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BUSHMEN. of Botswana …. … SVD challenging mission?. The Bushmen , San , Basarwa , ǃKung or Khwe are indigenous people of the Kalahari Desert, which spans areas of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Angola and Zimbabwe.

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of Botswana …

… SVD challenging mission?


The Bushmen, San, Basarwa, ǃKung or Khwe are indigenous people of the Kalahari Desert, which spans areas of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Angola and Zimbabwe.

They were traditionally hunter-gatherers, part of the Khoisan group, and are related to the traditionally pastoral Khoikhoi.

Genetic evidence suggests they are one of the oldest, if not the oldest, peoples in the world — a "genetic Adam" according to Spencer Wells, from which all humans can ultimately trace their genetic heritage.


The terms San, Khwe, Bushmen, and Basarwa have all been used to refer to hunter-gatherer peoples of southern Africa.

Each of these terms has a problematic history, as they have been used by outsiders to refer to them, often with pejorative connotations.

The individual groups identify by names such as Ju/’hoansi and ǃKung, and most call themselves "Bushmen" when referring to themselves collectively.

The term "San" was historically applied by their ethnic relatives and historic rivals, the Khoikhoi. This term means "outsider" in the Nama language and was derogatory because it distinguished the Bushmen from what the Khoikhoi called themselves, namely the First People. It is also considered derogatory because the term "san" refers to animals.

The Bushmen feel that by calling them "san" they are being put on the same level as animals which they feel they are greater than.

Photograph of the Bushmen taken more than 100 years ago in Ngamiland.


Western anthropologists adopted "San" extensively in the 1970s, where it remains preferred in academic circles.

In South Africa, the term "San" has become favored in official contexts, being included in the blazon of the new national coat-of-arms.

The term "Bushmen" is widely used, but opinions vary on whether it is appropriate – given that the term is sometimes viewed as pejorative.

In South Africa "Bushman" is considered derogatory by some groups.


In Botswana, the officially used term is Basarwa, where it is partially acceptable to some Bushmen groups, although Basarwa, a Tswana language label, also has negative connotations.

The term is a class 2 noun (as indicated by the "ba-" class marker), while an older class 6 variant, "Masarwa," is now almost universally considered offensive.

(“Sarwa” is derived from a word meaning “meat”, thus Basarwa may sound for some people like “bushmeat”.)


Bushmen Groups


Bushmen Languages

in Botswana


NorthernJu-familyZhu/’oansi ≠Kx’au//’ein

CentralKhoekhoeNama Damara Hai//om

Khoe//Ani Buga /Anda Naro //Gana /Gwi Khute

Shua /Xaise Deti Cara Ts’ixa Danisi

TshwaTshwa Kua Tshuwau Hietshware

Southern!Kwi/Xam ≠Khomani //Xegwi //Ng!’e

!Xóõ!Xóõ ≠Huã

GroupFamilyLanguage (yellow important in Botswana)




















Ne khóè ne gane di cóán gam koe úú, síím gha tòó tshàu cgae e ka. Xu gam di xu xgaaxgaase-kg’ao xu xguì. Gatam ko ma Jeso ba bóò kam ko kaisase xgóà a ba a biri xu a máá: “Cóá ne guu na ne tíí koe hàà. Táá xgáè-kg’am ne guu. Nqarikg’áí dis x’ai sa cóá ne khama ii ne di si i. Tseegun kar ko bìrí tu u: ‘Wèém khóèm ngarikg’áí di x’aian cóá khama séè tama ba cúískaga tcãà tite gaan koe.’” Me nxaska tshàua ba cgoa séè gaa cóá ne, a ba a ts’ee-ts’eekg’ai i a tshàua ba tòó o.

Mareko 10:13-16 in Naro Language

People were bringing little children to him, for him to touch them. The disciples scolded them, but when Jesus saw this he was indignant and said to them, 'Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.‘ Then he embraced them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing. Mark 10:13-16


Languages with a lot of Clicks

/ or I dental click

// or II lateral click

! alveolar click

≠ palatal click

סּ bilabial click

… and many combinations with several consonants like x, c, k, g … – up to 28 different clicks in a language

To complicate the matter even further, the tones are used as well: low, middle and high.

Nasalization is common too.

Example in !Xóõ language:

Ñ à /nà-ã ≠â-ã !xà-ã t-ã /’âa /îi k-ã.

I saw a large broken bone.


San (or Bushmen) people are among the oldest indigenous populations of the world and are known to have inhabited southern Africa for more than 30,000 years.

Over the past centuries, the San were progressively driven away by other population groups from their original lands over most of the region.

During recent times therefore, the remaining San were found mostly living in small family bands as hunters and gatherers in the dry and harsh Kalahari region.


Discrimination, oppression and dispossession have characterised the San people’s recent history.

Although most are still living in the Kalahari region, they have lost their rights to their specific ancestral territories and their natural resources because other groups obtained legally recognised ownership of these lands for the purposes of farming, cattle herding, mining and even nature-conservation.

Many San thus currently live as squatters on land ‘owned’ by others.


Today, the San number about 100,000 and live in small, scattered groups in South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia and especially Botswana (more than 50,000).

They can be found in slums near towns such as Ghanzi and Gobabis,

as labourers or squatters on farms and cattle-posts belonging to large land-owners or in government re-settlement locations such as New Xade and East and West Hanahai.


Almost all San have been forced into a sedentary lifestyle and had to abandon their life of hunting and gathering.

Because they were not prepared (nor educated) for such change of lifestyle, the new life in the settlements became characterised by social problems such as communal tension, alcoholism, crime, tuberculosis and Aids.

These are related to the loss of a sense of identity, culture and self-respect

experienced by the people.


San communities remain today among the most marginalised and impoverished

groups in southern Africa.

The lack of a centralised leadership tradition, the lack of educational services in the mother tongue and the lack of knowledge about their civic and human rights leave them in an extremely vulnerable position.

During a recent survey of (mostly San) farm workers in Ghanzi district, for example, it was found that 37 % of the people aged 7 to 20 years had never attended school.

Increased access to education thus appears to be one of the major needs of this population.


One of the factors making it difficult for San groups to address their problems

effectively as a group and to negotiate with other parties such as government officials and development organisations, is related to the tradition of living in small, scattered groups without central authority and without representative leaders.

The egalitarian nature of foraging societies results in slow, consensus-based decision making processes.

This was appropriate in the past, but makes most San societies of today ill-equipped to deal with the demands of modern society.


Many San realise that representative leaders are now required and look to the young generation to undergo modern education and to take up leadership positions. Unfortunately, very few young San people have so far completed tertiary or professional education and even fewer identify with the traditional aspects of San society and are prepared to work for the San cause.


Why Bushmen mission?

- SVD constitutions


SVD Constitutions:

103. … We show a special preference for the poor and oppressed.

112. The poor have a special privileged place in the Gospel. In a world deeply scarred by injustice and inhuman living conditions, our faith calls us to recognize the presence of Christ in the poor and the oppressed. We thus commit ourselves to fostering unity and justice and to overcoming egoism and the abuse of power.

We consider it our duty to promote justice according to the Gospel in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed (cf.FW.5,p.33).

112.1. Our efforts to win more widespread recognition and appreciation of the dignity and inner worth of the human person are more important than any material help we can give. We assist the poor and oppressed in such a way that gradually they are able to arrive at better living conditions by means of their own resources and initiative.

120. As St. Paul, the apostle of the gentiles, identified himself with those he served, so we with friendliness and goodwill those among we announce the Gospel, growing into their historical situation, customs and mentality. We will be one with them in respect and love, sharing their joys, sorrows, and aspirations.

120.1. To carry out our mission in a worthy and effective manner, we make every effort to master the language of the people and become familiar with their history and culture.


Why Bushmen mission?

- prophetic dialogue & SVD characteristic dimensions


Dialogue and Solidarity (compare: In dialogue with the Word, N.2-September 2001)

  • Solidarity is evangelical witness and the important and essential gesture which shows our attitude to dialogue. Christian solidarity springs from the preferential love of a God who listens to the cry of the poor and oppressed. Today the Lord needs our hearts and our hands to continue his solidarity in our mission.
  • The key to solidarity is participation. Participation is what distinguishes it from simple humanitarian help and assistance that comes from the outside. Solidarity is more radical. It treats of a humble and loving participation in the lives of others, sharing our own lives with them.
  • Assistance is a giving in only one direction, solidarity is dialogue: we help the poor and they help us. Assistance tends to create dependency, solidarity is liberating.
  • Prophetic dialogue is marked by four characteristic dimensions: Biblical Apostolate, Mission Animation, JPIC and Communication.
  • Each dimension implies a basic attitude in our life and service:
  • be centered in God, to involve others in mission, to have commitment to the transformation of society and the world, and to reach out to others.
  • His mission is our mission, His life is our life. The base of our missionary identity is being faithfull, not different (or successful).

Why Bushmen mission?

- SVD constitutions

- prophetic dialogue & SVD characteristic dimensions

- the most vulnerable minorities of Africa

- the poorest people in Botswana

- injustice and exploitation & cultural genocide

- missionary frontier

- because no quick success can be expected

- instead faithfulness, patience and commitment needed

- it is the right thing to do – the most challenging mission …



On which side are we?

True Christian compassion


Adventurous curiosity?


Style of our missionary work?

Are we ready for “wasting time” and potential failure?

- Are we ready for simplicity and lack of comfort, lack of water, power, internet, e-mail or TV?


Style of our mission?

Are we ready to do the pre-sacramental primary mission?

Do we respect the Sacraments and the People so as not to “throw the pearls in front of the pigs”?

Are we ready to simply be with them and to share life with them - witnessing?

Are we ready to learn the language spoken by only few hundred or few thousand people?

Are we ready to stay with them, perhaps for long time?

Are we ready for lack of appreciation, gratitude, abuse, conflicts, political and cultural incorrectness?


We can learn something from them:

We can learn to “dance” a healing dance in our community

We can learn to go into “trans” for the sake of others

We can learn to live and work together as a community

Explanatory note:

Healing dance is in the centre of the San culture. Sickness (not wellness, not wholeness) is understood not just as lack of health, but much wider – as wrong relationship between humans, between people and nature, social evils, distorted community …

If “sickness” occurs it must be healed as soon as possible – during the healing trans-dance. Otherwise, the whole community and its individuals are putting themselves in deadly danger in the extreme life conditions of the desert. Strict communitarian solidarity was the rule for thousands of years – one for all and all for one - in permanent consensus.

The healers – dancers – sacrifice themselves for the sake of others, dancing an exhausting dance till they go into trans; believing that this is a ritual of dying, crossing over to the other world, where they can receive the power from God to heal, to restore, to make whole again. They pass out, they bleed, they suffer… for them it is a prayer, it is a sacred dance, it is spiritual. They will sit around the fire the whole night or two.

Then they can face together the challenges of life in the unforgiving environment.

We can give them (share with them):

Jesus Christ


KAPUTURA – Bugakhwe Bushmen

Village without children & youth? They are all taken to special schools, far away, slowly alienating them from the community and culture …


After a week among them one young woman called Ednah told us:

“We want your Church to come here”

… we did not speak about church or religion, we just lived with them for few days not hiding our identity …

… they are still waiting …


Presentation prepared by

Fr. Mareko Marciniak, SVD


LEFOKO Centre – Maun

For internal use only!