Deep in the Kalahari, east of the Nossob River in Botswana, there are lions that have never seen humans. Dr. Paul Funston, a biologist from South Africa, is studying these remote prides. Knowing that he needed help, Paul turned to the Bushmen, the people who have lived in the Kalahari for thousands of years. The Bushmen introduced Paul to one of their own, Klaus Kruiper, a man reputed to be the finest tracker in all of Africa. Soon after Paul met Klaus, he invited me to join him and Klaus on a safari in the Kalahari.


Often, after hours of tracking lions, we would gather around the campfire as Klaus told us about his life. He spoke of his passion for tracking and the peace and sense of purpose he found in the bush. This was in contrast to dark stories of his other life in a squatter’s camp, on the edge of the Kalahari Gemsbok Park. He told us about the loss of his land, his marital problems and his people’s battles with drugs and alcohol. His stories became increasingly fatalistic. A few days later, Klaus was dead, stabbed to death with a butter-knife as he slept next to his wife in a tent near the Molopo Liquor Store in South Africa.

I grieve over Klaus’ death, but I do not just grieve for Klaus, I grieve for his people, too. The Bushmen are called Africa’s First People and their exclusive domain once stretched from the Zambezi River to the Cape of Good Hope and across the continent from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. Anthropologists say that they ruled their land for more than 60,000 years with their poison arrows and the uncanny ability to track game and find water. But now, their Tswana neighbors who arrived 1,200 years ago, call the Bushmen the Basarwa, “the people who have nothing.” In the context of the Tswana’s label, Klaus’ tragic death is symbolic of the waning days of a proud Bushmen culture. But just when it seems there is no hope for “the people who have nothing”, South Africans have created a new constitution that celebrates cultural diversity and human rights.

It is too late for Klaus. It is not too late for Klaus’ children. The Bushmen are getting their land back and with that land comes self-respect and self-determination. Their struggle to adapt to changing times continues as they straddle two worlds, the ancient world of the hunter-gatherer and the new world of the West. It is my hope that the Bushmen will find their way and glean the best from both worlds.

Chris Johns

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