South Africa Reserve Offers Bushmen Encounters

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Freelance writer M. Timothy O'Keefe toured South Africa after attending the Indaba trade show in Durban. His report on the Kagga Kamma Game Reserve follows:

KAGGA KAMMA GAME RESERVE, South Africa -- This 1,240-acre private game reserve high in the Ceder Bergen Mountains of the West Cape is the only place in South Africa where the indigenous Bushmen (known as San people) remain.

The Bushmen, who still use traditional bows and poisoned arrows, are allowed their pick of the reserve's game herd, which includes hundreds of small antelope, especially springbok.

African lionessVisits with the Bushmen as well as game drives are two of the daily excursions offered at Kagga Kamma, located at the edge of the Great Karroo about 170 miles northeast of Cape Town, a region filled with large, weathered sandstone formations in many unusual shapes.

Kagga Kamma comprises two camps. The Rest Camp contains eight thatch-roofed chalets, each with three bedrooms and up to two baths. At the nearby Bushman Lodge, which is adjacent to a restaurant and bar, five luxury Bushman-style huts and 10 luxury "cave" rooms are built at the base of a towering sandstone cliff. From a distance, the caves appear to be built into the side of the cliff, but they are individually constructed, freestanding structures. Breakfast and lunch are served in the restaurant; dinner, weather permitting, is served under the stars.

Kagga Kamma's game reserve, which can be explored freely in a sport-utility vehicle, is home to five endangered species: white-tail gnu, bontebok, leopard, black eagle and southern speckled padloper tortoise.

One of the reserve's excursions showcases the remarkable drawings embedded in the porous sandstone, while another lets visitors enjoy a cocktail at the edge of the 1,640-foot-deep Retriever Canyon.

The main attraction is Kagga Kamma's family of 27 Bushmen, South Africa's only representatives of the nomadic San people, hunter-gatherers who have existed in the region for almost 30,000 years. The Bushmen left the country to move farther north after Boer farmers and their fences made a nomadic lifestyle impossible. But even in their new homes, in Botswana and Namibia, the Bushmen, whose culture is sometimes described as Stone Age, had difficulty adapting to modern constraints.

When the survival of one Bushman family living in the Kalahari was highlighted on a South African television show, Kagga Kamma managing director Pieter de Waal said that one statement in the program, titled "If Only We Could Hunt Again," prompted him to contact the Bushmen about the possibility of moving to his game reserve. De Waal said that when he met with the Bushmen, "They were immediately interested and said [moving to Kagga Kamma] could not be worse than their present situation in the Kalahari."

Kagga Kamma built a school for the children, and regular medical attention was made available to all the Bushmen. The arrangement appears to have worked well for both sides, de Waal said. "The Bushmen are an attraction at Kagga Kamma, so we benefit. They make a living here by selling their handicrafts to tourists, so they benefit," he said.

To help ensure that the Bushmen do not lose touch with their traditional ways, about 27 of them live at Kagga Kamma for a six-month period, then rotate with family members who still live in the Kalahari. While at Kagga Kamma, the Bushmen retain their privacy by meeting visitors for only two hours each morning at a small hut settlement they built when they arrived first in 1991. The rest of the day, the Bushmen do as they please, and their settlement is off-limits to visitors.

From December to May, South Africa's summer, bookings for Kagga Kamma should be made well in advance. From Nov. 1, the package rate for day visitors, which includes two guided excursions and a buffet lunch, is approximately $70 per person, with reduced rates for children. An overnight stay, which includes three meals and two excursions, will cost about $105 per person in the Rest Camp chalets and $155 per person for either the Bushmen huts or cave rooms of the Bushmen Lodge.

Agents earn 10% commission but pay rises to 20% if the package is mentioned in tour operator brochures.

Fly-in and drive-in transfers from Cape Town can be arranged. Driving time from Cape Town is about three-and-a-half hours, with the last part of the trip over mountainous dirt roads.

Kagga Kamma, e-mail: [email protected]

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