!Khwa ttu – San education centre

This must be one of the most innovative and interesting projects developed in recent years, within easy reach of Cape Town. Established in 1999 with the purchase of the farmland that became !Khwa ttu, it is likely to become a ‘must’ experience for anyone interested in exploring the history and culture of the San people. The Ubuntu Foundation has established a cultural education centre here, that provides an insight into this complex history without trying create a false façade that pretends to be a completely authentic recreation of living conditions of a time gone by. Once a working wheat and sheep farm, the land is gradually being restored to it’s natural condition, with the introduction of antelope such as Eland, Bontebok, Steenbok, Duiker and Springbok. There are also Zebra and small game that is mostly nocturnal.

 The centre boasts a craft shop, restaurant, conference centre and accommodation, as well as a photo gallery depicting some of the recent history and background to San people. There are a number of alternative hiking trails, from a short stroll to a walk that could take three hours or more. There are two guided tours:

  • An walking route focusing on plants, there traditional uses and medicinal values
  • A tractor & trailer ride to view the game, take in the views over the Atlantic Ocean and do a short interpretive walk to the recreation of a San ‘village’.

 Our group elected to do the guided trailer ride with a short interpretive walk. Hold on tight, this is not a smooth ride and the tractor is not quiet. The game are obviously used to it and we were able to get very close to a group of Burchell’s Zebra and fairly close to a small heard of Eland and watch a group of Springbok off in the distance, before getting off the trailer to follow the short track to the village.

 Andre, our guide gave an excellent explanation of the basics of tracking skills, using plaster casts of Eland, Bontebok, Steenbok and Springbok hooves, as well as one of a Porcupine paw. It was an innovative method for showing how different imprints could be interpreted without having to seek out the genuine article. Also fascinating was the demonstration of a very clever trap designed to catch birds such as francolin and guinea fowl. Easy to set up and effective in showing how material available in the natural environment would have been used in providing for daily needs.

 There was plenty to slow our progress to the village itself, from the description of the medicinal values of the cancer bush to the properties of the wood of the wild olive tree and many other snippets of information. At the village itself we were treated to a demonstration of jewellery making using ostrich egg shells, the use of skins for clothing and the making of fire using rubbing sticks. There was never any pretence that the guides had been brought up anywhere but in the modern world and that the skills they had developed, although handed down through generations, had been perfected within the controlled environment of the village. The grass huts, set around a central fire pit, showed both the settled nature of the people, while at the same time demonstrating that it would have been easy for them to pack and move if drought, scarcity of food or other climatic conditions dictated a move.

 After completing the tour, we returned to the museum and photo exhibition. The charts and photographs demonstrated a sad and inspirational history that few people get to understand and experience. One could spend many hours looking at the sometimes shocking photographs and reading the accompanying descriptions and explanations. One finishes the tour on this note, wondering how people could treat others as these people were treated.

 Andre summed up his own experience with the explanation that he was not completely aware of the history of his people when he first arrived. His first impression created doubts in his own mind as to whether he wanted to show people how his ancestors had been treated. After initial doubts however he had decided that he ‘would dig a hole in the earth and bury the past, covering the hole with a light layer of sand’. He said he needed to ‘always acknowledge that it was there and how it had affected his life and those of his family’. But now he needed to move forward by acknowledging the past but not allowing it to influence him in the future.

 Tour arranged by Afruka Eco Tours & Safaris

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