San spirit

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20Jennifer Stern visits the !Khwa ttu training centre in South Africa in order to learn about the innovative way in which the San people of South Africa are assimilating into general society

The San people are the descendants of those who lived more than 20,000 years ago in what is now known as South Africa and are believed to be the original human inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, they are now disappearing both culturally and physically as they become increasingly marginalised or absorbed into other civilisations and, as a result, are now in a difficult position of needing to interact with contemporary society in order to survive whilst attempting to retain their own identity and culture. The most effective way of them achieving this assimilation is via the tourism industry.

The training centre at !Khwa ttu, on South Africa’s West Coast takes in up to 30 fully sponsored scholarship students every year from San communities all over southern Africa, including Namibia and Botswana. The course focuses on improving scholars’ cultural, heritage, nature and environmental education, builds life skills and provides work exposure.

The course is hands on with the students working as guides on game drives, mountain bike trails, hikes and cultural walks, the latter on which guests are given the opportunity to learn about indigenous plants and their uses and even try to make fire with two sticks. Special trails set up for children are particularly popular as they offer the chance to explore all kinds of fun things and learn a little more about the Earth and our relationship with it.

The aim is that within a year the individuals will graduate as accomplished guides having developed an array of necessary skills for employment and will be able to effectively communicate and pass on the magic of San history and heritage to other cultures, as well as to the next generation. The students improve their English communication skills and gain all round self-confidence in learning to deal with guests and in presenting to customers. Most graduates return to their communities and assist in generating tourism income and inculcating pride in their heritage so that the whole community benefits.

While driving up the West Coast with a friend recently, I stopped off at Khwa ttu for lunch and a wander around. As well as a range of interesting plants, some distant views of the Atlantic and some interesting interactive displays in the cultural centre, we also saw a couple of zebra strolling through the bush which was an incredible sight. I will certainly be visiting again and will bring my bicycle along next time in order to complete the shorter of the self-guided trails; there is a long, 30-km one, however this has some hectic climbs and is a more than a tad out of my comfort zone. In addition to the various trails on offer, there is also a range of accommodation from comfy farm house to luxury tented camp should you wish to extend your stay.

It’s an outrageously ambitious project with fabulous aims, and importantly it works. We found that our short stopover did more than raise our blood sugar; it raised our spirits as well. It’s a good option for a break of a day or two, either as a dedicated short trip from Cape Town or as part of a West Coast road trip taking in the beautiful Langebaan, some fantastic flowers in spring, wonderful wines and perhaps the unique West Coast Fossil Park.

 

For further information you can visit the training centre’s dedicated website: www.khwattu.org/projects/training-project/?id=115

 

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