Affluence without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen by James Suzman - review by David Lewis-Williams

David Lewis-Williams

There Be Foragers

Affluence without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen


Bloomsbury 297pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

In 1856 the Reverend Henry Tindall addressed a Cape Town audience: ‘He has no religion, no laws, no government, no recognised authority, no patrimony, no fixed abode … a soul, debased, it is true, and completely bound down and clogged by his animal nature … morally, as well as physically, his aspect is dark and discouraging.’ He was speaking of the southern African Bushmen, or San as they are widely known today. Since those days of disgust, the Western image of the San has undergone changes, not all for the good. One of the chief architects of what became a common perception of the San was Sir Laurens van der Post, whose romantic view derived from his own conception of the West’s supposedly impoverished spirituality. In his widely read book The Lost World of the Kalahari (1958), he wrote: ‘Perhaps this life of ours, which begins as a quest of the child for the man, and ends as a journey by the man to rediscover the child, needs a clear image of some child-man, like the Bushman, wherein the two are firmly and lovingly joined.’

James Suzman, who has a PhD in social anthropology from Edinburgh University and worked for some years as global head of public affairs at De Beers, will have none of this. In Affluence without Abundance he exposes van der Post’s ‘factual errors, outlandish pronouncements, and unadulterated fantasy’ and

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