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The San: Isolated, neglected and poor

“Mari Tikwajira” is an expression in Tshwao language for the San community meaning, “we ask for money.”


This has become a song of the San community whenever a visitor comes to their neglected Mtshina village in Mgodimasili, Tsholotsho South in Matabeleland North.

Hunger and poverty stalk the San, while school -going children now stay at home because their parents do not have money for school fees.

The locals make a living out of herding cattle and working on the fields in neighbouring villages such as Sikente, where they are given 5kg of maize meal per day for their effort. When they are lucky to get paid in cash, they get less than 100 rand per month.

Begging is now the major source of livelihood for many san people in the area.


“It is because we don’t have farming implements. We don’t like begging and doing odd jobs for survival and we only hope that we can get assistance in the form of farm implements like hoes and ploughs,” said Siwatshi Moyo, the Mgodimasili deputy village head.

The San were moved from Hwange National Park in the 1920s during the colonial era by the Europeans and most of them settled in Mgodimasili area. They survived largely on hunting game. Hunting has now been outlawed and they are left without any other options but to beg.

About 200 San people live in the village and the majority do not have identification documents. They cite lack of money to travel to Tsholotsho centre, about 46km away, to access birth certificates and ID’s. It costs $5 to get an ID besides the cost of travelling.

“We have, for a very long time, called for the decentralisation of such services, or at least they [Registrar-General’s office] could periodically visit this village so that our children can have IDs,” Moyo said.

His son, Edmore, who stays with him and is married, does not have an ID and has never been to school.

Help might, however, be on the horizon for the San, who regard themselves as national orphans. A Bulawayo-based arts and culture, Amagugu Heritage Trust, plans to equip the community with entrepreneurship skills and other survival skills to wean them from begging.

Butholezwe Nyathi, the programmes manager for Amagugu Heritage Trust, said their studies showed that the San were willing to work, but lacked capacity to be entrepreneurs due to lack of training.

“The San are currently confined to doing menial jobs like cattle-herding and farming for neighbours. That is an indication of a people willing to work for their livelihood but is hamstrung by structural defects in the country’s socio-economic and body politic, where those closer to the centre monopolise State resources to the detriment of those on the periphery,” he said.

“It is in this regard that Amagugu Heritage Trust, will in the short-term, be working with San communities to strengthen creative entrepreneurship so as to demonstrate the capabilities of the San and to prove they can be masters of their destiny.”

But Trust Matsilele, a South Africa-based media scholars argued the San would forever be condemned to the dark because they were victims of the violation of cultural rights of minority groups in Zimbabwe

“The country has failed dismally to embrace cultural and ethnic diversity. The country is viewed through two lenses; the Shona and the Ndebele, and unfortunately these two dominant tribes have also been divided according to regional lines, so you can imagine how long and what miracle it will take for the San to be remembered,” Matsilele said.

Matsilele said the San would for now continue saying, “Mari Tikwajira” to visitors.

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