Welcome  to  our weekly  online           article

!Xu and Khwe of South Africa

week 27

by Andries Loots

Katunga Carimbwe " Two elephants and buck "
JuliettaMost of the !Xu and the Khwe people currently living in the Northern Cape in South Africa have their roots in Angola. Political development in the late 1960's and 1970's made it impossible for them to stay in the country of their birth and they were forced to move to the south. During 1974 as many as 6000 Bushmen flee to Namibia. The war in the south of Angola and the north of Namibia had a very strong influence on their lives as we can see from some of the imagery appearing in their work. Some of the men were used and trained by the South African defense force as trackers because of their natural instincts.

When the South African Defense Force left Namibia in 1990 these Bushmen were given the option to either stay on in Namibia or to resettle in South Africa. About 1000 of them were airlifted and resettled at the army camp at Schmidtsdrift.
Live was not easy for these new settlers in a foreign country far from their place of birth but at least they were far away from the war in which many of them lost family members. A new struggle awaited them as this land formerly belonged to the Tswana people which were resettled by the Defense Force in 1967. In 1994  with the change of the government in South Africa the land was given back to the Twana's by means of the Land Claims Court and the Defense Force as well as the ! XU and the Khwe had to leave again.
After a long negotiations  the local government and the National Government identified a piece of land that was bought for the resettlement of the ! XU and the Khwe.
Julietta Calimbwe " Sunflowers "
The ! XU and the Khwe are two tribes,   each with it's own language and although some of them can speak and understand the other's  language  they communicate mostly in Afrikaans, a local white language  which they learnt while working in the Defense force.

The Khwe originated in Angola and are linguistically related to the Khwe people found in Namibia and Botswana. The total Khwe population is about 5000 souls. The Khwe supported the Portuguese army against the Bantu-speaking people in Angola and when the army left,  they had to flee Angola in order to survive.

The ! XU is also from Angola and is closely related to the Ju-Wasi people from Namibia. The total population of the ! XU stands at present at about 6000 people of which 3000 is at present at Schmidtsdrift. Most of the ! XU made a living from hunting and gathering food from the veldt up to the 1950's and thereafter partially settled down tending goats, cattle  and cultivating various vegetables. Because of the maltreatment from the Bantu speaking inhabitants of Angola the ! XU also sided with the Portuguese.
In Angola these two groups  had no formal contact with each other. They only met formally in Namibia as they were forced together by circumstance. Although they are all referred to as Bushmen,  they don't speak the same language and don't even look alike.

Within 40 years the lives of these two groups of people changed from being self-sufficient and living from the land in which they traveled freely to that of trained soldiers and immigrants in a new country. Where they were formally self sufficient in providing for themselves they now have to buy food and are treated by doctors instead of taking local medicines from the veldt. They don't rely on nature any more and elements like rain,  water,  sun and wind don't influence their behavior any more. In their natural state they were always living in small family groups of not more than 50 people but now  live in a fenced off community of 5000 people where social decay plays a major part in their lives with  modern influences like  of liquor, hi-fi's,  television and family violence. The younger generation can no longer relate to the older generations and the folk tales of the grandparents are seldomly heard .

Because of this dilemma   the arts project was started to make the people less dependent on handouts from the Defense Force and to teach them to use their skills to survive. In 1993 the !XU and Khwe Trust took over the projects in an attempt to empower the people to become self-reliant again. The Art and painting project was started by Coral Fourie and continued by Catharina Meyer and Riette Mostert.By means of their art the artists are allowed expression of emotions and skills in a way far better than the spoken word.The style is characterized by honest, basic and naive symbols executed spontaneously and cataloging animals,  plants and mystical images. Stefaans Samcuia " Eland "
Today we see a new group of artists with an unique style which can only be described as Contemporary Bushman Art. The artists work in oil on canvas, do lithograph-and mono printing and drawings. Their exhibitions were viewed all over the world and some of their work is taken up in major museums and institutions.

( Louis Vorster,  1997 )