BUSHMEN: the hunters now hunt guerillas
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In a small workshop near the chapel, Bushman wives sit at sewing machines making clothing, sheets, curtains, and tablecloths under the tutelage of Annatkie Botes, wife of the base commander. By selling these products and charging soldiers modest fees to mend their uniforms, Mrs. Botes explains, the women are able to earn a small salary.Skip to next paragraph
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Lieutenant Wolff concedes that a cash economy once baffled the Bushmen. "When they first arrived here, their sense of money was very poor," he explains.
But now, he says, they are being taught to invest their earnings. Indeed, Bushman wives are even being offered insurance plans -- as a hedge against the death of their husbands in combat.
The soft clicking of the Bushman tongue is still used around Omega Base -- but almost exclusively among the Bushmen themselves. In fact, among the 250 whites here only Lieutenant Wolff can converse in Bushman dialect. The official language in the classrooms, at the church, or on the battlefield is Afrikaans, the language of South Africa's dominant white Afrikaner ethnic group.
Yet the Afrikaner officers here -- so fiercely protective of their own language and culture -- seem untroubled that they may be contributing to the devastation of someone else's.
Lieutenant Wolff says "we are going to get civilians" to provide expert guidance in easing the impact of Westernization on Bushman life, but admits, "to date we've had nothing like that." He does acknowledge that some problems have surfaced at the base. Women, for example, are beginning to be resentful because their traditional culture demands that they marry early and bear children at age 13 or 14 -- forcing them to drop out of school after the third grade.
Also, he says, Bushman troops sometimes yearn for unregimented ventures into the surrounding bush, and the military tries to accomodate unexpected absences or longer-than- planned leaves.
Units on patrol have to make unscheduled stops when beehives are discovered, to allow the Bushmen to indulge their proverbial passion for wild honey.
But that only underscores the growing distance between the Bushman soldier and his past. In earlier times, their predecessors might have trekked for miles across the desolate stretches of Southern Africa, pursuing a honey-diviner bird or a ratel (honey badger) headed for amber-gold honeycombs. For these Bushmen, however, raiding a hive is only a brief diversion from soldierly discipline.
Anthropologist Lee, according to press reports, has protested that the Bushmen "are important for science because they represent a way of life which was previously universal."
But what may be at stake here is far more than simply a wandering way of life: in fact, the very future of the Bushmen themselves may be in question.
Lieutenant Wolff admits that the Bushmen's involvement with the Army of the white-ruled republic means, "They will never be able to go back to angola," the country from which many of them fled as refugees during Angola's war for independence.
And if SWAPO should come to power in Namibia, as many analysts predict, retribution against the Bushmen cannot be ruled out. Their future well-being can hardly be promoted by articles like the one which appeared in Soldier of Fortune magazine last year which labeled the Bushmen as "essentially mercenaries" and headlined " their SWAPO kill-ratio is 36-1."
Lieutenant Wolff admits that the Bushmen have "no political sense" and know little about the causes in the war which they are helping to fight.
Indeed, when this reporter asked a Bushman trooper why he was involved in the conflict, he replied simply, "For the money."
But sometimes, Lieutenant Wolff says, "They do ask what's going to happen to them" in the future. His answer?
"At this stage, I can't tell them anything," he says. "I'm here for the fighting part, not the talking."