Seventy five kilometres west of Cape Town, South Africa there is a 850 hectare farm called !Khwa ttu. !Khwa ttu means “water-hole” in the language of the now extinct |Xam San. Located within the Cape Floral Kingdom, a recognised World Heritage Site, this remote, rather windy spot, is on its way to becoming the host of an extraordinary and unique museum.
The seed of !Khwa ttu was planted in mid-1999 when Swiss anthropologist Irene Staehelin agreed to form a partnership with a recognised San organisation, the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA) to found an education, Training and Heritage Centre dedicated to the San.
Through WIMSA - the San's regional lobbying and advocacy NGO (Non- Governmental Organisation) San communities throughout the region expressed the desire to learn more about their history, to practice their traditions and to promote their culture and languages. Tourism is one of the fastest-growing industries in Southern Africa. San communities have expressed their intention to participate in modern development. Basically, they wish to give their children the chance to revitalise the traditional life supported by tourism revenues, and get the necessary skills to enter the modern workforce and live in dignity.
In 1998, the South African San Institute (SASI) in setting up a tourism and training project, focusing on education and training, income generation, culture, and heritage, assisted WIMSA.
By 2006 !Khwa ttu was ready to welcome its first visitors. Up to then, the like-minded, dedicated team drawn to working alongside Irene had accomplished an extraordinary amount. The land finally chosen was a short drive from Cape Town, easily accessible for the international tourists who were already part of the project’s long-term plan. It was also once part of the vast territory of the !Xam who were rounded up and exterminated in the late 18th century.
!Khwa ttu has four, interwoven, areas of focus:
- Education and training (people)
- Responsible tourism (‘profit’)
- The Environment, both natural and built (planet) and
- Culture and Heritage
1. Education and Training
!Khwa ttu is a place where the San come to teach and be taught. !Khwa ttu’s training is multi-faceted. It runs a seven-month tailored, residential training programme for young San from Southern Africa. The curriculum covers a range of modules from rock art and ethno-botany to life and computer skills, to a HIV and Aids prevention, renewable energy, entrepreneurship to name but a few. Alongside, !Khwa ttu in its entirety, operates as a working exemplar of a thriving, San-focused, tourism business. Trainees are embedded into each of the business units (tourism, hospitality and maintenance) learning practical skills in an enabling environment. This gives them the opportunity to experience and assess the many types of work available in such an operation. In addition to the residential training programme, !Khwa ttu has an Intern Programme. The programme is run over three months. This gives past students and promising applicants the opportunity to move to the next level in their chosen interest area, whether that is working in the busy restaurant, or on the land.
Finally, everyone working on the farm is part of !Khwa ttu’s Training and Skills
Transfer Programme, with customised, regularly reviewed, personal development plans for all staff. Everyone has the chance to experience the challenges of being a mentor, and the pleasures of being mentored. Everyone has the opportunity to try their hand at acquiring new skills in a supportive and safe learning environment. For many, this is their first taste of hope.
2. Responsible Tourism
As a visitor destination !Khwa ttu boasts a busy restaurant, stylish guest houses, open-air tented camps, a beautiful gallery, conference rooms, thrilling mountain bike trails, unique and fascinating cultural tours, and a shop selling hand-crafted fair trade gifts, some of which can be found nowhere else.
These activities not only generate revenue for the organisation, (covering about 50% of the operating costs of the project), they automatically ensure !Khwa ttu is continually measured against external tourism performance benchmarks Trip Advisor is one such benchmark: in 2016, 88% of Trip Advisor reviews rated !Khwa ttu as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’.
3. The Environment – natural and built
In its previous life the farm grew wheat, and was known as Grootwater. Since its purchase, work has progressed steadily to allow the land to heal and repair. !Khwa ttu has partnered with its neighbours and the Cape Biosphere Reserve to clear literally thousands of the pernicious, invasive Port Jackson wattle trees. Slowly the flora and fauna of the unique renosterveldt are returning.
Experts tell us that !Khwa ttu is one of the few places on earth where the extremely rare (possibly extinct) butterfly, Stygionympha Dicksoni, may still exist. The hunt is on to be the first to spot ‘Styg’. There are projects underway, and planned, to reduce the risk of fire, retain precious water in the aquifer, and unlock the opportunities presented by emerging renewable energy technologies both on the farm and in remote, rural communities.
4. Culture and Heritage
Heritage refers to what we inherit, and includes our customs, languages and values. Culture is about the way we live now, and incorporates both how we follow the customs of our heritage and the current way of life in our country, village or community. San culture and heritage lie at the heart of !Khwa ttu’s purpose. The farm’s old cow barn was transformed into a gallery in which a number of powerful and unusual exhibitions have been curated. These have ranged from the art of the Kuru project in Botswana, to, most recently, Paul Weinberg’s moving and powerful photographic exhibition. In the decade since !Khwa ttu opened its gates to its first visitors, much has been done by its dedicated team and their many champions and supporters; much remains to be done.
!Khwa ttu is now in its 19th year of operation. We have co-created a beautiful physical environment and space for San youth to thrive and visitors to have an enjoyable experience. The visit contributes to the ethical standards of tourism, which our organisation strives to uphold.
For further information see https://www.khwattu.org