I have been dipped in the cauldron of humanity, and am wrenched out, spluttering for breath, drenched in ideas, opinions, emotions and wonder at the ‘jumble’ that makes up the recipe of this particular soup.
Placements are the laboratories where scientists conduct the practicals they need to research and prove their theories. Our international team of MA students (Venezuelan/American/Italian/Zimbabwean/British) were lucky enough to conduct field research with Natural Justice. They are a Cape Town-based NGO of environmental lawyers who work on the sustainable use of biodiversity for indigenous peoples and local communities. Our specific project was to document the processes in the acquisition of an Access and Benefit Sharing agreement for the Khoi and San Peoples in the Rooibos Tea industry. It was an absolutely fascinating experience.
We researched the background to the legal case, emanating from an attempt by Nestlé to gain patents over the use of the Rooibos plant for both tea and any future product derivatives based on its health and wellbeing qualities. We then conducted interviews with a wide variety of actors. This ranged from the lawyers and advocates who fought the case, to members of the relevant Government Departments for Environmental Affairs and Science and Technology. We even interviewed the Chairman of the National Khoi-San Council. Our team attended the public consultation of the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill 2015 in the National Parliament. It held a fascinating array of ceremonial tribal dress, spectacle and lively opinions.
Rooibos is grown, uniquely, in high altitude, rock strewn ‘fields’ in the Cederberg Mountains. We travelled 350 miles up country, along rough dirt tracks to a Moravian Church Mission in Wuppertal. There we interviewed the farmers and members of the local processing co-operative. It gave us a clear view of near subsistence farming in a barren landscape and, most importantly, an understanding of how the Rooibos plant forms part of the ‘traditional knowledge’ of the Khoi and San peoples – which is at the core of the Benefit Sharing strategy.
Of course, we used our limited spare time to explore Cape Town. We took in the Slave Lodge, National Gallery, Company Gardens and District Six Museum as well as a visit to Robben Island and the obligatory climb up Table Mountain. I hope we will make a difference; our project has been challenging, and interesting; the place has been absorbing and incredibly thought-provoking; most of all, the people have widened my views and expanded my mind. The placement was an invaluable immersion into Human Rights fieldwork in a ‘live’ environment. It’s a great lifetime experience and is not to be missed.