During my efforts to set up dialogues between Western and African philosophies, I have singled out quite a number of subjects on which such dialogues are useful and necessary. Recently I have stated in an essay that three themes in the African way of thought have become especially important for me:
1.1 The basic concept of vital force, differing from the basic concept of being, which is prevalent in Western philosophy;
1.2. The prevailing role of the community, differing from the predominantly individualistic thinking in the West;
1.3. The belief in spirits, differing from the scientific and rationalistic way of thought, which is prevalent in Western philosophy (Kimmerle 2001: 5).
In these fields of philosophical thought there are contributions from African philosophers, which differ in a very characteristic way from Western thinking. Therefore in a dialogue on these themes a special enrichment of Western philosophy is possible. In the following text I want to clarify this possibility by concentrating on two notions, which have a specific meaning in the context of African philosophy. To discuss the notions of ubuntu and communalism means working out some important aspects of the second theme. The community spirit in African theory and practice is philosophically concentrated in notions such as ubuntu and communalism. But the concept of vital force, which is mentioned in the first theme, will play a certain role, too. We find the stem –ntu, which expresses the concept of vital force in many Bantu-languages, also in ubu–ntu. For a more detailed explanation of ubuntu, I will depend mainly on Mogobe B. Ramose’s book, which gives the most comprehensive explanation of the philosophical impact of this notion (Ramose 1999). The concept of communalism is explained in the context of the political philosophy of Leopold S. Senghor and other political leaders of African countries in the struggle for independence (Senghor 1964). A vehement critic of that theory is a Kenyan political scientist, V.G. Simiyu (Simiyu 1987). For a philosophical evaluation of this controversy I will refer to the articles and books of Maurice Tschiamalenga Ntumba, Joseph M. Nyasani, and Kwame Gyekye, dealing with the relation between person and community (Ntumba 1985 and 1988; Nyasani 1989; Gyekye 1989 and 1997).
The ‘Bushmen’ or ‘San’ of the Kalahari could well be called an iconographic people. Partly as a result of this, over the years abundant social research has been carried out among the San. Keyan Tomaselli and his research team from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa form part of that tradition; however, in this book Tomaselli is also able to reflect critically, and not without a touch of irony, on the way the San have been represented over the years. Hardly ever has there been a researcher who so uncompromisingly and aptly illustrates the many ethical contradictions in doing fieldwork among the San, and at the same time manages to reconstruct and represent the actual fieldwork experience and the San people so vividly that you almost taste the dust of the Kalahari and smell the raucous world that is depicted.
Note on the Author
Keyan G. Tomaselli is Professor in Culture, Communication and Media Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. He is a Fellow of the University and serves on the advisory board of !Kwa ttu – The San Cultural and Educational Centre. He is Old World book review editor of Visual Anthropology, and has published on visual anthropology in this and other publications such as Appropriating images: The semiotics of visual representation (Intervention Press, 1999). Other journals in which Tomaselli has published include: Visual Studies, Cultural Studies, Journal of Film and Video, Research in African Literatures, etc. He is published in translation in Italian, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and Arabic, amongst others. Tomaselli is editor-in-chief of Critical Arts: A Journal of South-North Cultural and Media Studies.
Acknowledgements, Acronyms, A Note on Pronunciation
Starting Off – Different people, different communities – Specifically, what are we doing?
Chapter 1. Negotiating Research with First Peoples
Chapter 2. Reverse Cultural Studies: Field Methods, Power Relations and 4X4s …
Chapter 3. ‘Dit is die Here se Asem’: The Wind, its Messages, and Issues of Autoethnographic Methodology in the Kalahari
Chapter 4. ‘Op die Grond’: Writing in the San/d, Surviving Crime
Chapter 5. Psychospiritual Ecoscience: The Ju/’hoansi and Cultural Tourism
Chapter 6. Textualising the San ‘Past’: Dancing With Development
Chapter 7. Stories to Tell, Stories to Sell: Hidden transcripts, negotiating texts
© Keyan G. Tomaselli, 2005
Cover photograph: Frederik J Lange (Jnr). Taken between Witdraai and Welkom, Northern Cape, June 2005.
Coverdesign: Ingrid Bouws, Amsterdam
Editing: Saskia Stehouwer
Published by Rozenberg Publishers, Amsterdam, 2005, ISBN 90 5170 481 X
The research on which this book reports is greatly indebted to The Protea Hotel, Upington, for sponsorship of accommodation on the way to and back from the Kalahari. Riann and Jeannne de Klerk, Bill and Kathy Fisher, and Kathleen and Willie Burger provided other accommodations in Upington at one time or another. Thanks to the Molopo Lodge for dealing with our often-idiosyncratic requests, like students having to study and write exams during fieldtrips.
To Bronwyn Spicer, who worked as my editorial assistant on this book, my abiding and enduring appreciation. Thanks to Kamini Moodley, the project’s research manager, who worked hard and diligently behind the scenes, and also assisted with copyediting. In field trip and research management Kamini was preceded by Vanessa McLennan-Dodd, and Chantel Oosthuysen. My thanks also to Catherine Dunphy for copyediting. Nelia Oets was a superb camp provider, translator and co-researcher. Nelia was always ready to volunteer her 4X4 for our visits to the Kalahari and assisted in many other roles. Our research team could not have accomplished as much as it did without her consistent and systematic support – both in material resources and intellectually. Thanks to all my students and research affiliates who contributed to the project over the ten-year study period. All have been an inspiration to me and have provided significant depth to the analysis. (A second strand of this project has been conducted in Zululand, not reported on here.) Contributors are listed in Table 1 in Chapter 2 together with the their publications and thesis titles. A special mention must go to Mary Lange who acted as facilitator, translator, and advisor and who brought a unique empathy to our research relations with our hosts. Arnold Shepperson was an ever-present intellectual source in both this and other of our publications on the topic. Thanks to all our partners in the Kalahari, Belinda Kruiper, Roger Carter and all those who engaged in discussion with us. Paul Rodda provided computer support.
The research was partly funded by the University of Natal’s Research Fund, now the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The National Research Foundation also funded it: Social Sciences and Humanities. Opinions expressed and conclusions arrived at are those of the author and not the Foundation. An UKZN-based Mellon Post-doctoral Fellowship enabled Matthew Durington to join the project for 18 months. His critique of an earlier draft of Chapter 2 proved very helpful. The research was started while I was a Fulbright researcher in the African Studies Center, Michigan State University, 1990-1, working on its African Media Program.
Other organisations which facilitated aspects of our research at one time or another include the Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution; Documentary Educational Resources; the Working Indigenous Minorities Group; the South African San Institute; the Nquaa Khobee Zeya Trust, the Kuru Development Trust; and Rob Waldron.
I must also mention Jake Homiak whose early support via the Smithsonian’s Human Studies Film Archives underpinned the early stages of the research. Others on whom my students and I have drawn include John and Lorna Marshall, Cynthia Close, Fiona Archer, Nigel Crawhall, Meryl-Joy Winschutt, amongst many others. I am also deeply appreciative of the sustained support and encouragement for our autoethnographic turn offered by Norman Denzin of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Thanks also to Frans Prins, Bob Hitchcock, Garth Allen, Megan Biesele, Dave Wiley, amongst many others, who have liaised with me and some of my students on our work.
Chapter 1, ‘Negotiating Research with First Peoples’, is revised, adapted and updated from Shepperson, A. and Tomaselli, K.G. (Eds) (2003), ‘From one to an-other: Auto-ethnographic explorations in Southern Africa’, Cultural Studies – Critical Methodologies, 4(4). Chapter 2 is a very extensively updated, totally revised and much elaborated version of my earlier article, ‘Blue is hot, red is cold: Doing reverse cultural studies in Africa’, first published in Cultural Studies – Critical Methodologies, 1(3), 2001. Chapter 3, ‘Dit is die Here se Asem: The Wind and its Messages’ is adapted from Cultural Studies – Critical Methodologies, 3(4), 2003. Chapter 4, ‘“Op die Grond”: Writing in the San/d, Surviving Crime’, is revised from Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa, 15(3), 2003. Chapter 5, ‘Psychospiritual Ecoscience: The Ju/’hoansi and Cultural Tourism’, and Chapter 6, ‘Textualising the San “Past”: Dancing with Development’, are revised from Visual Anthropology, 12(3/4), 1999. Chapter 7, ‘Stories to Tell, Stories to Sell: Resisting Textualisation’, is adapted, revised and updated from Cultural Studies, 17(6), 2003. My thanks to the various publishers for permission to rework these articles into this book.
Keyan G. Tomaselli, August 2005
- CCMS Culture, Communication and Media Studies (University of KwaZulu-Natal) (Howard College Campus, Durban)
- CKGR Central Kalahari Game Reserve
- IGWIA International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs
- CPA Community Property Association (Based in Andriesvale)
- CRAM Cultural Resources Auditing and Management Project
- JFP Jesus Film Project (Based in Kimberly)
- LIFE Living in a Finite Environment Program
- NNDFN Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia (Based in Windhoek)
- NNFC Nyae Nyae Farmers’ Cooperative (Based in Baraka)
- SABC South African Broadcasting Corporation
- SASI South African San Institute (Based in Kimberley)
- SBB Safaris Botswana Bound (Based in Maun, operating in KD/1 Area)
- SI Survival International
- SIM Serving in Mission
- SACOD Southern African Communications for Development
- SWAA South West African Administration
- SWAPO South West African People’s Organisation
- WIMSA Working Group for Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (Based in Windhoek, Namibia)
A Note on Pronunciation
All !Kung and San languages have clicks, which are additional consonants. The most commonly used clicks are:
≠ Alveolar click made by sucking the tongue against the ridge behind the upper front teeth.
// Lateral click made at the side of the mouth.
! Palatal click made by clicking the tongue on the roof of the palate.
For further information on language see Dickens and Traill (1997); Dickens (1992); Barnard (1992: xix-xxii).
Red sand dunes are set against an endless sky of indigo blue.
At night the Milky Way envelops a seemingly untouched land.
People who come here are changed forever
(Molopo Lodge brochure).
This book deals with three geographically discrete groups of people generally referred to as ‘Bushmen’ or ‘San’. The controversial debates on naming are well known (Gordon 1990a) and need brief mention here. The politically correct terms are ‘San’ in South Africa and Namibia and, in Botswana, the official naming is ‘Basarwa’ (singular ‘Mosarwa’). I will however use the clan names of the communities with which my students and I have been working, e.g., Ju/’hoansi (pronounced ju-twan-si), ≠Khomani and !Xoo. Often those who call themselves ‘Bushmen’ or ‘Boesmanne’, do so as a form of resistance against the politically correct externally imposed naming (Bregin and Kruiper 2004: 52-5). San is derived from a Nama word, meaning bandit (Barnard 1992: xxiv, 8; Hahn 1881: 3), while Saa means ‘to pick things up’ or forage. It is in this context that I will occasionally use the term Bushmen. Single quotes indicate where I am distancing myself from such use.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park spans both South Africa and Botswana. It features endless rolling dunes with shrubby vegetation and isolated tall savannah thorn trees. The semi-desert is interspersed with numerous pans, ranging from small to well over 50 kms in diameter. The communities with which we worked resided in three locations, Ngwatle in south central Botswana, Witdraai and Blinkwater in the Northern Cape, and the Nyae Nyae, Eastern Bushmanland, Namibia.
Ngwatle was a community of perhaps 100 plus displaced people in 1995, with over 184 in 2004. It is located in the controlled Hunting Area called the Kgalagadi District 1 (KD/1). KD/1 is 13,000 km squared and three villages within its boundary include Ngwatle, Ukwi and Ncaang. It has a total population of about 800. In 2001, the villagers told us that the number had risen to 200 plus, the majority being inkomers (newcomers/incomers) mostly of Kgalagadi origin. The !Xoo are the majority at Ngwatle during hard times, but sometimes become a minority in good periods of rain. Ngwatle is living on borrowed time: the villagers have been told to move to other settlements, as the area is reserved for wild animals. Their response is one of resistance, a refusal to move, and requests to publicize their plight.
Ngwatle consists of two main ethnic groups: The !Xoo and the Bakgalagadi, although the !Xoo typically build their shelters away from the Bakgalagadi. The Ngwatle Basarwa community comprises a mixture of Bakgalagadi and !Xoo who have defined themselves as Bushmen. This small group coalesced around two Afrikaans-speaking !Xoo brothers in the late 1980s (Simões 2001a).
The community is severely poverty-stricken and is serviced by a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), some state departments, and a safari company (Flyman 2001). ‘Destitute rations’ are delivered monthly to a third of the Ngwatle population. In July 2004, we watched as the district officials placed 66 rations of maize meal, sorghum, tea, cooking oil, etc. on a large tarpaulin on the sand, readied for distribution. The goods looked like a multi-coloured miniature magic city glistening in the fading sunlight. Those who qualified for these rations also received a monthly allowance of P55 [i] from the Department of Pensions. The community is supplied with one water tank that is filled approximately every two weeks by the government. The larger settlements are also provided with salt water for their livestock. However, because Ngwatle is deemed too small, its villagers have little option but to share their water supply with domestic animals. Their main cash income is through craft sales to tourists, roadwork for the government and through various opportunities available via the Nqwaa Khobee Xeya Trust.[ii] Read more
In moving from ‘here’ (Durban) to ‘there’ (Kalahari Desert), CCMS researchers and students had to rethink their research assumptions, identities and even their understanding of cultural studies.
The research team’s respective journeys have positioned us, at different times, as insiders and outsiders, as heroes and villains, and as reporters evaluating the said in terms of the more usually unsaid. The complexity and tensions of relationships in Kalahari research is extraordinary, given the relatively small numbers of ‘Bushmen’ who are subject to the intense Western gaze (by researchers, NGOs, film makers, journalists, writers and photographers, many of whom serve audiences of hundreds of millions). Indeed, the nature of this kind of research can be seen as a passage through difficult and scantily known rapids, despite the volumes of published work on specific communities. But in another sense, the passage is more that of a group of individuals with divergent positions, interests or aims, researching together and establishing a consensual position on which their differences may be resolved or accommodated (Shepperson 1998: 348). How do we, the researchers, apprehend, write about and agree or disagree on our observations, interpretations and explanations, and how do we negotiate these with our hosts?
When the first draft of Chapter 7 was circulated for comment, the responses were striking, ranging from outright anger from one NGO-consultant to empathy from most academics, researchers, development workers and those who have had long associations with the ≠Khomani. A few of our often marginalized ≠Khomani sources were ecstatic as it seemed to them that they had finally found a team of researchers who perhaps understood their frustrations, hopes and fears, and who were able to communicate these in understandable terms. We spoke to ordinary people, and to some who had married into the clan. Each engaged with us on our objectives and we on theirs. We soon realised that research encounters are often rearticulated by some of our informants into discourses of begging, poverty, hunger and complaints of exploitation at the hands of journalists, photographers and researchers (especially amongst the Kruipers of the Northern Cape).
We further sensed palpable relief from such correspondents that someone was at last critically examining development politics and research ethics, and engaging practices previously conducted in relative silence. Coming in from the cold (to Tomaselli, if no-one else), a few of these individuals started to write, dictate on tape, and e-mail him their own stories about themselves and their relations with ≠Khomani personalities, researchers, writers, video producers, and all manner of visitors. One or two expressed feelings of liberation as they no longer felt ‘trapped’ within their insufferable ‘own experiences’, some excruciatingly painful, and others extraordinarily heart-warming (cf. for example Bregin and Kruiper 2004). The unpublished stories are both horrific in their implications, and revealing in their stoicism. They had a sense of an emergent and empathetic community of researchers with whom they could do business, and to whom our correspondents could relate their frustrations, fears, and discontentment. But for obvious reasons many of these stories have to remain part of the hidden transcript, the unsaid contingent upon the community and the resolution of its participants.
‘Paradigm fundamentalism’ can easily occur if a scholar remains locked into the research programmes or theoretical structures inherited from preferred theoretical canons. Hidden transcripts, or at least their effects, tend to be suppressed by researchers because they are messy and get in the way of theory. In this kind of situation, students begin their assessment according to a canon provided a priori through the prescribed and recommended readings of various courses. What makes it specifically ‘fundamentalism’ is when the scholar either: (a) decides that items excluded from the canonical list ought not to be read; or (b) seeks to enrol with the consensus-making apparatus that establishes the ‘canonicity’ of prescribed and recommended readings. During our research period some scholars and films became persona non grata as epistemological battles were waged over legitimacy of interpretation (cf. Wilmsen 1989; Wilmsen and Denbow 1990 and responses to them; Barnard et al. 1996; Marshall 1996; Biesele and Hitchcock 1999; cf. also Gordon 1990b).
Despite the somewhat conspiratorial narrative inscribed in this thumbnail sketch of the academy, it is designed to illustrate one possible aspect of the shift in the intellectual vista open to South African academics, development activists, public intellectuals, and other such practitioners. Our (often retrospectively constructed) past as participants in the final struggles against apartheid frequently involved exactly this kind of struggle for canonical hegemony. Leftists of all stripes railed against the apparently monolithic preferences of bourgeois literary and theoretical canons, all the while engaging each other in (mostly) bloodless but nevertheless near-mortal theoretical combat over what should be the canon of the Left. The same kind of bitter conflict occurred over studies of the San, their naming and on who could speak for whom, when, where, and how.[i] The aprioristic nature of canonical thinking amongst both the observers and the observed is far more a feature of both postmodern and modernist thinking than their respective adherents would like to admit. As we discovered among the different subject-communities during our research, the inherent fundamentalism of these traditions (in much the sense that Alasdair MacIntyre  deploys the term) tends to slide glibly over the pre-theoretical, ‘shit happens’ kind of realism that shapes the everyday conduct of peoples like the !Xoo, the Ju/’hoansi and the ≠Khomani. Read more
Where Global Contradictions Are Sharpest ~ Reverse Cultural Studies: Field Methods, Power Relations and 4X4s
When you visit Africa, be careful. It is an extremely dangerous place: you will lose your soul to it forever.
Boesman (‘Bushman’) (Safari brochure 2001)
When we arrived at dusk at Ngwatle in July 2004, we saw a 4X4 sporting the sign, ‘The Jesus Film Project’ (JFP). A number of locals were dancing on the sand to religious pop music blaring from two loudspeakers. Later that evening, five missionaries from Kimberley screened an evangelical film to approximately fifty villagers who had braved the bitter cold. It was much like passing an old-time drive-in as Mick Francis and I returned to Hukuntsi to collect two of our party who had arrived there by car. The next day, we visited the JFP missionaries who told us that they were hoping to make the Bushmen into the Children of God. Far from losing their own souls to Africa, the missionaries were hoping to claim new ones to an indigenised kind of Christianity. The dangers confronting JFP, they told us, were witchcraft, immorality, and Satan. Our own concerns, however, were water, fuel, and time.
We learn that a different organisation, ‘Serving in Mission’ (SIM), had set up a large semi-permanent camp at Ngwatle, with the aim of translating the Bible into Sesarwa (a generic of !Kung commonly spoken by the !Xoo/Basarwa of Botswana). Their camp was, however, deserted for the week we sojourned at Ngwatle. We wonder whether these messianic initiatives will have any development implications for Ngwatle. Will jobs be on offer; will Ngwatle perhaps become more permanent, lessening the threat of removal, resettlement, and the destruction of their sense of community? Only time will tell.
A theorised diary: Making sense as we go
This chapter offers a diary of roughly fifteen visits to the Kalahari, between 1995 and 2005. In reflecting what I learned from the field, this book (and especially this chapter) is largely composed as a theorised diary through which I:
– critically address academy-bound scholarship claiming to be studying the ‘popular’;
– argue for a space in cultural studies for a greater acknowledgement of fieldwork done in the Third and Fourth Worlds vis-à-vis theory development in the Western metropoles;
– develop a multi-layered narrative through the main text supported by extensive illustrative and explanatory footnotes. I attempt to forge a space in the global publications industry for the kinds of cultural studies done in Africa, in which texture and experience are as important as theory, in which human agency is described and recognised, in which individuals have voices and personalities (cf. Wright 1998; Stanton 2000; Tomaselli 1998; Bozzoli 1987). Contradictions at the centre are usually much sharper in societies where scrambled developmental periodisations are the norm (Chapters 2-4); I also intend to:
– offer some passing comments on how media globalisation impacts Third and Fourth World societies, and how local ontologies are articulated into notions of ‘science’, ‘conservation’ and ‘preservation’ (Chapters 5 and 6).
– argue for an approach to cultural studies in Africa which starts from the signs and codes of Africans themselves, one which critically engages Western thought shops which impose themselves on local discursive contours in complete disdain for, and/or ignorance of, indigenous ways of making sense, coping and doing.
Post-millennium cultural studies: Getting dirty
For me, post-millennium cultural studies largely conjure up images of highly educated, extraordinarily articulate scholars at work in their offices, often over-theorising their arguments, and conversing via well-rehearsed exquisite performances in air-conditioned First World conference environments. Amongst these are a few academic celebrities who charge high appearance fees on the conference and lecture circuits. These are the ‘scholarcrats’ of the international ‘academocracy’ who often pour scorn on fieldworkers who write about their research experiences in terms of arrival tropes, environmental hardships, and basic survival in remote and often dangerous places. As will become clear, the grassroots informants of many of these now generalized presentations and books also want payment and royalties, recognition for the knowledge they have imparted. Belinda Kruiper commented, for example, that without Ouma Una!, the linguistic studies of the ≠Khomani language would be nothing (25 July 2001). ‘Ouma Una! is now dead and has lost control of her knowledge’, lamented Belinda. How knowledge is recorded, archived and copyrighted is a key element of our field research. How it is used and abused is also a pertinent question. Who gets to own indigenous knowledge and benefit from it is of concern to both informants and researchers.
When selecting students to visit Ngwatle Pan in south central Botswana, I make it known from the outset that the temperatures are extreme, sometimes sub-zero at night and early morning in winter, and 40 degrees plus Celsius during summer days. And when the wind blows it is extremely unpleasant at any temperature. Scorpions and snakes are ever-present, though malaria has receded. Students are informed that the nearest primary clinic from Ngwatle is 47 kms away, between one and three hours drive, depending on the condition of the tracks. Our food and water intake depends on the number of vehicles in the convoy, and getting there could take two or three days driving time. The water ration, whatever the season, is only five litres a day (for washing, drinking and cooking). At this point the less adventurous drop out, realising that five litres is less than a single flush of a lavatory cistern. Moreover, there are no lavatories where we are camping.
Waar kan ek ‘n draai loop? translated literally means, ‘Where can I walk a turn?’ This is a phrase understood only by Afrikaans speakers. One of Nelia Oets’ friends once caused much confusion by asking this question of a local man for directions to the local public convenience. This misunderstanding became a metaphor for our sojourns, as we summed up and tried to make sense of all the conflicting information given to us by all of our sources. ‘Walking a turn’ on our travels means finding a suitable patch of sand, behind a bush, and away from the campsite. In April 1995, my hygiene-obsessed mother asked if we were staying in a hotel. My 11-year-old daughter Charlize[i] replied, ‘No, we are camping’. Her grandmother probed, ‘Oh, are there ablution blocks at the camping site?’ ‘No’, replied Charlize, ‘there is no camping site and there are no bathrooms’. ‘Oh dear’, grandmother responded, ‘how do you go to the toilet?’ (This is perhaps an unasked question, which fascinates most Western tourists visiting the Third and Fourth Worlds.) Charlize went to the 4X4 Nissan Sani and returned with a spade and a toilet roll. By this time, her grandmother was speechless.[ii] Read more