Luce Steenkamp comes from a rich heritage in a barren place in the northern Kalahari, where her ancestors, whose heritage is reflected in her cheekbones and eyes, lived as hunter-gatherers.
She hails from a farm called Erin in the Northern Cape, 60km south of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, previously the Kalahari Gemsbok Park, from which, between the 1930s and 1970s, members of the Khomani San (and Steenkamp’s family) were evicted.
Erin is one of the farms that was awarded to the community, together with 25000 hectares of the park, in a historic land claim settled in 1999. At the time, Steenkamp was in her early 20s and filled with hope. “The land claim meant freedom and happiness after the years of slavery and staying on white people’s farms.”
On paper, the claim promised the world to a community paralysed by poverty. However, years went by with little development. Social decay grew, along with feelings of disappointment and despair.
The decay had been around for a long time; as far back as she can remember poverty and alcoholism were endemic in her community.
“I did not grow up in good circumstances. My mother and father have had drinking problems that influenced my personality. I stopped speaking very much and was very ashamed of my parents’ lifestyle.”
When Steenkamp finished school, jobs were scarce in her part of the world, so she volunteered where she could. When, in 2009, she was offered a job running the Bushman Council office for the Khomani San she jumped at the chance. Although painfully shy and computer illiterate at the time, Steenkamp embraced the opportunity. She started as the council’s administrator and now virtually runs the show. The office oversees the work of the Khomani San Park Committee and the Traditional Ward Committee and looks for opportunities to generate jobs and income through ecotourism initiatives as well as seeking ways to revive the indigenous knowledge of the Khomani San.
In addition to administrative tasks, Steenkamp works on programmes that assist in transferring knowledge from the elders to the younger generation.
“I want to share our knowledge with others because it is so unique and valuable and the best way to further world peace and to provide sustainable ways to conserve our nature and heritage. It means so much to me to be part of the Khomani San because I know who I am and where I come from. It affects my self-image a lot just to know that I am from the First People of South Africa and the world.”