We meet up Zolani Mahola and Arno Carstens on the west coast to experience the !Khwa ttu San Culture and Education Centre.

In 1999, Irene Staehelin, together with the Working Group for Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa, established an 850-hectare what farm on the West Coast of South Africa, which today is !Khwa ttu’s San Heritage Centre – a World Heritage site.

The San are one of the last hunter-gatherer societies left on earth, and are one of the First Peoples of South Africa; and the !Khwa ttu’s San Heritage Centre commemorates their way of life in a pioneering initiative where guided experiences and curated pieces offers insight into the traditional lifestyle of San culture, heritage and ancient survival skills.

We caught up with music legends Zolani Mahola and Arno Carstens as they explore the Heritage Centre and explore the heritage of art, music, and storytelling.

Zolani and Arno jamming out with members of !Khwa ttu.

The work we do at !Khwa ttu is, basically we’re a visitors centre – we welcome visitors to come here, to enjoy, adventure – to enjoy the hospitality of the San people, to enjoy interesting food and exhibitions,” says Michael Daiber, CEO of the !Khwa ttu San Culture and Education Centre.

Zolani and Arno were guided by Joram /Ubseb, who leads activities at !Khwa ttu.  Joram introduces guests to both trails and guided experiences are designed to explore the history and heritage of the San; among local exhibits, the museum also offers a variety of digital media and further maintains community satellites across the Kalahari that helps San communities curate their own archives and engage globally.

Arno and Zolani have worked together many times over the years and have performed together amid the pandemic virtually for special and intimate online shows. (PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/@ZOLANIMAHOLA)

!Khwa ttu plays another important role for young San people across Southern African countries. “…at the same time, we’re also a training centre where we invite young San people who come from all over Southern Africa for a unique internship…”, says Michael. “It’s there for people to share and learn about the history of the San and the First People.”

For Zolani and Arno, the tour is a fascinating opportunity to engage with the last hunter-gatherer society and a First People of South Africa – who, like both talented artists, expresses much through art, performance, and music.

The New Heritage Centre at !Khwa ttu on the West Coast. (PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/@KHWATTU)

“I like so many things about the West Coast. I always imagine these groups – these nomadic groups gathering – and for me, to be here in nature, feels like a continuation of that line; so it’s a very spiritual feeling for me,” says Zolani.

As the San continue to define storytelling from both years past and today, Arno and Zolani reflect that that shared desire to express narrative through art, song, and dance is similar to their own work.

“Ancient stories and new stories are not that different, in a certain way – that means humanity at its core is quite the same,” reflects Arno.

“The history of the world tell us it’s not just the origins of the South Africans, it’s the origins of the species,” concludes Zolani.


CONNECT WITH !Khwa ttu’s San Heritage Centre