April 5, 2006

Security firm finds new role for S.African Bushmen

By Andrew Quinn

PLATFONTEIN, South Africa (Reuters) - Dressed in crisp
olive uniforms and shiny black boots, the squad of 40 South
African Bushmen took up formation with military precision, the
last hope of a vanishing people.

Cheers greeted this week's first class trained by Sanda
Security, a new South African company that aims to preserve the
Bushmen's ancient way of life by harnessing their legendary
skills as wildlife trackers to provide security and stop stock
theft at farms.

"We know the bush. Our fathers and grandfathers taught us
how to read it," said Sanda-trained Francisco Mukea, 42, who
hopes his security training will guarantee his family a steady

"Now we will have a reason to pass along this knowledge to
our children."

Women dressed in beaded animal skins performed celebratory
dances at Tuesday's ceremony in Platfontein, a Bushman
community about 15 km (9 miles) outside the former diamond
center of Kimberley and the new headquarters of Sanda Security.

The company is a novel attempt to forge a future for
southern Africa's Bushmen, or San people, among the world's
last true hunter-gatherers pushed to the brink of extinction by
the relentless encroachment of the modern world.

Now believed to number fewer than 85,000 in Kalahari desert
areas of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Angola, the
Bushmen have been hunted and persecuted for hundreds of years
as their ancestral land has been swallowed by miners and

South Africa's native Bushmen were long ago driven from
their land, and the groups that exist in the country today were
imported by the apartheid-era military which used them in the
"Bushman Battalion" as trackers in wars against black
liberation movements in Namibia and Angola.

With those wars over and a black-led government in South
Africa, about 4,500 Bushmen were relocated to a desolate region
outside Kimberley where they remained -- many still living in
tents -- for almost a decade.

"We had nothing. There was no hope," said Mario Mahongo,
spiritual leader of the !Xun people, who with the Khwe were
left virtually stranded after South Africa finished with their


Sanda was the brainchild of Gert Schoombie, a retired South
African colonel who worked with the Bushmen and was concerned
by the despair among the communities that remained, cut off
from hunter-gatherer traditions and ill-equipped to make their
own way in the modern world.

"I clearly saw there's a future for their skills,"
Schoombie said. "They can live in the field, they can ride
horses, they can track animals...they are perfect for security

Schoombie began with a pilot project, placing about 400
Bushmen as security guards on individual contracts with farmers
around the country.

Then he and leaders of the !Xun and Khwe approached South
Africa's Absa bank for a loan to start the business and
training academy, winning 6.5 million rand ($1 million) from a
bank incubator fund designed to help launch black businesses.

"We could see how this venture could help preserve the
skills and traditions of the San...and how those skills can be
utilised for the benefit of the whole country," said Oscar
Grobler, general manager of Absa Business Banking Services.

Sanda -- which means "honey badger" and is the only
mutually intelligible word in the !Xun and Khwe languages --
aims to train a total of 1,000 Bushmen as farm security guards,
a growth market in a country where rampant stock theft and farm
attacks are of increasing concern.

Joao Duku, the company's financial director, said Sanda
would also aim to train more Bushmen staff for management
positions, boosting the future skills available to the
community while revitalising ancient traditions.

"The new generation was losing our culture and the
traditions, but now many want to learn things like tracking so
that they can work with Sanda," said Duku, dressed in his
spotless uniform with its honey badger logo.