During my stay in Botswana there was a legend that if you visit the Basarwa people of North-Western Botswana one thing that you should never do as a man would be to look at the wife. We were told, if you do they would not hesitate to pierce your chest with their long spears. This was scary!
I then had the chance to visit Ghanzi which is about 670Km North-West of Gaborone the capital of Botswana. We met the Basarwa people who are also known as San or Khoisan ; what a welcoming people they are! There is actually a lodge called Ghanzi Trail Blazers where one could book a San hut and later on have the opportunity to have a fireside interaction with then.
Although this was a tourist setting, I did get the chance to ask about the legend and they laughed hysterically. This visit to Ghanzi in 2007 opened my eyes to the beauty of these people. Their history is rich and their struggles have also been documented.
Who are the San People?
The San people are found in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. They mostly live in the Kalahari , are part of the Khoisan group which loosely includes the Khoikhoi. These terms are sometimes confusing however, the San are the original inhabitants of Southern Africa and are believed to be direct descendants of Early Stone Age ancestors.
The San people are migratory and they do not farm or domesticate animals. This is a significant distinction from KhoiKhoi people who were gatherers and pastoralists. The Khoi Khoi migrated downwards from North and Western parts of Central and Southern Africa around 200BC – 100BC. This was some years before another migration by a different subgroup from the Eastern side called Bantu who encompass present day Zulu, Shangaan, Shona, Ndebele, Kikuyu, Bemba, Bangala people of Southern, Central and Eastern Africa.
Today most San people live in permanent structures. Colonialism destroyed their migratory way of life, they were no longer allowed to roam freely and trophy hunters destroyed the vast herds of game that formed their principal supply of food.
In 1997, a small group of Bushmen still living in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve were resettled to the new built town of New Xade. This resulted in a prolonged fight for justice by the Basarwa people whose most recognizable representative was Roy Sesane.