At first sight Jumanda is an unlikely looking bushman. With shaven head, buck teeth and pot belly, only his slightly oriental looking eyes betray his bushman origins. Nevertheless a true bushman he is.
He was born and raised into a nomadic lifestyle in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) near the settlement of Mothomelo (pronounced motto-mailo) as were his parents before him.
The CKGR was set up by the British administration of the protectorate of Bechuananland in 1961 as a reserve for the San people to practice their traditional lifestyle, but the subsequent government of a now independent Botswana has increasingly come to view the CKGR as a game reserve.
Starting in 1997 and continuing through to 2002 the Botswanan government, in order to protect the rapidly dwindling stocks of game, decided to forcibly relocate all of the bushmen currently living within the CKGR to resettlement camps outside of the reserve. This meant moving whole towns and villages full of people as well as rounding up all the small nomadic bands that still roamed the desert and had little contact with the outside world.
The effect on the bushmen was devastating and shocking. Their whole religion and way of life revolved around their attachment to the land and the ancestor spirits that dwelt there. To say that they felt dispossessed is an understatement. Their old healers and medicine men died from the shock and no-one has stepped into their shoes to replace them. The men turned to alcohol, some of the women became prostitutes, entering the modern world at the very lowest rung of poverty their resettlement camps were nothing more than shanty towns full of hopelessness and despair.
Now this is not to say that the bushmen were not already heading down that road, the town of Xade (pronounced ka-deh) that existed within the reserve was already an example of the above, but this process was rapidly accelerated by the relocation plan, and bushmen who previously wanted nothing to do with a settled life and wished to continue their age-old nomadic existence were now forced into these squalid new settlements. Once tainted by the corruption of western culture there was no going back for them, drunk and living off hand-outs of mass produced factory food they soon succumbed to this less energetic way of life and became stuck in the rut of their newly imposed surroundings.
Enter the First People of the Kalahari (FPK), an organisation set up by bushmen for bushmen in order to protect their rights. Previously the bushmen had had no voice. Living in small nomadic bands without any leadership or tribal structure they were entirely subject to the vicissitudes of the shifting political scene of southern Africa. Now at last they had some leadership and with the help of Survival International, an international charity set up to protect the rights of tribal people, they could now speak out and be heard.
In 2006 they won an historic court case against the Botswanan government which effectively declared that the relocations had been illegal. The Botswanan response to this has been something along the lines of:
“OK, so you wanna live a traditional lifestyle within the CKGR do you? Well you go right ahead, but don't expect us to give you any help or provide you with any facilities whatsoever!”
Most of the bushmen have therefore decided not to move back CKGR, where they will be isolated and have no access to modern services, clinics, schools etc. But some did, and it was these people that I was determined to go and meet.
The response of Survival International and the foreign sponsors to the success of the court case has been to congratulate themselves, patt each other on the back, and then transfer their attentions to other problem areas of the world instead. Starved of donations the FPK has effectively ceased to exist, so Jumanda and the other FPK members now find themselves out of a job.
I met up with Jumanda in Ghanzi, once a dusty outpost town deep in the Kalahari desert it now sits near the Trans-Kalahari Highway linking the Botswanan capital Gabarone with the Namibian capital of Windhoek. This is not to say that the town has been totally transformed by the highway, of the handful of cars that pass by on the highway every hour or so, most do not even bother to stop unless it's to fill up on fuel. With two supermarkets, one bank and one hotel it's hardly a metropolis but nevertheless serves as the main administrative centre for the Kalahari area.
Jumanda had been a member of the FPK for ten years and had reached the position of deputy co-ordinator. He was going to take me in his bakkie deep into the CKGR to the village of Molapo where lived the president of the FPK Roy Sesane.
Stocking up on supplies in Ghanzi I was aware that we would have to be totally self-sufficient during our time in the CKGR, with no shops and barely any water within the reserve we had to bring plenty of food, drinking water and extra fuel.
The Kalahari desert however is not a true desert, it is only a desert in the sense that it has no permanent surface water. I have heard it described as an arid scrub savannah, a thirstland or a semi-desert, but what this basically means is bushes, bushes everywhere and sometimes small trees or grasslands.
But nowhere is the vegetation dense and even in the higher rainfall areas where trees dominate there are not enough trees to form a canopy. There are some areas where there are so many trees that sometimes you really feel like you're in a vast and endless forest, but whether it's trees, bushes or grasses, always beneath them and between them lies the ever present sand, and in the dry season it seems impossible that anything could grow in this fine, gritty powder that blankets the entire surface of the Kalahari.
The landscape itself is almost entirely flat and featureless, the only exceptions being the dried up pans and dry river beds, and far to the north the haunting and isolated Tsodilo hills and Aha hills, sacred to the bushmen. Pans are basically lakes that for most of the year are entirely dry, flat and desolate, but seasonally, when the rains fall, they fill with shallow water to become a haven for wildlife. The rivers hold water even less often, usually bursting forth in a flash flood and then drying up a few days later.
Into this landscape, since time immemorial, have passed the forest bushmen (as the river bushmen of the Okavango delta called them). Perfectly adapted to this arid environment they were small and slender, and could travel huge distances without fresh water.
It was into this landscape that I too was about to venture, loaded up with supplies, bumping down the gravel road to New Xade in a 4WD vehicle.
The road was dry and dusty, the landscape although blackened by the recent fires, was attracting huge flocks of swallows and other birds searching for insects and seeds. Through the blackened stems fresh green growth was appearing, encouraged by the recent rains.
Pausing at New Xade to collect water containers I had a chance to take a look at this resettlement town. Most of the bushmen here had been living in old Xade, which lies within the bounds of the CKGR, before they were forcibly removed and given a couple of cows as compensation. Amongst the large concrete government buildings the bushmen have managed to cobble together small homes made of sticks and mud with grass roofs, and have surrounded their properties with flimsy fences of upright sticks strung together with wire or other pieces of metallic junk, their yards are just patches of sand littered with discarded tins, tyres and dung and the kind of garden furnishings you would expect to see on a trash heap.
I asked Jumanda what the prospects were for a town like Xade.
“People are dying of AIDS,” he says, “at least 65% of them are doomed!”
I asked him what he thought of the Batswana, the black tribe who make up the majority of the nation's population and government, and who are responsible for the resettlement policy.
“They are our enemies,” he said simply.
As we headed out of town towards the CKGR I was not sorry to leave this squalor but was rather shocked at the state of road into the reserve. It was nothing more than two sandy ruts in the ground, with two more sandy ruts running parallel to it, presumably for traffic coming the other way, but often the road was so bad that we were forced to use the opposite lane anyway. In places the original gravel road to old Xade was still visible but so deeply corrugated as to be unusable.
We passed no cars coming the other way except for one bakkie full of park officials and just by pure chance a bakkie full of bushmen from Molapo, our destination! They were an assorted looking bunch in shabby Western clothes who didn't really inspire me to think that I was going to see anything authentic within the reserve.
There was only one old man who really looked like a bushman under his modern outfit, and he had this odd way of standing that I've noticed in many of the old bushmen, very upright, with back arched inwards and arms tucked in by his sides, but with his forearms extended, which he used to gesticulate with expressively. He movements reminded me of the robot C3PO from Star Wars!
Now the journey got long, hot and very bumpy, frequently forcing me to hold on to my seat, despite Jumanda's careful driving. Occasionally we'd spot an ostrich, or a korhaan as it flew into the air out of the bush and then did a crazy tumble back down to the ground.
Arriving at the park gates we found them unmanned. Looking around this ranger station of brightly painted, modern cement buildings I could see no sign of the bushman village of old Xade which once stood here, nor could I see a sign of any rangers or in fact any human beings at all!
Bored of waiting I went looking for the officials and found them having their lunch in a nearby house. They seemed quite surprised to have visitors and told me they'd be back at the gates soon. After filling in the necessary forms and paying my park fees I was asked to sign the arrivals register for foreign visitors, the last entry was a man from Switzerland who had passed through five days ago.
As we continue on into the CKGR it clouds over and then begins to rain heavily. In the distance I can hear the rumble of thunder. Well at least the rain will help to firm-up the sand, which is just as well because it seems to be getting deeper the further into the reserve we get.
One particularly nasty and uphill stretch of sand is criss-crossed with 4WD tracks. How Jumanda managed to force the bakkie through without getting stuck I can't figure, but somehow we just manage to make it to the crest of the hill before we run out of steam.
The hours of bumping through a burnt and blackened landscape under miserable, wet, dark clouds were starting to get depressing, so it was with great relief that we finally emerged into sunlight and open grasslands. The sight of herds of oryx and springbok grazing raised my spirits greatly, and the spotting of a giant cory bustard and a pair of jackals did even more to encourage me.
At the far side of the grassland were some small pans that were filling with water from the rains, and around the pans were people collecting water, the first people we had seen since entering the gate some five hours earlier.
Trotting towards us came a most unexpected sight, three bushmen on horseback! Jumanda greeted them like old friends and we continued on towards the settlement.
Asking Jumanda about the water collectors I discovered that Molapo has no permanent water and the government has forbidden them from drilling a borehole. Worse than that, government officials recently took away their water tanks, so now all they have are these plastic water containers which they either fill up at the pans or, if the pans fail to produce water, they must fill up at the nearest borehole, over 100km away outside the reserve! Apparently there is another borehole only 60km away, but the bushmen are not allowed to use it, presumably because it falls within the bounds of the reserve.
Not content with taking their water tanks the government also decided to take away all their goats.
Now I can see both sides of the argument here, these bushmen are meant to be living a traditional lifestyle, and that means no farm animals and no boreholes, but there are many factors standing in the way of them living a traditional lifestyle nowadays.
Firstly, probably due to climate change, the game is much more scarce than it was in the past, a severe drought in the 1970s and 80s reduced the game populations drastically and they have never really recovered. Also, as the bushmen are now effectively forbidden from using their poison arrows, this makes big game extremely difficult to obtain by traditional methods.
Secondly the bushmen are no longer free to travel wherever they please, their former nomadic existence enabled them to travel to areas with large concentrations of game or migrate to fresh water sources. The settled life of these bushmen of Molapo means that water and game cannot always be relied upon.
Arriving at this small village of only sixty or so inhabitants I saw the now familiar wide-open sandy area dotted with trees, which is a feature of most Kalahari villages, and nestled amongst these trees a less familiar sight, large beehive shaped grass huts!
These were not the small temporary shelters that I had seen in the museum at Grashoek, these were much more permanent structures and much larger. Standing several metres tall and measuring several metres in circumference the nomadic bushman of old would never have witnessed anything like this, nevertheless they were as authentic as you were going to get in this unauthentically settled community. The huts had no windows and the door was nothing more than a few branches laid vertically across the entrance.
One of these huts belonged to Roy Sesane, one of the foremost proponents of the return to the CKGR and president of the now defunct FPK. Taller and more well built than the average bushman he reminded more of a red Indian chief. His voice was slow, deep and deliberate, and his deep throaty laugh reminded me of Jabba the Hut (and no I did not think I was an extra on a Star Wars set!)
We set up our tents outside Roy's hut, amongst the skinny dogs, chickens, dung beetles, big black millipedes and ubiquitous ants. I cooked dinner for Jumanda, Roy and his family over the camp fire under the light of a full moon and then retired to bed, the silence only being broken by the occasional braying of a nearby donkey.
I got up in the morning to find the dung beetles hard at work with what the donkey had provided. Breakfast was accompanied by heated discussions around the campfire in the unintelligible clicks of the bushman language but occasionally I would catch words I understood such as CKGR, Mugabe and Obama! It seems like even in this remote place world politics were still a hot topic!
After breakfast Jumanda takes me to the far side of the village to visit the village elders; Molatwe and his wife Keiwa.
Sitting on the floor inside their beehive hut Molatwe tells me that officially he is 101 years old, but as the old bushmen have no idea what year they were born by our reckoning, what his actual age was was anyone's guess. To me he looked to be in his 70s or 80s but could well have been older. He had grey hair, wore a shabby suit and was still the proud owner of all his own teeth. His wife, on the other hand, looked 101, she was a toothy old crone sitting on the floor behind him, pawing at the ground with her eyes closed, but occasionally opening one of them to peer at me curiously.
With Jumanda translating I started by asking him the same question that I like to ask all the old bushmen:
“What was life like when you were young?”
And invariably I get the same answer:
“Life was sweet before the government interfered. We were free to live as we pleased.”
“We used to travel all the time from place to place, but when the pans were filled with water and there was plenty of game around we might stay there for a while,” he continued.
“How many people were in your band, and did you ever meet up with other bands?” I asked him.
“There were about twenty or thirty of us, and sometimes when we found a place with many melons we would meet other bands there, exchange news with the men, chat to the women and maybe even find a wife!”
“Was it a hard life in those days? Was it difficult to find and kill animals to eat?”
“No, it was easy! Giraffe is the best meat, very tasty!”
Jumanda told me that the bushmen are no longer allowed to hunt the endangered giraffe.
“Did you ever meet outsiders or trade with them?”
“We used to meet traders and exchange fox and jackal furs for tobacco. Sometimes we would travel all the way to town to trade. We would get iron to make arrowheads too.”
“You're doing very well for your age, was it common amongst your people to live to such an old age?”
“In the past we all lived to an old age. When you were too old to walk and too blind to see then you might die, but not before. Today everyone is dying young, in my day this was unheard of! What is wrong with the world? The world must be sick!”
“The world is sick,” I agreed with him.
“All the young people dying of AIDS! What is AIDS?”
“A symptom of our sick world,” was all I could say.
I'd heard a story that in the past, old people were left to die when they could no longer walk and follow the band, so I asked him about this.
“No, we would carry them,” he said, “sons or nephews would carry them”.
I guessed therefore, that only in the most desperate of circumstances would the old have been left behind.
The picture he was painting was of an idyllic lifestyle. Although I'd always imagined the life of primitive man to be something like this, it was hard to believe that it wasn't just wishful thinking. But what if it was true? What if these guys really did live in a Garden of Eden before we interfered with their lives, hunted them down like animals, resettled them and corrupted them with tobacco, alcohol and Western consumer goods?
And if their life was so ideal, why had they given it all up so easily? Well part of the answer to that was that they didn't. In the beginning they resisted fiercely, but this process of assimilation has been going on for hundreds of years, and what I was seeing now were the last echoes of a lost way of life.
I thanked Molatwe and his wife and told him what an honour and a privilege it had been to speak to him and ducked through the opening of his hut to enter the sunlight again.
We went back to join Roy and then made our way over to the opposite side of the village. Roy was walking about ten paces behind us mumbling to himself. Apparently all the talk about the CKGR had upset him and he was getting it out of his system.
We found some women were sitting around chatting, while next to them a man was listening to a battered old radio connected by two loose wires to a small battery. Occasionally above the hiss of white noise you could just make out the sound of some music. This didn't seem to bother him in the slightest though as he blissfully listened to the sound of the white noise and occasionally adjusted the wires connected to the battery, seeming to prefer this hiss to the sounds of nature all around us.
While Jumanda chatted to the women I noticed three dogs sitting outside a nearby hut looking longingly inside. Suddenly a guy ran out of the hut and whipped the dogs fiercely with a strip of rawhide as they all yelped and scurried off out of his reach. The life of a bushman's dog is harsh, they are kicked, whipped and generally abused, even by the small children. They have to live off scraps or whatever they can manage to rummage out of the sand and they are totally dependant upon their insensitive masters for water. But at least they are free, they will never see a leash or a kennel and they never seem to bark or get angry, except with each other.
I decided to peer inside the hut to see what had interested the dogs and was immediately hit by the slaughterhouse smell. Half the hut was hung with very long, thin strips of meat that were being left to dry into biltong. The other half of the hut was occupied by three men who were boiling meat in a pot and then pounding it with an axe to make seswaa.
I discovered that they had hunted down and killed an oryx the previous day and were now spending all this day preparing its meat. Asking how they had caught the oryx I was told that it was chased by dogs and men on horseback until it was exhausted, and then the bushmen had dismounted and thrown spears into it.
Noticing a couple of spears tucked into the side of the hut I picked one up. It was very short and light, and front-weighted with a piece of iron pipe. Curious how one could kill an oryx with such a feeble weapon I asked one of the bushmen to demonstrate. He went outside and simply cast it into the air in front of him, the weight at the front carrying the point down with sufficient force to pierce the oryx's hide presumably. In any case it didn't seem to require much skill.
I was not happy about this method of hunting. This is not how traditional bushmen are supposed to hunt! I asked Jumanda if any bushmen still hunted on foot with bows and arrows like they used to. He said that some do, but not many, and they no longer use poison arrows so this makes killing with the bow rather difficult. It turns out that although no law was ever passed forbidding the use of poison arrows the authorities would still beat up and harass any bushmen found using them. Over time this has been sufficient to discourage the bushmen from using their poison.
As we went over to chat to some of the older men the bushmen brought out the seswaa they had just made and handed it around. It was made from the toughest cuts of meat which were boiled and then pounded into small flakes. I thought it tasted foul and still carried the slaughterhouse smell from the butcher's hut, I'm not a great meat eater anyway so I let the others tuck in.
There is nowhere to buy supplies in the CKGR and the bushmen were not allowed to grow crops so I asked Roy:
“What do you eat?”
“Meat!” he replied simply.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner, just meat! Plus whatever snacks they managed to gather in the bush, such as fruit, berries and roots, but these were only available seasonally, and then of course there were the famous Kalahari melons.
Not a very varied diet, but still, I thought, better than the junk they were eating at Grashoek.
I asked Jumanda if we could go out with one of the guys with a bow and arrow and watch him hunting.
“Sure,” he said, but we decided to wait until the midday sun had cooled down a bit first before we headed out in the bakkie to where we had last seen game.
As we headed back to Troy's house the village was a picture postcard scene of blue sky full of hundreds of identical fluffy white clouds sailing high over the grass bushman huts and desert trees. Nearby in the pans we spotted a flock of vultures, taking advantage of the absence of humans to take some sips of water for themselves.
Back at Roy's I decided to take an afternoon siesta and lazily watched the dung beetles hard at work, the chickens pecking around, and the dogs as they follow my lead and flop out in the shade.
A short while later Roy's small son decided it would be fun to play with the funny white guy so he started dancing and generally acting the fool. I decided to take some photos of the mad kid but that only encouraged him more.
Jumanda seemed about ready to leave but then suddenly had a mad panic when he realised his bakkie had no diff oil. After much fiddling around he managed to scavenge some diff oil from Roy's defunct bakkie and off we went.
In the car with us was Maheya, my spear throwing friend from earlier, except now he was carrying a bow and arrows. As we head out we spot a springbok, and then a couple of oryx lazing under a tree in the distance.
When we reach a large herd of springbok Maheya decides to get out and try a couple of pot shots. I notice that the arrows he is using are not the traditional dainty grass stemmed ones I had seen in Grashoek but were instead ugly, heavy, wooden ones with large iron heads, designed to wound rather than to poison.
He lets loose but the springbok seem contemptuous of his efforts, springing away a few nimble paces only to carry on grazing once the arrow has fallen. I guess that in this open grassland, in full view of the springbok, he stands little chance of landing a blow.
Realising that the situation is hopeless and that it will soon be dark we decide to turn back.
“It would be nice to see a lion,” I said.
“Yes, where are you Mr. Lion?” cries Jumanda.
Only moments later we see a large animal walking away from us down the road ahead, a lion! What luck!
“I always see Lion when I want to!” Jumanda says smugly.
The two bushmen are getting excited now.
“Hello Mr. Lion!” they both call.
“Go on, take a shot!” I say to Maheya jokingly.
He half opens the door and then shakes his head.
“No! No! No!” he grins.
The lion just sits in the bush and stares at us, wondering what we are.
We drive on a bit further and soon we see the comical sight of two guinea fowl chasing each other rapidly on foot. The chasing guinea fowl doesn't seem able to catch up and so the chase goes on and on, first to one side of us, then in front, then on the other side, and back again. The bushmen think this is hilarious and are rolling around laughing. Unable to stand it any longer Maheya has to jump out of the car and chase the two guinea fowl into the air. OK I admit it was funny, but these guys were almost wetting themselves!
Shortly after that the car decides to break down. Leaving Jumanda and Maheya to fiddle around under the bonnet I take the opportunity to photograph the spectacular sunset filled with clouds heralding the rainy season, and try not to think about what will happen if they can't get the car going again. It's getting dark, we're still several kilometres from the village and there's at least one lion around. Thankfully they manage to patch up the problem and we're on our way again.
Later back at Roy's I do some more cooking over the campfire. We tell Roy about the lion and he gets grumpy, saying there are too many lions around here, he's seen the spoor of one right outside his hut before.
“Too many lions,” he repeats gloomily.
Later I retire to my tent and decide to apply my ear plugs; although I enjoy the sounds of the bush at night I don't enjoy waking up at first chicken every morning!
We get up and have breakfast and then jump in the bakkie for the long bumpy ride back out of the game reserve. Roy decides to come with us and jumps in the back seat of the twin-cab.
I'm not sure why he decided to come with us, but a cynical person might say that he can't handle living out in the bush permanently and needs a dose of a more civilized life now and again.
We pass through the grasslands which are still full of game and I a feel a tapping on my shoulder. I look around and it's that crazy kid again, Roy's son! Where did he come from? Well I guess he likes to get out of Molapo occasionally too!
We say goodbye to Mr. Jackal and the other inhabitants of the grassland, while the day starts to get hotter and hotter. Although this is now the start of the rainy season, it's also the start of summer, and every time the sun pops out from behind a cloud it's rays are intense and burning.
A small herd of graceful oryx, with their scimitar-like horns, cross the road in front of us, and then a steenbok, a tiny little antelope that is the cutest of the cute. He runs away a few paces and then looks back at us out of the bush, his big black eyes surrounded by excessive black eyeliner, staring at us from his slender brown face surmounted by his huge and ever-alert ears.
Next a giant cory bustard is sitting on the road in front of us and slowly takes to the air at our approach. Being the world's heaviest flying bird he takes to the air like a light aircraft, displaying a huge set of wings.
We park the bakkie under a tree by a water hole, disturbing a couple of white egrets who are sitting at rest in a nearby tree with a poolside view. Open water is a rare sight to the inhabitants of Molapo so Roy's son and I throw rocks into the pool and watch the ripples.
Eventually we make it back to the park gates and again there are no officials there to sign us out, so Jumanda decides to go for a shower.
I take the opportunity to ask Roy what he thinks would improve life for the bushmen of the CKGR.
“We need to be given fresh water, and we need tourists!” he exclaims.
Having seen what a positive effect tourism was having upon the bushmen of Grashoek I was inclined to agree with him. The old traditions, like everything else in today's world, were only going to stay alive if they generated cash, and that meant tourism. Tourism could keep the old skills and crafts alive, but as for the ancient way of life of the bushmen, it is unlikely that it would ever be the same again.
After waiting for another half an hour we think to hell with it and just drive on. Supposedly, if you fail to arrive back at the gate and sign out the park, the rangers will come looking for you to make sure you haven't broken down, got lost or had an accident, but in reality, Jumanda told me, nothing of the sort happens, not really very reassuring.
We arrive back at the semi-civilization of New Xade to greeted by a sight we haven't seen for the last two days, other cars on the road! Meanwhile Roy was being greeted by his relatives who obviously hadn't seen him for a while as they were running alongside the car cheering and chasing us, and calling Roy's name.
We stopped and Roy disappeared into one of the yards, not to be seen by me again, wheeling a car tyre in front of him. I thought it a bit odd of him just to walk off like this, without even saying 'thanks for the ride', but bushmen are like that and are not really known for their polite manners, they're matter-of-fact people who just take each day as it comes and who generally just seem to accept whatever happens to them, for good or ill.
We drop off the water containers and head back to Ghanzi. Along the way I ask Jumanda if there are any bushmen in the CKGR still living a traditional lifestyle. He tells me that in the south of the reserve, around Mothomelo and Gope, there are bushmen who are still living a nomadic existence, although nowadays they all wear modern clothes.
I asked him if it would be possible to go there, but he said that the last time he visited Mothomelo, which is where he originally came from, he couldn't find any people. There were bushmen around there all right, it's just that they were just out in the bush somewhere, and how do you find nomadic bushmen? It's not easy.
Remarkably the bushmen of Mothomelo had never been resettled, they had managed to stay elusive, even to the authorities, for the whole duration of the resettlement program. Our chance of finding them would be slim indeed.
As for Gope, you were simply not allowed to go there.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Because that is where they are building the mine!” he answered.
The whole issue of mining in the CKGR has been highly contentious. The FPK claim that the whole reason the government resettled them was so that they could mine the CKGR for diamonds and minerals. The government has denied this, saying that the CKGR is a now a game reserve and that excessive hunting by the bushmen forced the relocations to become necessary.
Either way, within three weeks of the court ruling which allowed the bushmen to move back to the CKGR the government officially announced the plan to mine diamonds at Gope. They claim that the mine will only cover 35 sq. km. and will cause minimum disruption to the reserve.
This minimum disruption will include a constant flow of mine trucks and transport vehicles, no doubt accompanied by a new road, in an area which until now has known only silence, the sounds of nature, and the stealthy footsteps and chatter of the passing bushmen.
I was rather frustrated that I had still not had a good taste of the traditional way of life of the Bushmen. The original bushmen had no crops or domesticated animals, they were reliant entirely on what they could find in the bush, they were true hunter gatherers. That meant getting up each morning and heading off into the bush to see what you could find to eat, carrying with you only what was essential, and hunting on foot with spears and arrows.
From what Jumanda had told me there seemed little chance of being able to observe this lifestyle within the CKGR, but then I remembered something that Aislinn had told me in Grashoek. She said that in the Nyae Nyae conservancy, that we had visited briefly to explore the pans, the bushmen there still had traditional hunting rights. I wasn't sure exactly what this meant, but soon I was determined to go there to find out...