Written in the Sand South African San Institute
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Needs | Action Plan | Products & Processes | Principles | Mobilising Identity | Using CRA


Needs Assessment

The CRA emerged out of a request to SASI by San elders and political leaders to help find and document speakers of their ancient and supposedly extinct language. Traditional leader Dawid Kruiper emphasised that it would not be sufficient for his community to return to their ancestral land in the Kalahari if they were to be cut off forever from their ancestral language.

Before embarking on the project, extensive consultations took place with the elected community leadership as well as with the elders themselves . The following contextual considerations were established through dialogue with different people in the community:

  • There was widespread poverty
  • There was psychological trauma as a result of displacement and abuse. This trauma manifests itself in pervasive social problems related to poverty and disempowerment (e.g. alcohol abuse)
  • There were claims by the South African National Parks (SANP) that the San were not living in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (KGNP) territory in 1931, i.e. at the time of proclamation
  • There were claims by various parties, including neighbouring communities, that those people identified as San were impostors
  • There was general confusion about how the various San were related to each other and ambiguities in people’s knowledge of their own ethnography
  • Any success in restoring rights based on aboriginality / indigenous identity would influence South Africa’s position at the United Nations, and influence the dynamics of the UN International Decade on the World’s Indigenous People.

Research Priorities
Impacted by the above considerations, the research priorities were set as follows:

  • Collecting evidence that the San were original occupants of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (KGNP; this has subsequently been renamed Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park or KTP)
  • Sorting out the ethnography of the area in order to stabilise identities and remove the stigma of being considered “frauds” or “failed” San
  • Tracing any elders who could bring forth valuable knowledge with which community activists could work
  • Collecting evidence of a hunting and gathering system that would justify claims to natural resource rights based on heritage and continuity

It was agreed by the intervention team that although the work must lead towards new skills and economic opportunities for people in the community, it was important in the initial phase to concentrate on restoring people’s self-respect and dignity. Judging from resettlement experiences of indigenous peoples elsewhere in southern Africa, these are prerequisites for any meaningful process of economic empowerment. We were influenced by community leaders who placed a great deal of emphasis on reconciliation and bringing the San back together from their diaspora. A group of elders laid down the priorities for survival: !’aun, !ha n|a kx’am (land, water and truth). Truth in this case related to speaking out their history, their original occupancy, their displacement and the harsh years of their diaspora when friends were few. To this Ouma |Una Rooi added the importance of the principle of ||an a, which translates to “mutual love and respect”, or literally “love you”.

We created a schema to depict the impact of the displacement and the death of the language on the cultural continuity and identity of the people. The schema of the problems helped single out the types of interventions that would be useful to pursue in repairing or reversing pathological trends. Underlying this methodology for the schema is a problem tree, which sets out key problems and their causal relationship to each other in a series of negative statements. The reverse, i.e. the positive condition, is the solution tree, and causality is interrogated to insure that it is accurate. The intervening agent then works with the community to identify where it is possible to convert a negative condition into a positive condition so that it has maximum effect on the causal chain.

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