How to Spread it: The heritage hoarder

2014-10-26 15:00

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Patricia Glyn went on an extraordinary journey with the Bushmen of Kgalagadi. She tells Athandiwe Saba about it

After spending a month at base camp on Mount Everest, and then walking from Durban to Zambia, Patricia Glyn felt like a new challenge. In 2011 she began a walk through the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park to understand the Bushmen’s stories; to walk in their footsteps, literally.

But when she met Dawid Kruiper, the Khomani San people’s traditional leader, her plans changed and she joined the calling to help the “forgotten people” – the Bushmen – remember and document their heritage.

“My involvement with the Khomani San was pure accident. I was in the community, trying to find people who would walk with me when I met Dawid. He asked if I could change my plans because he knew he was dying,” says Glyn.

The Khomani had won a landmark claim and 25?000 hectares inside the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park had been returned to them. More than 20 years earlier, their people had been evicted from this land in huge numbers. Kruiper told Glyn there were parts of the park he and his children hadn’t seen in 50 years. His grandchildren had never seen them. He asked Glyn to take them back home.

“I used that dangerous English word ‘yes’. It turned out to be very expensive because I could not find a sponsor so I remortgaged my house.

“Something inside told me it was urgent and, indeed, Dawid died a year after we finished the trip.”

Glyn took Kruiper and 13 other elders to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. They brought back many precious cultural artefacts that now reside in the University of Cape Town archives. She then wrote her third book, this time about her expedition with Kruiper, What Dawid Knew, half the profits of it will go to a trust for Khomani heritage preservation.

She has returned many times to interview the community elders in the dry and, at times, treacherous Kalahari Desert. She wants to document as much heritage as possible.

“It doesn’t take long to realise this is, by a long way, the most marginalised community in the country. In 2014 there are still shocking levels of starvation here. There are terrible social ills that have crept in because of the deep pain. They really are the forgotten people: as evil as the bantustans were, there was somewhere to go; for the Bushmen there was nowhere to go.

“When they were evicted, they just melted away into ghettos and townships and passed themselves off as coloured because they had been hammered from all sides.”

Zambian-born Glyn, who was involved in broadcasting for 13 years, decided to make adventure her living after she spent three months on Mount Everest in 2003.

But her interaction with the Khomani people has brought her the greatest joy. She says she will do another walk, but isn’t sure when: “I want to finish the heritage work because this year alone we have lost five elders.”

Without funding, it is difficult travelling and helping the community, especially when there is more work to be done than there is money to pay for it.

“A few months back I got R200?000 from Sesego Cares to help with the heritage work, which will be of great help with some of my expenses – just getting there is an 11-hour drive.”

Glyn spends time with the community at least once a month between March and November, interviewing the elders, usually with all of them sitting under a tree.

“They and their stories are so funny. But most of the time I go down to find out how everyone is, find out who’s sick, who’s lost their ID and can’t get their pension.”

Last time she piled two adults, six children and a sick dog into her vehicle and took them all to Upington to sort out whatever they needed.

She’s been accused numerous times of being a “knight on a white charger” trying to save the Bushmen, but Glyn says this is not the case because they have taught her so much.

“I am motivated partly because I lost my father when I was young and never got knowledge of my ancestry from him. What I’ve come to learn is that philanthropy is actually selfish because you get back more than you could possibly give. You get a sense of purpose in your life, a huge fulfilment, and you realise your life will count for something and that you will leave something behind,” says Glyn.

.?This series is developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust and the African Grantmakers Network. To support a cause, visit

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