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Voices of the Dispossessed

The government’s intention to relocate the San out of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) was announced in 1995.

In August 1996, when I visited Xade, I found that many people, drawn by promises of livestock--especially cattle--at the new settlement and of jobs at high wages, were inclined to accept the government’s proposal to relocate. At the time, the |Gui and ||Gana people seemed to yield to material temptation. When I collected testimony one year after the relocation at the new settlement of Kx’oensakene (Xade), however, I found deep disillusion among the people. Informal interviews were carried out with three old men, |Koa‡kebe (KO), !Kao!kae (KK), and |Xoi (XO), and with two adult men, Shooxo (SH, KK’s son) and Ousa (OS), all of whom were |Gui.

The tone was set as soon as I arrived at Kx’oensakene (ironically named "looking for life"). I asked my assistant, "How is life in Kx’oensakene?" and he answered with a play on words, "In Kx’oensakene, there are no lives [kx’oen-zi, plural form]." OS continued:

"The government told us that we would come to the [land of] rich year and that we would eat, but we fail to find such things. Look, after migrating, we were given the death itself here. So we are astonished. We are not happy. In other words, we are always dead. Food--those things which we used to eat on our sand, such as |kaa, ||qane, and kx’om--we cannot find such food. Look, there are no ‡nan‡ke and !om|e. We cannot find what we used to eat on our sand. We have come here--we were taken to the [land of] death. All the food that was [available] at our land is absent here. There is no game for snares. Steenbok skins (we lived that way, rubbing steenbok skin--there are none of them here. Foods such as |kaa, !om|e, ||qane, ‡nan‡ke, qan, and ||nan: all of them are absent."

The elder XO said:

"There are no such foods as we could find [back] there. Our parents chewed |kaa. And then, they ate !om|e, ||qane, kx’om, ‡nan‡ke, con, and koale. However, we have been forced to migrate. We don’t like it. Our hearts still ache. We are not happy. We are still thinking of our sand, and our hearts weep."

These discourses are patterned by a shared perception of a new environment. Most of the plant foods enumerated here are included by Tanaka (1980) under the category of "major food" of the |Gui and ||Gana. The scarcity of these food resources around the new settlement further increases their dependence on government food rations.

I asked KO how the government persuaded the people to migrate. He replied: [The government said,] ‘No, you cannot find your life here, and you cannot become rich. If the people go there, then they will be made rich. There, they will be given cattle, goats, and donkeys. If you are here, you are in the Zebra Game. Therefore, so far as you are in the land of [animals], you cannot become rich by receiving cattle.’

KO added:

"Those who had sucked the milk of cows and found it delicious agreed with the government. ‘We will go to drink the milk of cows. We agree with those stories. Therefore we will migrate. That milk will make a man fat,’ they said. They migrated. The government also said, ‘If there are people who migrate, I will migrate with them. I will go to let them live. I will not let those live who are sitting and remaining in that old way. They opposed me. Therefore, their life is little. They will be supplied only with porridge [maize flour] and drink water. They will be given neither cattle nor money. Their school will not be enlarged. Their school will [soon] fall down.’ Thus, the people sadly gave up. ‘Let us migrate,’ they said, ‘because other people have migrated ahead. [If we migrate,] we will become human.’ "

XO said:

"[The government] told us, ‘You are living in the Game.’ We could not understand. We thought, Game? This our sand. Has it now become Game? Since old days, we had encountered the lion, and lived in the same land. We [the people and the lion] were created together, and encountering each other—and foraging. We cannot fear [the lion]. Even though the lion eats our things, we cannot stand up to escape to a different land. Who can do such a thing?"

KK told of an encounter with a government official:

"I did not like Kx’oensakene. Therefore, I reject [it]. They cheated me. When the pencil [an officer registering for allocating the plots] came, I was lying down. She wrote my name. I rejected it clearly. I said to that woman, ‘Look, instead of doing such a [stupid] thing, take me [back] to Tsetseng, my land.’ She said, ‘Do you want to migrate to Tsetseng?’ I said, ‘Yes, if I migrate to Tsetseng, and once I die there, my kinsmen will bury me. "

I want to conclude with a final text. In it, KO uses |Gui cosmology to draw a political lesson from the traumatic experience:

"Previously, I supported the Donkuraxa [a car jack, the emblem of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party]. As I was bothered by the matter of migration, I threw away the Donkuraxa. Now I’m supporting the Faifutii Piipul [First People of the Kalahari, a San non-governmental organization]. I say to Botswana, ‘Did only you own the kx’ooxo [game animals] of the land? Look, you own the cattle, [but] do you in turn also own all the wild animals as well? Look, because they are those which god-spirits (||gama-xari) created long ago. Who gave birth to the Kua [San people]? Isn’t the Kua a child of god? Is only the Tswana a child of god? Do you, the Tswana, yourselves call the name of the Kua’s parent?’ In such a way, I asked him. But he did not answer."

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