South Africa’s first peace park, known as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park was formally established in May 2000. It stretches across the South African and Botswana border encompassing a 35 551 km2 ecosystem that is home to nomadic ungulate populations and their predators. Also living here amongst the red sand dunes are two of the planet’s oldest communities known as the Mier and ‡Khomani San. They are some of the last remaining original people of South Africa’s Kalahari Desert. Historically living as hunter-gatherers, these communities are expert trackers and are known for their ancient and deep understanding of maintaining a balanced approach when living off the land.
In 1999, the two communities reached a historic land settlement agreement with the Government of South Africa. Initially, six farms totalling around 35 000 ha were restored to the communities consisting of land to the south of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. In 2002, after further negotiations with the South African government, a further nearly 60 000 ha of land within the park was allocated to them with South African National Parks currently contracted to manage it as part of the protected area. Dr Moscow Marumo, who heads up Peace Parks Foundation’s Community Development Programmes, says, “The land awarded to the communities has tremendous potential in terms of wildlife economy development, an economic sector which is currently valued at around R6bn per annum in South Africa. When developed to its full potential, it can offer a solution for both sustainable development of the area and the upliftment of these vulnerable people.”
A first step towards sustainable development
For many years, a lack of resources hampered opportunities for the ‡Khomani San to fully utilise their reclaimed land for economic development. “In 2013, Helderberg Sunrise Rotary Club and 50 Rotary Clubs in Germany, with support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Rotary International Foundation, designed a project that sought to give the ‡Khomani San a chance to live in peace, freedom, dignity and economic independence while retaining their unique cultural identity,” says Dr Carl-Heinz Duisberg, Chair of the Rotary Steering Committee. Funds raised enabled the establishment of a committee that would oversee development in the area. This was an important first step as the committee ensured accountability in the use of donor funding. It consists of key stakeholders such as the Rotary Club of Helderberg Sunrise as the donor representative, a community governing body that serves as the custodian of community assets, and Peace Parks Foundation as the implementing agent.
The funds from Rotary and the German Government were then utilised to develop the ‡Khomani San Erin Game Ranch, one of the six farms awarded in the land settlement agreement, and constructed a tented camp in the ranch that has since become an essential source of income for the region’s ‡Khomani San communities.
The ranch operates through an approach of sustainable use of wildlife based on the ‡Khomani San traditional survival strategies, as well as an eco-tourism offering during the seasons in which the animals breed. The ranch is deeply rooted in the culture and values of the ‡Khomani San, who are legendary trackers and hunters, and visitors are welcomed into their circle of traditions. “Erin has been an extremely successful project and has been fully booked since 2016 with many repeat visitors. Plans have already been designed to set up another game ranch which we hope will be as successful as Erin,” says the Administrative Manager, Helena Steenkamp, a member of the community.
Traditional values recognised
In 2017, following a successful presentation at the new World Heritage Sites adjudication in Poland by Dirk Pienaar, one of the ‡Khomani San community members and a Tourism Officer at Erin Game Ranch, the ‡Khomani Cultural Landscape was recognised by UNESCO as the 9th South African World Heritage Site.
Oupa Jan, an active community member emphasises the importance of protecting the cultural heritage through education. He says, “For me it is very important that the younger members of the community learn the culture and where we came from because we are the last remaining people who live here in harmony with nature.” There are currently two cultural training programmes established, the Veld School and the Imbewu Camp, where children learn about their ancestors, traditional arts and medicine. They are taught about the veld, various animals that live in the area and how to track these in the field. This type of training will go a long way in protecting the ‡Khomani San history and ensuring a sustainable future for the children who grow up here.
Looking to the future
Planned future projects in the area include the ‡Khomani San Gateway and the Bushman Camp that, according to Helena Steenkamp, will allow visitors to fully experience the culture and traditions of the people who live here. She says, “Members of the ‡Khomani San community will be able to interact with tourists through traditional dancing, music, storytelling, authentic bushman crafts and the sharing of indigenous knowledge.”
In 2018, a new Communal Property Association (CPA) committee was elected by the community. The CPA is responsible for serving the needs of the community, as well as protecting the ‡Khomani San assets. According to Andre Steenkamp, Vice Chairman of the CPA, members have committed to be transparent and ensure that donor funding is utilised for the betterment of the community.
Dr Marumo says, “This is a unique landscape and Peace Parks Foundation is proud to be part of developing it. We understand that conservation without developing the communities that surround these areas is not sustainable, and for this reason, we are proud to continue to contribute in partnership with the Rotary Foundation. We also invite other investors and donors to further support the development of opportunities for the ‡Khomani San.”
“For me it seems as if the winds of change have reached the Kalahari. Due to the commitment of many people involved, we have achieved a lot as is evident in the development that has taking place thus far. We are confident in the future of the ‡Khomani San and we look forward to working with them for many years to come,” concludes Dr Duisberg.