But the beauty of N|uu should not be used to paint an unduly romantic picture of Esau’s people – the San. Michael Daiber is manager of the !Khwa ttu heritage centre, an hour’s drive north of Cape Town, which calls itself the “embassy” of the San. He says the centre, which also offers accommodation, is an antidote to the “sunsets and silhouettes and smiling people” image of the San.
“Establishments used to promote that naked hunter-gatherer Bushman image,” Daiber explained. “All that ‘the last surviving’, ‘unique encounter’, ‘come and see it while it’s still here’ language. The leaders who founded !Khwa ttu back in 1996 were saying, ‘This is not our story. Our land has been taken away from us. We have had a really tough history.'”
“Where San live, it looks like unoccupied land,” added Joram /Uiseb, a San of the Namibian Hai||om group, who is heritage co-ordinator at !Khwa ttu. “Land is life. Only take from nature what you really need.” For the San, land was about stewardship not ownership, and South Africa was easily wrested from them.
“In the 1980s, I was told there were no Bushmen left,” Daiber said . “And here 40 years later I’ve had a career working only with San people. How do you measure it and who decides?”
The “it” he’s referring to is San identity. Even “San” itself is an exonym for South Africa’s original inhabitants. It was introduced by the Khoikhoi, a people who arrived from modern-day Botswana. The term “Bushman”, meanwhile, is a translation of “Boesman”, which is what the Dutch – who settled the region from the mid-17th Century – called the hunter gatherers. But while the San’s languages and lifestyle have been mostly erased, the people live on.