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Precious San heritage preserved at !Khwa ttu

Written by Dale Hes

The culture, beliefs and stories of the San people – including tales of the atrocities they faced during colonial times are shared at a heritage centre in the Western Cape.

One of South Africa’s oldest recorded cultures is being magnificently preserved at the !Khwa ttu San Culture and Heritage Centre on the Cape West Coast, which also provides skills development and job opportunities to the local San people.

!Khwa ttu was started over 20 years ago, when the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA) and the South African San Institute first set up a tourism and training project focused on the San culture. With the assistance of government departments and Swiss anthropologist Irene Staehelin, an 850 hectare farm was purchased near Yzerfontein, where the success story of !Khwa ttu would begin.

“The San people had a dream of creating a place where their rich culture would be preserved, while also providing opportunities for the local people to enter the tourism industry. The Ubuntu Foundation from Switzerland joined up with WIMSA to start making this dream a reality,” explained General Manager Michael Daiber, who has been part of the project since its start.

Over the past two decades, the !Khwa ttu non-profit organisation has transformed an empty piece of land into a place of hope, passion and pride. Employing 33 San employees,!Khwa ttu now boasts hiking trails, accommodation, a cultural centre and museum, a shop and conference rooms. The cultural centre and the museum plays a vital role in preserving the San culture by telling the stories of the San people in their own words. The !Khwa ttu San Culture and Heritage Centre also has co-curated exhibitions  undertaken by a team of San consultants and community based San Pioneers working closely with academics and exhibition designers.

Meanwhile, the Kabbo Academy offers training programmes for young San men and women from across Southern Africa.

Originally from Namibia, Joram Useb has been working at !Khwa ttu since 2017 and today leads activities at the organisation’s large heritage centre.

“It has been a wonderful experience working here. We have excellent working relationships with everyone and this has given me a chance to grow my skills. This project has really helped to give the San people a sense of dignity and pride about their culture, while also giving us the opportunity to work,” said Useb.

Opened in September 2018, the heritage centre is the only one in the world that is dedicated to the San. It offers tourists an immersive experience of the San culture, which dates back some 200 000 years.