I should note that this interview does not aim to compare the San women of Platfontein with the Zulu women from Folweni as these are totally different communities. Also, as much as I am a Commissioner, this interview is not done on behalf of the Commission on Khoi-San Matters (CKSM) but on my personal capacity as a researcher and academic who has an interest on issues pertaining to women.
Short description of the San community:
The San women of Platfontein
The San of Platfontein is a collective name for the !Xhun and Khwe Bushmen communities currently residing in Platfontein, about 15 kilometers outside of Kimberley in the Northern Cape province. They settled in the area following a move from Schmidtsrift. Platfontein is an arid area with many developmental shortcomings. The community is mainly dependent on the municipality for water supply which comes with a very dubious quality. I became acquainted to this community during my four and a half year stay at Kimberley as an anthropology lecturer at Sol Plaatje University.
They are descendants of a sub-regional former hunter-gatherer society which have been subject to complex socio-economic and political change. Having originally resided in Namibia and Northern parts of Angola, their cultural dynamics have been shaped by decolonization processes (Hertog, 2013). They were used by the Portuguese government to prevent the nationalists from undermining the colonial stability of Angola till the country's independence in 1975. The South African Defence Force (SADF) to assist the Apartheid government fight against the Southwestern People's Organization (SWAPO) and their allies who posed a threat to a protectorate of South Africa (Namibia). When Namibia gained its independence in 1990, a community of about 4000 San people who escaped prosecution from SWAPO settled in Schmidtsdrift in the Northern Cape during a time when negotiations for a democratic South Africa were taking place (Smith, 2003). This was until the land claim by the Batlhaping (Tswana tribe) and Griqua (Khoi tribe) in the early 2000s which then saw the relocation of this San community to Platfontein. This was an initiative by the former South African president Nelson Mandela, who granted them 13,000 hectares of land near Kimberley and 900 Reconstruction and Development (RDP) houses to the value of R15,000 (841 Euros/ 829 USD) each. They were among the first to receive land according to the government's land reform programme (Templehoff, 2014).
As stated by Templehoff (2014), the community is located on the fringe of an urban society and are part of it but somehow still feel marginalized. This became evident during my preparation for the Participatory workshop for indigenous women on their roles and responsibilities related to water, I interviewed nine women between the ages of 35-65 who stated how they still feel marginalized due to lack of proper sanitation and water resources. Listening to their narratives about access to water and sanitation, it was clear that although the people in neighbouring areas experience better services, Platfontein residents still feel deprived of these basic urban services.
Languages spoken by the community:
!Xhu and Khwe
Location of the community:
28.7000° S, 24.5667° E
Short description of the Zulu community:
Zulus are descendants of the Bantu speaking groups who migrated from Eastern and Central parts of Africa during the 11th century. The word Zulu means the heaven. The Zulu nation makes up more than 22 per cent of the entire South African population (SAHO, 2020). Most people residing in KwaZulu-Natal speak the isiZulu language. The Zulu culture is characterized by the principles of Ubuntu and the central belief that “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” (a person is a person through others).
The Zulu women's community garden project at Folweni, KwaZulu-Natal
This philosophy represents a belief in sharing and caring for one another and has been the reason behind the Folweni Community Garden project, an Initiative by women from Folweni, C section popularly known as Ematendeni. This is where I grew up and witnessed women united in curbing hunger within the community.
The community garden project has assisted vulnerable families since the early 2000s. However, there has been a decline in production due to water related issues and lack of resources. Below I expand on this and discuss how the women navigate these issues on a daily basis.
Both communities experience “water shedding”, a municipal strategy to reduce water use for different reasons. I adapt the term “water shedding” from “load shedding” which involves planned interruption of an electricity supply to avoid excessive load on the generating plant. The women have learned to deal with the problem through water sharing and recycling.
Languages spoken by the community:
Location of the community:
29.9957° S, 30.8255° E
Can you explain how your community relates to the environment?
The people of South Africa have been good earth keepers for decades and have performed practices including waiting and calling for rain and participating in dry farming depending on the rain (Henriques, 2013).
The San community remains traditionally minded and share affinity with the environment and nature. Mother Earth is perceived as a divine gift from God and the community sees the environment as important to their livelihood.
In the same regard, Zulu people have always been close to nature and served as earth keepers who are concerned about their environment. The Zulu tradition of ukuhlonipha (which means respect) encourages respect for the environment. Knowledge about respecting and caring for the environment is passed down through story telling. Urbanization has however made it difficult for the communities to maintain and practice their beliefs in relation to nature and the environment.
Can you explain how your community relates to water?
The San people of Southern Africa had strong ties with water, this was recorded by earliest invaders who documented how skilful the Khoi and San communities were in procuring water under extreme conditions (Anderson, 1987). Up to the present era, the regions under which the San reside typically experience water issues. Climatic conditions vary between semi- and extremely-arid. Platfontein is a relatively arid part of the country. The women interviewed for this report indicated a sacred relationship to water. They narrated how back in the day they would take a sick person to the river, perform a cleansing ritual and leave their old clothes by the river. The patient would then be given new clothes as it was believed that the ailment has been healed and therefore, they had 'new life'. One of the participants stated: “We do not only perceive water as just something to drink. It is not just water, it has a deeper spiritual meaning and connection to Gqirha (God)”.
For the Zulu women, amanzi (water) is source of life. Clean water represents purity, stillness and peace. Imvula (rain) is perceived as a blessing from uNomkhubulwane (the goddess of rain, fertility and nature) which comes to nourish and also cleanse. Water is inseparable from the divine world; for example, the sea is a place of the ancestors, carrying the knowledge of the past as a result seawater has many uses – the most well- known being the drinking of the water as a purgative, to cleanse body and soul from evil and ward off witchcraft spirits. Apart from the everyday use of water which includes bathing, washing, drinking etc., water has a deeper spiritual meaning and uses. For example, ukugeza (bathing) and ukuhlambulula (cleansing) rituals are performed through the assistance of traditional healers emfuleni nasempophomeni (in a river and waterfall). Some ancestors are also believed to be water spirits referred to as Ndau, Abalozi and Isithunywa.
Tell us about yourself and your relation to water
As a Zulu woman, I believe that amanzi angcwele (water is sacred). The importance of water extends beyond drinking, cooking and bathing to healing, cleansing and restoring the body, mind and soul. Whenever I feel depressed and overwhelmed, I go to a river or waterfall or beach depending on where I am at the time. I usually go outside when it rains, especially the first spring rain, usually in uMandulo (September) which indicates a new year in the Zulu culture. This translates into how I use water in the house, sparingly with an understanding that it is can be a scarce resource in South Africa. This was heightened by the drought in 2016. Since then, I have learned to appreciate and preserve water.
Tell us about your role within your community and if it is related to water, how so?
My role in the community is not necessarily related to water. I am a researcher who has observed how women have always been at the forefront of preserving and sourcing water.
Is there an important water body on your land? If so, can you name and describe it?
There isn't any important water body at Platfontein.
There are a few rivers at Folweni. However, they are mostly contaminated by sewage grime making it difficult for the community to use the water.
In your or your communities view, what is the most important aspect humanity should act upon with regards to water?
Access to water is the most important aspect that should be acted upon. Both communities struggle with accessing water due municipal “water shedding”.
“The water crisis takes long, it may last a week or more. If one has been unable to fetch water prior or runs out of water during water cuts, there's nothing they can do. When water comes back, it is usually dirty, you won’t be able to use the water the same time you are receiving the water from the pipe.” (San woman 01)
“We have water tanks for our garden, but water has been scarce of late. The municipality has not supplied us with any water lately. The water truck from the municipality used to supply us with water but that hasn't happened since the advent of Covid-19. We use water from our own homes because the water from the river next to the garden is not the best water to use since the sewage hole bursts. The water challenge is what prevents us from efficiently continuing our gardening”. (Zulu woman)
How do you ensure access to safe drinking water in the community, today?
Both communities have access to tap water, however the quality varies. The water quality is quite poor in Platfontein. As a result, even tap water is usually not safe to drink and communities have to purify it through boiling or using bleach. There have been cases of bad skin conditions and diarrhoea due to poor water quality.
“The water quality is poor. The water is very dirty such that you can see the water is actually brown and green so, sometimes we collect the water and boil it. When it cools down, we use it for drinking but sometimes the water can only be used for bathing and not cooking. You just collect the water and let it stay there for a while before you use it or pour a teaspoon of bleach. This is the only way to clean the water. Sometimes you collect water and put it on the side so that the residue sinks to the bottom of the bucket.” (San woman 01)
“The water that you collect before the water cuts take place is the water that you will be using for drinking. You cannot drink straight from the tap when water comes back – it would be so dirty such that you can only use it for bathing or cleaning your house and washing your clothes. You wait between four to seven days before you use the tap water for drinking.” (San woman 02)
“The water that you collected in the previous time is the only water that is clean and the one you’ll be using to drink. While we’re talking about the water crisis, today I received a message from another lady who stays in town. She said that people shouldn’t use the tap water to drink today because the water is dirty. It infected a lot of people and they went to the hospital.” (San woman 03)
Contrary to the case of Platfontein, the Folweni tap water quality is good and safe to drink. Women usually collect water in large quantities in preparation for days whereby “water shedding” takes place.
Do you have canalisation, and sanitary facilities in area inhabited by your community? Are community members using them and how satisfied are you with those?
Writing in 2014, Templehoff stated how the local water supply and sanitation infrastructure in Platfontein were in a poor condition. People resided in houses with no proper water and sanitation. In the present day, the houses are in a deteriorating state and the community still uses a pit toilet system. There are no flushable toilets. The taps are dry, some broken. Participants expressed a strong dissatisfaction.
Folweni is a different case, the sanitation systems are satisfactory, with the introduction of RDP houses, most households were introduced to flushable toilets and access to running water within households.
Can you explain how your community relates to space?
Both communities understood space in relation to the sky. For the San women, the sky is considered as the dwelling space for all divine beings and the spirits of the dead. It is also considered as a manifestation of or dwelling for a deity.
The Zulu women also understood space as a part of isibhakabhaka (the sky), however they noted that the two are different, mentioning that space is above the sky. Their understanding of space is umkhathi, which determines time, a place from which stars, moon and sun come from to show up in the sky.
Can you explain how your community relates to technology?
There is minimal knowledge and use of technology, especially in Platfontein. When I was asking questions around technology, the responses were on the use of cellphones and battery operated radios given that most places in the area do not have electricity supply.
Folweni has electricity and the community is acquainted to the internet to some extent but cannot fully utilize it given the expensive data costs in South Africa.
How does your community pass on knowledge related to the environment (e.g., via narratives, songs, paintings and murals, cloth prints, sculptures, other forms of art, etc.)?
Knowledge is passed through story telling for both communities.
There is an isiZulu poem we used recite when calling for rain as children growing up titled “Woza Wemvula”. According to Ulwazi Programme (2022), “This poem was popular with children in the olden days when there were drought and people needed rain. Children would recite this poem as a call for rain to end droughts. They were asking the rain to come and praising how beautiful it is when it comes because everybody is happy and all the rivers are filled with water”. The poem goes like this:
Woza wemvula, uzosichela we!
(Come rain and drizzle us!)
Ngaw’ amacons’ abandayo qa!
(With your cold drops!)
Siyawathanda thina bantwanyana!
(We children love it!)
(When we play in the rain!)
(Drop by drop!)
(The wind tells us!)
Ukuth’ asilindel’ um’ usuzofika!
(To wait for your coming!)
Co!co! Kugcwal’ imifula!
(Drop by drop! The rivers are filled!)
(The streams are filled!)
Which changes in the environment have you or elders in your community observed?
South Africa as a whole has experienced environmental changes which include droughts in 2015/2016 and the recent KwaZulu-Natal flood which took place in April 2022.
What are the water-related changes you have observed on the land your community lives on? If you have observed changes detrimental to the environment, what is the community currently doing to counteract these changes?
We face issues with:
- Water scarcity
- Water quality in rivers
- Soil moisture
- Access to drinking water
- Lack of sanitation
- Water-borne or water-related disease
Have you encountered cases where space technology applications were used for water/environmental monitoring, management etc? (Please provide examples if any: in general, or within your community, in order to understand need for educational workshop, awareness etc)
If there is something you would like to know about space technology and Earth observation, what would it be?
Everything that is available to know.
What is your favourite aggregate state of water and why is that so?