Author: Rick Feneley
Source: The Age
Date 1 June, 2013
Until 1927, say Blade Witbooi and Helena Steenkamp, other races could obtain a permit to hunt and kill the Bushmen as they might the oryx or wildebeest.
Those days are gone but Steenkamp says racism against the Bushmen has persevered beyond the collapse of apartheid – and it comes from South Africa’s ”blacks and coloureds who still look down on us”.
In Australia this week, Witbooi and Steenkamp found support from the first peoples of about 50 countries who gathered in Darwin for the first World Indigenous Network conference of rangers and land and sea managers.
They will take home a message to the first of the first peoples, their fellow Khomani San on the Northern Cape of South Africa between Botswana and Namibia: they are part of a new global network of cultures that is refusing to be silenced or driven to extinction.
Some academics prefer San as a more politically correct description of the Bushmen, but that name, given to them by their pastoralist neighbours, another minority called the Khoikhoi, has its own pejorative echo. It casts them as vagabonds, the people without cattle.
”We are proud to be called Bushmen,” says Witbooi. The women, too, are Bushmen. ”This is our identity,” says Steenkamp. They found the same determination to cherish and hold culture when they travelled to meet the traditional owners of Kakadu National Park.
The Bushmen were brought to the conference, hosted by Australia, Brazil, Norway and New Zealand, by the federal Environment Department with the help of the Thin Green Line Foundation, a charity that protects rangers whose lives are threatened. The foundation says about 1000 rangers have been killed internationally, many murdered by poachers, in the past 10 years. Witbooi says his colleagues in the neighbouring Kruger National Park confront rhinoceros poachers daily. Travelling with him has been Masai man Wilson Mancha, from Kenya. In his community, Mancha is known as a comedian. He is one of 24 children so he has plenty of material. He shared some of it at the conference.
”It is our tradition to kill the lion, firstly to demonstrate our bravery as we protect our cows and, secondly, to win girlfriends,” Mancha said. He now promotes conservation and the Predator Compensation Fund, which pays farmers when lions or cheetahs kill their cattle.
Standing by the Masai warrior is a short white woman, Elisabeth Utsi Gaup, who is no less an indigenous person fighting to save her unique culture. She is a Sami reindeer herder whose traditional lands stretch across Norway and Sweden to Finland and Russia.
”We don’t think in those borders,” she says. ”The reindeer decide where we should go – the migration to pastures.”
Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has handed over management of the World Indigenous Network’s conferences to the UN Development Program’s Equator Initiative.
An indigenous leader from Iran, Dr Taghi Favar, stressed the critical role of indigenous people in protecting global biodiversity. ”In South Africa, for example, more than 90 per cent of its biodiversity lies outside official protected areas.”