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Titel: Reports on the Regional Assessment of the Status of the San in Southern Africa
Vol. 1: An Introduction to the Regional Assessment of the Status of the San in Southern Africa
Vol. 2: An Assessment of the Status of the San in South Africa, Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe
Vol. 3: An Assessment of the Status of the San in Botswana
Vol. 4: An Assessment of the Status of the San in Namibia
Vol. 5: A Gender Perspective on the Status of the San in Southern Africa
At the 22nd Session of the ACP-EU Joint Assembly held in Windhoek, Naimibia, in March 1996, a resolution was passed recognising "the special difficulties encountered in integrating hunting and gathering peoples in agricultural industrial states", and noting the "lack of accurate overall information on the present condition and prospects of San".
The European Commission was consequently requested to undertake "a comprehensive study of the San people ... in the light of international conventions". To this end a series of studies was conducted among San populations throughout the southern African region over the perlod 1999 - 2000 as part of a project titled Regional Assessment of the Status of the San in Southern Africa.
The San' or "Bushmen" of southem Africa are among the region's best-known peoples. Iconified as an archetypal hunting and gathering society, they are the subject of numerous ethnographic studies, documentaries, feature films, coffee-table books and postcards. In contrast to their popular image, however, few (if any) San still depend primarily on hunting and gathering or roam the vastness of the "bush" clad in leather and living a life of blissful isolation.
Rather, the majority of southem Africa's San population are struggling to adapt to a rapidly transforming world in which they lack de jure rights to land, are largely dependent on welfare in the form of food aid or extremely poorly paid jobs, lack the skills necessary to compete in the evolving political economy and complain of diserimination at the hands of others.
The range of sectors across which San are disadvantaged relative to other southern African language groups suggests that development efforts aimed at them need to be intensified, and moreover that changes need to be made to existing programmes, legislation and policies. While there have been some positive developments during the last decade in particular, these have not been adequate to effect any fundamental adjustment in their collective status. Indeed in some areas conditions for San have arguably deteriorated over this time, partially but by no means wholly as a result of national governments lacking the capacity, will or resources to intervene effectively in their favour.
While some recent policy changes and programmes initiated by the Government of Namibia (GRN) and Government of Botswana (GOB) respectively stand to benefit San in those countries, only in South Africa, which is home to a relatively small San population, have government interventions provided a solid platform from which to effectively address San concerns. Partly in consequence of the limited success of government interventions in other parts of the region, many San feel alienated from and by their national governments - a state of affairs that has not been helped by occasional high-profile conflicts such as have happened in Botswana's Central Kalahari and Namibia's West Caprivi.
The past two decades have seen the growing dominance of a global discourse on "indigenous rights". This is reflected in, among other things, actions such as the United Nations (UN) declaring the period 1993-2003 as the "Decade of Indigenous People", the recent decision to establish a permanent forum for indigenous peoples at the UN, the ratification by a number of countries of the International Labour Organisation's Convention 169 (ILO 169) and the development by some national governments of policies that devolve a degree of autonomy to "indigenous" minorities living within their national territories.
Among non-governmental organisations (NG0s), community-based organisations (CB0s) and otliers, the label "indigenous" has joined the vocabularaic arsenal necessary to secure the funds of donors and at the same time the identification of indigenous peoples as a special category in international law offers potential benefits for those who can negotiate their way into this problematic social category.
For centuries the San people of southem Africa have experienced colonial violence, ethnocide and dispossession which have pushed them into increasingly dry and marginal lands. By the beginning of the 200'century the remaining San in South Africa were to be found in the drought-prone areas of the Northern Cape. Consequently, today there are only a dozen known speakers of original San languages throughout South Africa.
Under apartheid the San were not even recognised as a distinct cultural group. Instead, like the Nama (Khoi) people, they were assumed to have become "extinct". Consequently, many people of San ancestry were simply assimilated into the apartheid category of "coloured". They were generally the poorest segment of the rural population and eked out an existence as labourers on white farms in the Northern Cape. This has continued to be their status up until the present.
In post-apartheid South Africa, however, change is possible. For the first time ever, San are being recognised as a distinct cultural group with constitutionally enshrined political and human rights. They have also benefited from the ANC Government's commitment to redress their situation through the granting of land to San and through the protection of their cultural and language rights.
While San in South Africa have recently obtained land and cultural and language rights which they never had under apartheid, the challenge for the future is to transforrn these new rights into concrete social realities. Given the historical legacies of colonialism and apartheid, this will be an enormous challenge. In particular it will require institutional capacity-building and sustainable livelihood development initiatives. The majority of San in South Africa live under extremely poor socio-economic conditions. Any attempt to develop cultural projects will require that these basic material needs are addressed.
San socio-economic upliftinent and the success of organisational development initiatives are interdependent. However, San development projects are being slowed down by a number of organisational bottlenecks in central and provincial government as well as community structures. It is precisely these institutional and organisational problems that are delaying the implementation of development plans at the two major San settlements: the !Xu and Khwe settlement at Schmidtsdrift military base located about 73 km west of Kimberley, and the tKhomani San settlements at Welkom and Witdraai near the entrance to the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (KGNP).
While San in Botswana are a highly researched community, their position has not materially improved over the past decades. The most profound factor affecting San in Botswana is their abject poverty. Some 90% of San in government settlements were dependent on food aid in the 1990s. Those who were in receipt of a cash income - typically deriving from employment as unskilled farm labourers - received around Pula 50 per month, on which an entire household would have to survive. At present only a small proportion of the San population possesses secure rights to land. These problems are compounded by the discrimination they have faced for centuries as "bushmen" - discrimination which has become deeply internalised in their cultural identity.
Namibia is home to between 30.000 and 33.000 San, who comprise less than 2% of the national population. As a language group they are conspicuously disadvantaged vis-a-vis all other language groups in Namibia on almost every available socio-economic indicator. Their Human Development Index is considerably below the national HDI of 0.77, while their Human Poverty Index (1998 figures) of 59.9 is also considerably higher than the national average for Namibia, which is only 26.9.
Landlessness, a lack of education, social stigmatisation, high mobility, extreme poverty and dependency conspire to prevent San from breaking out of the self-reproducing cycle of marginalisation in which many feel they are trapped. The per capita income of San is the lowest among all language groups in Namibia. The majority of San in Namibia lack access to any independent means of subsistence, and a sizeable proportion of them have no direct cash income.
San consequently consider pensions, food aid and other forms of welfare as being vital for survival. In addition, they generally have to pursue a variety of economic strategies for income generation, as rarely is any single strategy sufficient for satisfying their basic needs over an entire year. Food security is a major problem and as many as 70% of Namibian San are dependent on erratic state-run food-aid programmes.
Pensions are the only form of cash income for a large number of San households. Hunger is therefore a common feature of San life, and San in poorer areas sometimes go for several days without food. Others depend primarily on piecemeal work, for which they are often paid with food or alcohol. No San depend entirely on hunting and gathering.
The fact that San life expectancy is some 22% lower than the national average is indicative of their poor nutritional and health status. San are particularly vulnerable to poverty-related diseases such as tuberculosis. In addition, high levels of alcohol abuse, domestic violence, crime, apathy, depression and boredom have arisen in San communities. Dominant stereotypes of San are almost uniformly negative. Perceptions of San social inferiority are so widespread that they clearly influence policy and its implementation.
The following findings are based on data gathered during individual and group interviews with San women and men in Ghanzi District (Botswana), Tsumkwe West constituency (Namibia) and Schmidtsdrift and Platfontein in the Northern Cape (South Africa). The field research was complemented by a large number of interviews with experts conducted in person, telephonically and by means of email, as well as by an extensive literature evaluation.
There is growing concern among academics and development practitioners that recent changes in San societies throughout southern Africa have resulted in the erosion, at the expense of women, of the relative equality that formerly pertained between women and men in these societies. Studies conducted in the 1950s and 1960s among San in Namibia and Botswana, who then still largely relied upon hunting and gathering, emphasised their egalitarian social structures and high level of gender equality.
This was the case within the family, and the largely informal community leadership positions could also be held by either men or women. The status and influence of women was high due to the very substantial contribution they made to the sustenance of the family and the community. Women were not only the main providers of food, but also retained control over the food they had gathered.
Gender relations and identities among San communities have been grossly affected by socioeconomic and political changes, with San women losing influence and autonomy. Sedentarisation resulting from the wide-scale loss of land, the shift to pastoralism and wage labour, the influence of male-dominated neighbouring communities and, perhaps most dramatically, the militarisation of San life in the 1970s and 1980s all played a role. Gender relations have been found to be most imbalanced in those communities which have been most directly affected by military structures, the experience of war and violence and the trauma of repeated removals.