Fighting for their survival

Fighting for their survival
The San Bushmen roamed the savannahs and open plains for thousands of years and are in fact the oldest living inhabitants of Southern Africa as well as being one of the oldest distinct races in the world. “They believe God hurled to earth a piece of turf that broke into pieces; the pieces became nations and the particles of dust their own minute, wandering tribe”, but their hunter-gatherer lifestyle has slowly being squeezed towards extinction as they are now threatened by the 21st Century social evils of unemployment, poverty, alcohol abuse and HIV-AIDS, this after surviving centuries of persecution and abuse by black and white settlers of Southern Africa.
The difficulties of the San in Botswana made headlines in recent months when authorities illegally evicted tribes from the Kalahari, but if we are honest their brethren in Namibia and South Africa have fared little better in protecting their long established habitat.
It’s estimated that 30,000 San remain in Namibia, with the Haikom and Juhoansi the largest groups. Their numbers dropped dramatically from the start of the last century when then colonial ruler Germany allowed growing numbers of white settlers to shoot Bushmen and encroach on their traditional hunting grounds, a similar situation arose in Australia with the government allowing their aboriginal communities to be shot with impunity, something the Americans did to their first nations in the 18th century.
South Africa took over the Namibia’s (Then South West Africa) administration during the World War I until Namibia's independence in 1990. From 1964 to 1990 a protracted liberation war was waged. In 1970s the SADF came to enlist the help of the San to track down insurgents trading in their bows and poisoned arrows for the R4 rifles of the South African army.
With the men being used as trackers to hunt down insurgents villages had boreholes drilled for them, schools were built teachers arrived to teach the children, SADF doctors gave medical treatment and the men in the village earned a salary. Other San like the Khwe and Vasekele originated in Angola and were employed by Portuguese colonial military forces during that country's liberation struggle, here they were known as Flechas with the legendary 32 battalion using their distinctive camouflage berets as their own from 1976 onwards. The Bushmen that were not tracked down and cruelly killed by the MPLA or the FNLA fled to South West Africa after Angolan independence in 1975.
The South African military gave them shelter in then South West Africa; the men became trackers and soldiers in a special 'Bushman Battalion' against the Peoples' Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN). Initially some 850 Bushmen were organized into a separate battalion of the South West Africa Territory Force headquartered at Omega, a base camp in Namibia's northeastern Caprivi Strip. Assigned on a rotating basis to South African fighting units, the traditionally unwarlike Bushmen distinguished themselves in combat. With a number being killed and one being posthumously awarded the Honoris Crux, one of the highest military decorations. Their tracking skills introduced a new element to the counterinsurgency tactics used by the SADF
"They have fantastic eyesight," says a South African lieutenant, "and they can navigate in the bush without a compass or map." The Bushmen, in fact, were given their name, "Bosman," by 17th century Dutch settlers because of their ability to use the brushy landscape for their own protection. In admiration of the skills the Bushman has acquired from millenniums of hunting game, one lieutenant observes, "For the Bushman, tracking is a science. He can track and backtrack, use false tracks—all the dirty tricks."
In 1990, some 1,000 San soldiers and their families took up an offer from the Pretoria government to settle at Schmidtsdrift, near Kimberley in South Africa's arid Northern Cape Province, fearing reprisals from the new Namibian government if they stayed. The 5,000-strong !Xu and Khwe communities left and in the Northern Cape have been reduced to relying on government pensions and food handouts. For a people that were taught to hunt with a bow and arrow, sleep in the veldt and live of the land this is not an ideal way to live. What will become of these ancient peoples? Hopefully they will find peace and a place they can call home.

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