The Culture of the Zimbabwe San people

The Tsoro-o-tso San Development Trust believes that an important aspect of the Tjwa/San culture are  practices concerning the natural environment. Therefore, to preserve Tshwa efforts should be made towards the preservation of their lands, including indigenous biodiversity customs, beliefs, rites, rituals, ceremonies, indigenous knowledge, social customs and traditions.

This programme is informed by the need to address historical injustices relating to land and environment rights, particularly following the removal of the current Tshwa/San communities of Tsholotsho from the main forest they had occupied for 20,000 years in 1928 when the Rhodesian government set up the Hwange Game Reserve.. Since these communities had lived nomadic lifestyles, the government promised to support them to adjust to a less nomadic life, a promise which was not upheld. The issues surrounding their lifestyle adjustment were also exacerbated by new government laws restricting land and hunting rights which forced the San people to adjust to their neighbours’ lifestyles.

Project Milestones

In April and May of 2019, the Trust collaborated with Arthur Gwagwa who carried out a feasibility and baseline study which sets out the current situation in relation to the social, economic, political and legal status of indigenous ethnic, religious and linguistic minority populations in Zimbabwe. Particular focus was on the Tonga people of the Zambezi Valley, the Doma community of Mbire, and the San people of Tsholotsho.The report, which can be accessed here , identified land and natural resources as a key human rights issues. For example, there is history of exploitation of natural resources like forests, fish, bananas, mangoes, ivory and Tamarind in the Zambezi valley by outsiders.

In March 2020, the Trust collaborated with Arthur Gwagwa on Land is Life’s Indigenous-Led Security Fund grant to map risks relating to land rights in Zimbabwe.

Since March 2021, the Trust has been actively working with the indigenous populations in Tsholotsho on agroforestry, gardening, and conservation projects. These projects aim to preserve indigenous trees and ecosystems, as well as protect the livelihoods of these populations

Future Directions

During the next phase, the Trust will continue working with communities, non-governmental organisations  and policy makers on programmes and policies towards preservation of land and environmental rights.

Specifically, Mr Gwagwa will work with a network of schools and communities in Zimbabwe to replicate our model. He will mostly work with local  and indigenous communities that have demonstrated a determination to preserve, develop and transmit their ancestral territories, ethnic identity to future generations as the basis of their continued existence as people, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems. The Doma, Tonga and San and local Ndebele, Zezuru, Manyika, and Karanga tribes have already been identified as groups of interest. By connecting preservation of indigenous culture and history to natural lands environments, we believe we can create a powerful narrative that resonates not only with communities’ philosophical outlook but also with government officials. Progress towards establishing these connections has already been made, with Arthur Gwagwa’s research of the Seke Mutema tribe in Seke, where we intend to launch the project, helping to form some connections.