San descendants in trek for heritage

2016-02-18 08:14
(Indigenous Liberation Walk/ Inheemse Bevrydings Staptog, Facebook)

(Indigenous Liberation Walk/ Inheemse Bevrydings Staptog, Facebook)

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Kimberley – The Indigenous Liberation Walk takes on a different route this year, when 10 San will walk hundreds of kilometres to highlight the plight of the community.

It all started with a determined, worried man. The late Khomani San leader, Dawid Kruiper, walked the more than 1 000 kilometres from his ancestral land in the Kalahari to the Mother City in 2004.

As the leader of his people, he went to see the leader of South Africa – then President Thabo Mbeki. He didn’t get an audience with the head of state (who was out of the country at the time) then, but the eyes of the world's media were once again firmly on the plight of the San.

Kruiper died eight years later, still not having eradicated the concerns that saw him walking all those kilometres – the upliftment of his people and the protection and development of his mother tongue, N!U. The 25 000 year old language is facing extinction, with only four speakers remaining.

Since 2013, San people from across the country have – literally – started walking in Oom Dawid Kuiper's footsteps.

Hoodia keeps them going

Every year 14 of them – dressed in traditional garb – take to the road. They start at Andriesvale, where Oom Dawid started. And they end in Cape Town, usually at the Castle of Good Hope.

The men are mostly well received by those passing by and in towns where they rest and replenish their water supplies.

They pack light, and where they can, go to the field for sustenance – hoodia (now used as in diet tablets) that they eat to keep them going for hours, even days, and other plants and herbs – the same way their forefathers did centuries ago.

“When you done walking all those kilometres, you feel thankful, that you are in a position to have walked in the footsteps of those who came before us, our ancestors. There’s this feeling of privilege,” said Billie Steenkamp, a veteran of four indigenous walks.

The 10 take turn to do the big walk – they walk in teams of two for 20kms. The others rest in a vehicle. They walk a minimum of 80kms per day.

The route is dramatically different this year. They start at George in the Western Cape, and walk to Oudtshoorn in the Klein Karoo before heading to Cape Town via Worcester – 481km in four days.

Create awareness

“We wanted to start at Fort Beaufort (in the Eastern Cape), where the first battle between the San and the English took place. It’s known in history as the battle between the Xhosas and the English and we wanted to educate people about it.

"That’s a big part of why we do the walk – to educate people," said Steenkamp, one of the walk's organisers. “So we wanted to create that awareness. But finances are a problem and because of this we had to cut down."

On the way, as they walk across veld, hills and mountains, they will keep an eye open for another part of their history – rock art.

“We want to visit as many of the rock arts as possible and mark its location. What we want to do in future is to have a map for all the locations of the rock art. We want people to know where it is, so they can go and visit,” Steenkamp said.

Every morning and every night, those who are part of the group will perform rituals to give thanks for the successful day that has passed. They will also visit graves of Khoisan people along the way and perform a remembrance ritual; a solitaire stone is placed on the grave to show respect for the dead. 

“We go to the places where significant things happened for our people,” Steenkamp said.

They start on February 24 and will be in Cape Town by the end of the month.

'Bloodless revolution'

“On 1 March we will walk around the Castle seven times. We expect it to take about three-and-a-half hours. And on 2 March 2016 we hand over our memorandum for the implementation of 46 ‘minimal’ indigenous rights – this includes the inclusion of indigenous peoples in the constitution and the recognition of Nama as an official language,” the group said in a statement on Facebook.

“It’s a bloodless revolution. So many atrocity were perpetrated against our people in that Castle that we must make our people aware. We also want to make people aware of their heritage and proud to be Khoisan. So we educate as well. We target the youth especially.

“But you know, after that feeling you have on the road with your brothers and meeting the people – and living so close to nature, you return home and that helplessness overcomes you again. Because it is exactly the way we left it. Our children who cannot go to tertiary, people living in poverty. The struggle goes on,” Steenkamp said.

The walkers’ progress can be followed on Facebook on their page Indigenous Libertation Walk/Inheemse Bevrydings Staptog. The group encourages those who meet them on the way to stop and have a conversation with them.

Read more on:    george  |  kimberley  |  cape town  |  culture

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