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Speaker of oldest San language dies

Staff Writer

AENKI Kassie, one of the last three people to speak the oldest surviving San language, died in Upington on January 7 at the age of 71.

AENKI Kassie. Credit: INLSA

Her son, Petrus, said yesterday she had died in hospital of chicken pox.

She was of the Khomani people of the Kalahari desert.

“She was a wonderful person, always proud of her language,” Petrus said in Afrikaans.

There are now only two people who can speak the N/uu language, which linguists say is the oldest surviving San language of South Africa.

It is the last of the !Ui language family, which was aboriginal to South Africa, and is represented by the Xam language on the national motto.

The Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee, a network of over 155 peoples, said yesterday: “Ouma Aenki Kassie was a great storyteller. She and her daughter co-operated with Unesco in conserving and promoting the oral heritage of the Khomani people of the Kalahari desert. May she rest in peace.”

Kassie, and four others who could speak the N/uu language of the Khomani, became known to researchers in 1998. Community leader and activist Petrus Vaalbooi, who was trying to claim back land they had lost, led researchers Nigel Crawhall, Anthony Traill and Hugh Brody to the five. They made headlines and later became instrumental in helping with the land claim in what is known as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

In March Una Katriena Kassie Rooi, one of four N/uu speakers still alive, died at the age of 81.

Kassie’s funeral will be held tomorrow in Upington.

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