“Eleven years ago, this was a run-down cattle farm,” Michael Daiber tells me as we wander across the quiet courtyard at !Khwa ttu, the bright summer sunshine bouncing off freshly whitewashed walls. From the hilltop, the blue waters of the West Coast sparkle a few kilometres away, while the flat top of Table Mountain is just visible through the distant heat haze.
The scars of farming are still visible in the fields below, but today there’s a different crop being sown in this 850ha Western Cape nature reserve, with ecotourism providing new opportunities for one of South Africa’s most marginalised communities.
!Khwa ttu aims to open visitors’ eyes to the world of the San Bushmen, one of Africa’s oldest peoples. But this is no theme park. The emphasis is on a “tangible journey into history facilitated by the people themselves”, celebrating San culture and creating opportunities for the community.
!Khwa ttu has its beginnings in 1998, when the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa partnered with the South African San Institute to create a tourism and training project for San people from across Southern Africa. Then in 1999 Swiss anthropologist Irene Staehelin joined the initiative, setting up the Ubuntu Foundation and buying the farm that became !Khwa ttu. Today, the project is an award-winning partnership jointly owned by the San people and Ubuntu.