Indigenous leadership and values-driven development

Almost exactly a year ago, on September 15, 2011, a young San activist named Job Morris delivered a presentation on Indigenous Leadership and San values to the Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership at the University of Pretoria.

Delme Cupido's picture


Senior Programme Officer: Indigenous Peoples Rights

September 20th, 2012

Almost exactly a year ago, on September 15, 2011, a young San activist named Job Morris delivered a presentation on Indigenous Leadership and San values to the Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership at the University of Pretoria.

OSISA’s Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Programme (IPRP) had recently partnered with the lead organisation of the Kuru Family of Organisations, the Letloa Trust, and its Custodians Unit, to bring to fruition almost 30 years of work by the late Braam Le Roux on San values-driven development and, what is now called, endogenous development among the Naro people in Ghanzi, Botswana.

The project supported by the IPRP entails documenting the values of the different San groups in southern Africa, consulting across the region with San groups in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Angola, and finally harmonising these into tools which would find a high degree of acceptance and resonance with the San, and with which to strengthen leadership within their communities and organisations.

So it was that on a Thursday afternoon in September 2011, Job rose before the assembled academics and development professionals to deliver a presentation which movingly sets out – in words and images – his reflections on “how to apply these obviously beautiful principles to a fast moving and global scenario”.

While it is a year since his presentation, it is worth publishing – and reading – in full since it contains so many fascinating insights and critical concepts to work with in the future.

The full presentation with images can be downloaded below. The following version is text only.

My name is Job Morris working with Kuru Family of Orgainsations (KFO) in the Department of The Custodian Unit. I’m a Naro San from Botswana.

For decades, the Indigenous Peoples worldwide have been dependent on their environment. It is this very environment that has given them the necessities of life. Indigenous Peoples, in my context means: the first inhabitants of a geographical region and whose identities and cultures are inextricably linked to the land on which they live and the natural resources on which they depend.

We, as Indigenous Peoples, have ties with our territories of our origin and have a system of belief that land and environment has a symbolic and spiritual value. For centuries, the good and perpetual use of our environment has been the result of GOOD LEADERSHIP amongst us. It is a definition that everyone in the society has a leading role to play but on a consensus basis.

What I am about to present to you is the result of more than thirty years of development work among the San people in Botswana, which led to San owned-NGOs grouped together in a network of independent but still San-owned organisations called the Kuru Family of Organisations. It is important to note that the Kuru Family network grew out of what had at a certain point become the largest NGO in Botswana, the Kuru Development Trust. Yet, at its height of achievement it became clear that the San owners from the communities had difficulty understanding the leadership and decision making in such a big organisation. The organisation was then unbundled into 8 independent members, an effort to make leadership more transparent, and processes of management and leadership of their own organisations more accessible to the San.

The Kuru network kept on growing, however, and ten years later it was once more clear that San ownership and especially indigenous leadership did not perfectly match what was perceived to be a professional organisational structure. How does a San-owned indigenous NGO differ from a so-called “professional” and modern NGO? Did the KFO reflect its organisational purpose and values enough, and how come being imbedded in San culture was perceived as a problem when it comes to management? The Board and Founders then initiated an intensive consultation process with not only staff, but also Board members representing various San communities, and management itself. Starting in 2008, over a period of roughly one year, the essence of development, especially according to the San perspective, was discussed on all levels, and what we would like to present to you, was the outcome of that series of consultation and investigation.

While the Kuru custodians and their helpers were busy dissecting cultural information, the professionals were pulling the organisations together in terms of donor management, financial accountability and strategic planning. It was clear that the San would have to live successfully in both worlds if they wanted to be successful. But, it was also clear that what the San had in the past, still has a lot to contribute to what the world has lost, and the debate should enrich both sides.

The MLDP (management and leadership development programme) was therefore instated as an effort to bring young San leaders on board with the demands of what a modern organisation or professional job would require, but also empower them to bring to the table the valuable lessons from their past, and the uniqueness of leadership in their culture, as the process undertaken by the elders revealed the wealth of information available to the world of management and leadership.

The following main points were brought forward during the consultation on San values in leadership, and the challenge of the MLDP and San leadership in general, will be how to apply these obviously beautiful principles to a fast-moving and global scenario.


The Kuru Family of Organizations belongs to the San. It was formed by San people who wanted to address the development needs of San people.

In difficult times when it became impossible for our people to continue the lives they knew so well and for so long, the Founder Members took the responsibility into their own hands to draw attention to the circumstances of their people, and to build up organizations to change the lives of the San.

We cannot stand back and watch how we lose control over our organizations or see how it changes course and do things we do not want it to do. We have to shape its future and be involved in taking good decisions that will be for every one’s benefit.

We cannot give up on our own lives and blame other people and circumstances for what is happening to us, we too, must stick our hands out and grasp life and protect our resources.When we see people exploiting and damaging the earth and the environment, it is us that have to stand up and be responsible and make our voices heard to protect the earth for our children.


We come from healing societies. This is the single most important factor that defines us as people. It defines the way we hunt and gather and the way we think and want to do things.

Healing has to do with bringing things in balance and knowing that there is a spiritual reality. Diseases, conflicts amongst people, droughts and all the things that would damage relationships need healing. Today family members are separated from each other and people generally deal with life in an aggressive manner.

We are “soft” people that embrace fellow human beings with great love. Having a caring spirit is part of our healing gift. The healer is very vulnerable and many times gets hurt in the process of healing others because he is fighting off evil powers on behalf of other people.

There must always be people taking care of the healers. Even when dancing, the healers need special people to take care of them.

Development must be seen from a healing perspective. The souls of many people around us are wounded or they are mourning the spiritual loss of land or of their children that were taken away from them to far away and often to hostile hostel schools where treatment is devastating to them in the hands of the great national majorities. Every project must lead to better relations, an improved environment and a better quality of life for all.


We are not poor!

Each one of us is a uniquely gifted person that can and wants to contribute to the lives of other people. To pay respect and to share your skills are the greatest gifts. The hunter’s trophy becomes a gift to everyone in the community. Sharing with other people brings real happiness to us.

It is a sign of a broken society when people demand handouts and give up their independence and freedom to other people.Development is about getting the recognition and having the freedom to give to others from the unique gifts, each and every-one of us have.

The gift ceremonies in KFO reminds us of the importance to see ourselves as givers of important gifts that we want to share with one another and that we owe, as custodians of the earth, to the big world out there.


We come from a tradition of bravery.

The hunter sometimes had to chase away a pride of lions from their prey to be able to feed his own family. Life amongst leopards, lions, elephants, snakes, spiders, rhinos and more, called for lots of bravery by the men, women and children that lived in small bands scattered throughout the Kalahari Desert. The long treks in times of drought to search for water could only be survived by very brave people.

Today it takes courage to survive people that think your own culture is inferior to theirs. It takes courage to say NO to the abuse of women and children, NO to the misuse of power, NO to substance abuse, NO to taking more than what you need. The Kuru Family of Organizations was formed amidst lots of resistance against the acknowledgement of the mere existence of the Kgeikani Khweni of southern Africa. The founders showed courage every inch of the way.

To live with courage is much more than needing to have power and control over your surroundings. The courageous will not walk away from difficult situations.


We believe in the wholeness of the society.

Our leaders do not need to do everything themselves. It is the task of the Ncoa-Khoe leaders to create an enabling environment so that everyone will grow to their full capacity and be free to contribute whether old or young or male or female.We have a history of leaders that acted as servants of their people. They have been known to be soft spoken and not boasting about themselves because their deeds and management styles would speak for itself.


When you depend on each other you need to be able to trust one another completely.

One can only walk into the unknown when you know the people around you are trustworthy. Only when you trust someone can you walk into the dessert to find the water you were told would be reached at a specific place and time.  The healer needs to know that when he or she is most vulnerable, there will be people protecting them from falling into the fire or getting hurt in the bushes. As staff we have to believe in one another. The communities need trustworthy organizations that they can trust with their lives. The community organizations need to have good information and they need to trust their leaders with the resources of the people they serve.

To know the FACE OF GOD

There is a power bigger than us.

For many thousands of years we have known that if we looked up, we would see the clouds, the stars, the moon, the sun, the immense sky of the Kalahari. The Naro called this “Nqarim Kg’ai koe – the Face of God”.

Many of our healers claim that this is how they get strength to heal people. The Founders of Kuru, made a point of it to go into the veldt during difficult times “to seek the Face of God”. We can never be alone. No matter how big the challenges are we will always be able to rise above them. We know that there is a spiritual dimension to life.

Just look up! Nobody can take the sky away from us…


Respect the people you work with!

This is an ancient principle of the Ncoa khoe.  All of creation should be treated with respect. Even when hunting animals, it is realised that they are feeding you and that they should be talked to in a respectful way.

This is the Kuru approach to people in the communities. They are our parents. The respect we pay to them is the key that will allow people to trust in the hope we want to offer. Respecting people also means that we will keep our promises and that only the very best efforts from us are good enough. We must make sure that the services we bring are of the highest standards.

To seek WISDOM

Wisdom comes with time only. And you have to strive to get it.

This is seen by some as the highest of all values. Even the healer needs to be wise in applying her or his skills. A leader cannot have a vision for the people without wisdom. You may have the knowledge and the means to build a big dam or another airport, or to develop weapons that can kill more things faster, but wisdom may tell you not to do so. Wise people will know when to fight and when to make friends.

A really wise person will consult as much as possible with other people.


Before the land boards, before ministries of environmental affairs and the ministries of health, when the animals were our friends and the land provided food for everyone, the earth and all of us were much healthier.

We have a relationship of respect with the animals and with all creation. We witness the pain that is caused by un-wise and disrespectful people in the name of their so-called development projects. We know that development that does not recognise relationships of respect with creation and that does not touch the soul of people is simply killing the earth and all human beings with it.

Being relatives of all creation we have no choice but to make our voices heard so that the destruction of the earth can stop.

To this far, I’m happy to say that KFO established Management and Leadership Developmental Programme (MLDP). From its effect since January 2008 until the end of it on 2012, the programme envisaged that the San interns who enrolled in the programme can assume management positions in KFO. The MLDP is having a profound impact on the creation and emergence of young San professionals with great potential to contribute to the development of their own communities. The programme provides ‘on the job training’ the interns in their respective Trusts an opportunity of getting experience and knowing the system of their trust.

It is on course to reach the set target of 25 San individuals to occupy senior management and leadership positions within KFO but currently, only 13 people have been under MLDP, including the now Manager of the programme.

I must announce that I’m an MLDP intern and also Mr. Willie Silver Morris, an MLDP intern working under Bokamoso Trust; the Trust that provides Early Childhood education. The Trust also has an accreditation with Botswana Training Authority to offer Early Childhood Education to prospective teachers. Please refer to us concerning MLDP and the presentation on the corridors.

We are hoping that this process of value-based development will also have effects on many other areas, such as San education in general and in our organisational processes, as well as leadership development. We are hoping to test these perspectives further with other San communities in the region, in order to enrich our understanding. This will entail a period of consultation and documentation that will be followed up by a participatory process of conceptualisation of development (leadership development in particular). There will be a process of engaging young people in the processes of leadership and identity building. In this way, the youth will not lose the beauty of their culture but also will not be left behind in a fast-moving world.

Finally, the outcome of this can only be determined by the San themselves, but they are thankful for the assistance of partners such as the UP Albert Luthuli Centre, the UB San Centre, the KFO management, the role of the KFO founders, and donors such as OSISA, who has made our participation in this conference possible.

Qãé tcaor ko (Thank You very much)

About the author(s)

Delme is the Indigenous Peoples Rights Senior Programme Officer. Delme was the APM in OSISA’s HIV programme from 2006-2010. Prior to joining OSISA, he was the Coordinator of the AIDS Law Unit of the Legal Assistance Centre, a public interest law centre based in Namibia. Delme was active in the international HIV Treatment Access movement, was a founding trustee of the AIDS Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, a founding member of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, the Pan African Treatment Access Movement and the Collaborative Fund for HIV. Delme holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Cape Town, and obtained a bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of the Western Cape.


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