In May 2002 the ‡Khomani San and Mier communities reached an historic land settlement agreement with the government of South Africa and South African National Parks (SANParks) which restored a large tract of land to the communities that had once roamed or farmed this area. Named the !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park Agreement, its outcome resulted in the transfer of ownership of 50 000 hectares of land within the boundaries of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) from SANParks to the two communities who then leased the land back to SANParks.
This land is administered as a Contract Park and remains within the KTP fence line with SANParks retaining responsibility for its environmental management. The settlement agreement further provided for the communities to receive an allocation of funds for the specific purpose of constructing a tourism facility referred to as a Co-operation Lodge, to be jointly owned by the communities. Transfrontier Parks Destinations, a black-empowered Lodge Management Company, manages !Xaus Lodge commercially on behalf of the ‡Khomani San and Mier communities.
The name ‘!Xaus Lodge’
!Xaus means ‘heart’ in the Nama language and was proposed as a name for the lodge by a group of visiting Bushmen and confirmed by the representative bodies of both the ‡Khomani San and Mier communities. Significantly, the lodge’s name, ‘!Xaus’, symbolises the healing of relationships, the restoration of dignity and the aspirations of these communities, who after many years of deprivation are now owners of the lodge and the land on which it is situated.
The name was inspired by the fact that the lodge overlooks a large salt pan with a distinctive heart shape in its northwest corner, as well as the fact that the lodge is located at the ‘heart’ – the meeting line – of the land restored to each of the Mier and Bushman communities. It also symbolises the vision of the settlement agreement which was: ‘in the national interest, to finally settle the land claims of the community parties and to establish a positive, co-operative relationship between the community parties and SANParks.’ The symbol ‘!’ denotes a palatal click in the Nama language but for those who can’t master the click, !Xaus is pronounced ‘kaus’.’
The Value of !Xaus Lodge to the Neighbouring Communities
The ‡Khomani San (Bushman) and Mier communities are the owners of !Xaus Lodge and all its furnishings. In addition, the Community representative organisations receive a monthly rental from the operation of the lodge based on its turnover. Almost all the lodge employees are drawn from the local communities where unemployment is rife.
After the first ten years of operation, a ‡Khomani San and Mier Community Trust will be established to receive a 10% equity stake in the lodge management company. Any asset acquired through donor or grant funding is owned by the lodge and therefore its communities. !Xaus Lodge assists in leveraging donor funding for off-site community health, agricultural, educational and job creation projects.