His feet are covered in blisters from walking his part in a relay of almost 400km from George to Cape Town. But all that Ulrich Steenkamp speaks about is the spiritual experience of hitting the road with his father and a group of indigenous people in a bid to raise awareness of the plight of the country’s first inhabitants.
Starting last Wednesday, 10 activists took part in this year’s Indigenous Liberation Walk, first taken by the late Khomani San leader, Dawid Kruiper, who walked from the Kalahari to Cape Town 12 years ago to meet President Thabo Mbeki to discuss the hardship facing the country’s first inhabitants.
Steenkamp said that four years ago they had first followed in Kruiper’s footsteps, walking to the Mother City and speaking to people about their heritage along the way.
But the only way government had acknowledged their indigenous status was by adding pictures and words to a coat of arms, he said.
“We are not economically empowered. We are not restored culturally. We are not lingually free. The image promoted internationally about our people is a farce,” he said.
“Thabo Mbeki in his I am an African speech said, ‘I owe my being to the Khoi and the San’. He acknowledged us. Mandela himself said that the Khoi-San community is the most marginalised people who suffered the most under colonialist and imperialistic rule. Why then, is nothing being done to correct this?” he asked.
Colonialism resulted in indigenous people being ashamed of their roots and aspiring to European standards of beauty, Steenkamp said.
“They ingrained in society that our people are ugly and stupid. We were hurt. Our sense of self was reduced to something to be embarrassed about. Our people are more eager to speak about their white ancestry than acknowledge that they come from the culture-rich background of the aborigines of this country.”
Steenkamp admitted that the walk was tiring, but he had chosen to focus on the beauty that surrounded him.
“You are in touch with nature. I saw things I have never seen before, like a secretary bird. We ate the vegetables that we found along the way. We lived like our forefathers did, except we wore hiking boots and walked on roads.
“We were among people who shared their stories, and listened to ours. It was a moving, spiritual experience that connected us to our past.”
His father, Billie Steenkamp, said they hoped that the walk – which this year saw them stop in Oudtshoorm, Zoar, Barrydale, Roberston and Worcester – would become a regular cultural pilgrimage.
“The current regime isn’t doing anything to restore our culture,” he said.
“They have a constitutional obligation toward us. This is our country.”
He said that South Africa had voted in favour of and subscribed to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and more should be done to restore the dignity and well-being of the country’s aborigines.