Khomani San elder gets second chance after knee op

2017-04-13 06:07
Andrew Kruiper, a seasoned animal tracker in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, has had two knee replacements and is ready to get back to work. (Supplied)

Andrew Kruiper, a seasoned animal tracker in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, has had two knee replacements and is ready to get back to work. (Supplied)

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Johannesburg - One of the few remaining individuals with the skill to track animals in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park has been granted a second chance to make a contribution to his community.

Andrew Kruiper, 56, worked as a ranger and tracker in the park for many years. Osteoarthritis in both knees however forced him to retire from his job, which he said broke his heart.

"If an animal escaped from the park, I tracked it down and brought it back. After some years, I wasn't able to do this work anymore.

"I started to feel sad because I was no longer part of nature and I haven't been able to show or teach my children about nature, as my uncle, Vet Piet, taught me about the plants, the animals, and tracking in the wild.

"I have a great passion for nature, and I believe it is my vocation to share this knowledge so that others will appreciate these things."

Tracking knowledge

One of Kruiper's favourite memories was when he took his son to the park a couple of years ago.

"As we were walking, I saw a lion in the grass nearby. I told my son, Klein Andrew, to stand still and observe. We watched the lioness for a while. She didn't attack us; she didn't even mind us being there. It is one of my favourite memories," he said.

The 56-year-old is one a handful of Khomani San tribesmen born on the dunes of his ancestral land.

His job at the park involved helping researchers track animals, to find those animals which had escaped from the park, and to impart some of his knowledge to tourists.

He could however no longer ignore the pain in his legs and knees and was forced to stop doing the job he loved.

"It broke my heart because I realised that I wouldn't be able to pass on my knowledge, and then perhaps the value I see in these natural wonders wouldn't mean anything anymore.

"I do not want to only talk about our history and traditions, I want to show people and teach others how we used to track and gather food for our families. These things are dying out, and if I do not pass on what I know, who will?"

In July 2016, Kruiper's friend Patricia Glyn brought his plight to the attention of Netcare Linksfield Hospital's orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ponky Firer.


Glyn met Kruiper while compiling a book on the Khomani clan's fast-disappearing heritage.

To her, Kruiper was a "national treasure" because he was one of the few remaining individuals still able to pass on the rich Khomani culture and his encyclopaedic knowledge of the park's natural heritage.

Firer agreed to help Kruiper and, with the help of other colleagues pro bono, began assessing his condition in November.

By this time, Kruiper's osteoarthritis had reached a significantly advanced stage. X-rays of his knees showed the cartilage in both knees had been eroded and that he had developed bone spurs.

He successfully motivated for a medical supplies company to donate the components for the prosthetic knee joints and asked the Netcare Foundation to cover the cost of the operation and his hospital stay.

The foundation hoped the operation would improve his quality of life, restore his mobility, and help him share his considerable wisdom with the next generation.

Firer said Kruiper's fitness and good health allowed them to perform both knee replacements at the same time on March 14. He was on crutches the next day, and took his first few steps the day after that.

"He will be on crutches for about six weeks, and he is working with a physiotherapist who will guide him through the rehabilitation process," he said.

Kruiper expressed his eternal gratitude to those who had helped him.

"I will never stop saying thank you."

Once he had fully recovered, he would continue teaching others about nature and the ways of the Khomani San people.

"I still have so much to give, my heart is strong, my mind is strong, and the only thing that has been holding me back is the problem with my knees.

"The memories I will make will not be only for myself. They will be for the benefit of our great-grandchildren and future generations," Kruiper said.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  good news  |  healthcare

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