.

Indigenous is a term which refers to the original inhabitants of an area. However, this term really has nothing to do with a person’s place of origin since we can look to history and see that all people called indigenous migrated to their present location at some point in history, just like all humanity. These traditions form value systems and cultural structures that every individual can thrive within. With values to guide us in every situation we may encounter, it’s simply impossible for politicians to manipulate us to do their will. The term indigenous really comes as another artificial dividing line introduced by politicians in their struggle for power, such as race, class and nationality. In this case the term represents the separation between the modern individual and his traditions.

Modern human beings have been convinced that we can exist without our traditions, or that we are not connected to any traditions. With no connection to traditions, the individual is left with no choice but to adopt the modern social structure as his tradition. This represents a victory for the politician because he now controls every aspect of the individual’s life by controlling access to everything he depends on for survival, comfort, entertainment, etc. This is a war of ideas in which the politician destabilizes other cultures around the world and recruits the desperate members of these cultures into his service and we have seen with the San. There is simply no room in this political model for indigenous people to be in control of their lands.

Let’s admit that the modern social and economic models that are destroying the world have not produced the solution by establishing the national parks. We will have to look outside of this destructive society for solutions. Maybe that’s why the system is trying so hard to eliminate traditional cultures by any means necessary. This system is the real public enemy #1. Our only protection is our quality, our refusal to duplicate the evil in this world. We can take a stand to protect our world by returning to the traditions that indigenous societies have successfully protected despite the attacks they have endured.

Two San Bushmen lead a tourist through the Kalahari.

Two San Bushmen lead a tourist through the Kalahari.

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