The San

Yes we San are the same but we are also all different.

— Nella Jacobs, Andriesvale, South Africa ≠Khomani


There are an estimated 130,000 San living across six countries in southern Africa. The San are one of last hunter-gatherer societies left on earth. Their ancient way of life, their languages, and their culture are under grave threat from dis-enfranchisement, climate change impacts, and a general misunderstanding of their way of life.

When I was a boy we did not need leaders and we lived well. Now we need them because our land is being stolen and we must struggle to survive. (Leadership) doesn’t mean telling people what to do, it’s the other way around. They tell me what I need to do to help them.

— Roy Sesana, Right Livelihood Award address, Stockholm, December 2005

The story of the San is one that many people across the world might not know, but it is one that everyone will recognise. It is the story of humankind. At !Khwa ttu, the San tell their story, in their own words.

Many white people came to take our voices, but nothing came out.

— Nxabu Monnye





Somehow I could see this place become a San heritage and education centre. It was a strong vision combined with the feeling that, if I walked away, I would regret it to the end of my days.

— Irene Staehelin, on seeing the farm for the first time

In 1998, the Working Group for Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA) agreed that the San needed assistance with unlocking potential tourism opportunities and showcasing San culture to the world. They turned to Swiss anthropologist Irene Staehelin, who agreed to help.

In 1999, guided by her own vision and inspired by heritage centres in the USA and Canada, Irene bought a small farm on the West Coast of South Africa for the !Khwa ttu project. Irene later set up the Ubuntu Foundation in Switzerland, to help guide and support the project which it has done ever since. 

In September 2016 Ubuntu committed to provide a substantial portion of the funding needed for the !Khwa ttu Heritage Centre project. This paved the way to fulfilling the dreams of many, and launched this next exciting stage of !Khwa ttu’s development.


Heritage Centre Project Team


!Khwa ttu's Heritage Centre is expertly curated by Dr Chris Low in conjunction with a team of San consultants, Heritage Centre Satellite Pioneers, and other San reference groups.


Funding and academic excellence


!Khwa ttu has also been supported with funding from the South African Lottery, the National Arts Council of South Africa and the National Heritage Council of South Africa to develop the Heritage Centre project.

The !Khwa ttu Heritage Centre team is working alongside: