I’m going to tell you a true story…
In 2012, a group of trackers from Nhoma village set out to accompany a tourist on a bushwalk. Despite the fact that money-earning opportunities for the Ju|’hoansi are few and far between, they were, reportedly, reluctant. A veld fire had been raging all night and Arno Oosthuizen, the owner of the hunting camp, wanted them to take a client to an area they felt would place them in danger should the wind change direction. The trackers lost the argument and set off, wearing only traditional loin cloths, as requested.
The wind did change direction and it picked up speed. Mightily. The party found themselves unable to outrun it, trapped on all sides. Frantically they cleared bush to make a firebreak, but they could see it wouldn’t save them. So they dug a hole in sand, one of the survivors told me, and placing the tourist in it, they all lay on top of her. The fire raced over them, burning 3 of the San men very badly, so badly that one tracker’s foot fell off afterwards when he tried to stand. The tourist, an Australian woman called Jane Bean, accompanied by one of the less burned men (the only one who was wearing Western dress) hiked back through the bush to get help.
Ms Bean was transferred to a hospital in the nearest large town, but the Bushmen (a name they use for themselves now) were taken to a local clinic. After a few days Bean motivated for their transfer to a burns unit in the capital city. It was too late for two of her guides. Tragically, one had died from dehydration at the clinic. The other two, a pair of brothers whom I met, one of whom related the events to me, survived, after extended stays in hospital.
I haven’t told you the names of these men because they are both discomforted by the publicity this story attracted. San (Bushmen) culture is predicated upon egalitarianism. Being in the limelight is anathema to them. Also, they are clearly still traumatized.
During our meeting, I asked them for permission to dramatise their ordeal for a pilot episode of the khuitzima, the Ju|’hoan radio drama, and they agreed. They had no wish to participate themselves.
There is an addendum to this tragic story. It’s equally sad. But that’s for another time. Next I'll tell you about my extraordinary experience of working with some Ju|'hoan friends in Tsumkwe to produce a pilot episode of a radio drama.
If you'd like to learn more about the event described above, here are some links.
San men sacrifice themselves for Australian tourist - YouTube.
African novelist, writing tutor and UK academic.