Academic freedom with regard to research on indigenous peoples may increasingly become a contractual, or negotiated, rather than an absolute right. The San, in common with many other indigenous communities, have for centuries allowed researchers and other information-gatherers access to all aspects of their lives, cultures and past, often with no remuneration or even formal acknowledgement. Archaeological or sociological research, carried out without permission, accountability or even benefit to the researched community, has resulted in the San peoples of southern Africa taking active steps to regain control over this aspect of their heritage, ensuring that intellectual property acknowledgement and, where appropriate, financial benefits accompany their negotiated cooperation in research or media projects. Whilst many have expressed outrage at the curbing of their prior freedom to engage virtually at will with indigenous peoples, others have recognised the additional benefits attainable in a more equitable dialogue between the knowledge systems of the academic and indigenous worlds. This paper argues that the San are custodians of all aspects of their culture, and that all future research should be negotiated with the San organisations.
The combined perspective provided in this paper is that of San activist Joram /Useb, member of the Hei//om San of northern Namibia and deputy coordinator of the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA) and of lawyer Roger Chennells, legal adviser to WIMSA and the South African San Institute. The paper was originally given at the 20th biennial conference of the Southern African Association of Archaeologists in Kimberley, South Africa, 4–8 April 2004.