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"Land, Water, and Truth": San Identity and Global Indigenism

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Abstract

San peoples of southern Africa followed two very different trajectories through the 20th century. For some groups, colonial rule and apartheid meant segregation on geographically remote homelands (or in game parks); for the majority of San, however, they meant incorporation as a landless underclass of farm laborers, domestic servants, and squatters. This bifurcated history now presents obstacles to the recognition of a nascent pan–San identity as the contemporary San join other indigenous peoples in struggles over land rights, control over natural resources, and political voice in national and international arenas. This article discusses some of the ways in which international models of indigenism have colluded with essentialist conceptions of culture and ethnicity to (1) prevent the recognition of the San peoples' cultural identity, as it is shaped by their various historical experiences and socioeconomic conditions, and (2) distort the understanding of San claims for land and natural resources by transforming San struggles for social and economic justice into demands for "cultural preservation." [Keywords: indigenous peoples, San, southern Africa, social movements, cultural politics]

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