Regopstaan's Dream

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The film under review tells the story of the most dramatic recent African court case involving indigenous people: the successful land claim of the Southern Kalahari Khomani San (Bushmen) against the South African National Parks Board. The 1994 Restitution of Land Rights Act in the new South Africa provided the legal grounds for the Khomani people to claim ownership of their ancestral lands, from which they had been gradually evicted after the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park was created in 1931. Regopstaan was the patriarch of the Khomani clan and father of their present traditional leader, Dawid Kruiper, who figures prominently in the film. When Regopstaan died in 1995, he had a vision that "the land will come back" and that "all the rivers will flow."

It is fascinating to see and hear the different stakeholders tell their stories: the traditional San leader, the human rights lawyer who was able to secure six farms outside the National Park for the San and is still negotiating for rights within the park, the Afrikaner farmer whose grandfather had settled in the area in 1915 and who is now surprised "that the bushmen [want] our land." The San themselves are not united. After their elders were prohibited from hunting, had their dogs shot, and left the park, most of them could no longer subsist on their traditional foraging skills and became ill-paid shepherds and farmhands. In this sense, some images of Bushmen stalking game may mislead the viewer; the Khomani are not still regular hunters. But a minority among the Khomani ardently seeks to revive the traditional lifestyle and hopes to return to areas within the park. An interview with a stern park official and an elusive high official at the National Parks Johannesburg headquarters suggests that negotiations will be tough. The film highlights the clash between the oldstyle game conservation ideals and a more inclusive, community-oriented approach to environmental resource management.

It might have been helpful to include some maps or other indicators to explain the location of the contested areas to viewers unfamiliar with this remote corner of northwestern South Africa, wedged between the borders of Namibia and Botswana. The images of an uncharacteristically lush, green Kalahari may prove that old Regopstaan's dream really was a prophecy.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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