The ǀXam and ǂKhomani heartland tentative World Heritage Site consists of regions located to the South and North of Upington, respectively, in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. The ǀXam and ǂKhomani (more correctly Nǁnǂe) people were linguistically related groups of San (Bushman) people, their respective languages (ǀXam and ǂKhomani) being part of the ǃKwi language group. Descendants of both the ǀXam and Nǁnǂe include Afrikaans-speaking ‘Coloured’ people on farms or in towns in the region amongst whom the precolonial languages are either entirely extinct (in the case of ǀXam) or can be spoken by but a very few people (in the case of Nǁnǂe).
The two areas consist of semi-arid to arid tracts of the Upper Karoo (to the south) and the Southern Kalahari (to the north). Both areas are rich in archaeological traces inter alia of the Later Stone Age, while rocky hills and outcrops in the southern area (which has been referred to as ǀXam-ka ǃxau, meaning home of the ǀXam) have a wealth of rock art sites, preponderantly in the form of rock engravings. In the ǂKhomani area to the north (where the sandy desert topography precludes rock art) a cultural mapping project contributes to a revival of interest in cultural traditions in the younger generation.
The ǂKhomani San people descended from several original San groups which include the ǁNgǃu (close relatives of the ǃXam, who lived south of the ǃGariep River), the ǂKhomani who spoke the same language as the ǁNgǃu but had a distinct lineage, the |’Auni, the Khatea and the Njamani. There are approximately 1 500 adults spread over an area of more than 1 000 square kilometres in the Northern Cape Province. Approximately 8000 people live in the northern reaches of Gordonia, at Witdraai, Welkom and Askham, just south of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Others live in the towns of Rietfontein, Upington, Loubos, Olifantshoek and other surrounding villages and settlements.
With the official proclamation of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in 1931, the majority of the Khomani, as well as the Mier people who lived in that area, were forced to move to other areas. Some settled at the national park headquarters in Twee Rivieran and were employed by the park. Others, who were also dispossessed of their land, dispersed into Namibia and other nearby settlements.
The Khomani San, as well as the Mier people (who were also relocated due to the new park), were allowed to continue living in certain areas within the park however, they lost their rights to hunt and manage stock on the land.
In 1995, the ǂKhomani San community lodged a claim for the restitution of 400 000 hectares of land in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park. After protracted negotiations, the claims were settled on 21 March 1999, with the official transfer of title to six Kalahari farms, which were approximately 34 728 hectares, to the ǂKhomani San Common Property Association (CPA). A form of collective trust allowed by the Communal Property Associations Act (No 28 of 1996) for use by communities that have benefited from land restitution under the Restitution of Land Rights Act (No. 22 of 1994). Additionally in 2007 it was agreed that a further two farms (Sonderwater and Rolletjies – approximately 6 020 hectares) were be transferred to the ǂKhomani San CPA.
Furthermore, on the 29th May 2002 the conditional allocation of approximately 57,903 hectares of land within the Park were to be managed as a Contractual National Park, namely the ǃAeǃHai Kalahari Heritage Park. This land was committed to the ownership of the ǂKhomani San and Mier communities through what is known as the ǃAeǃHai Kalahari Heritage Park Agreement. In this agreement the ǂKhomani San community was also granted preferential tourism rights over 80 000 hectares south of the Auob River inside the Park, as well as the right to use 473 830 hectares of land between the Auob and Nossob Rivers for symbolic and cultural purposes. Due to increased social decay and a lack of post-restitution support from the South African government, there was no significant improvement of the livelihoods of the people since the land gains. In 2012 fifty Rotary clubs in Germany and 3 clubs in South Africa in collaboration with Peace Parks Foundation set up a project to break down the historical injustices and to give the ǂKhomani San the necessary guidance and assistance in order to create an sustainable operation system of the ǃAe ǃHai Kalahari Heritage Park. Furthermore, the development and operation of the joint farms which were given to them by the South African government in 1999 and 2002 after a successful land claim. The project is aimed to give the ǂKhomani San a chance to live in dignity, freedom and economic independence while retaining their traditional identity. The German Ministry for International Cooperation and Development (BMZ) joined Rotary to support the project for four years.
One of the primary goals is the development of tourism facilities where visitors may experience the unique attributes of this arid region and its people.
The northern component, the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape, was inscribed on the World Heritage list on 8 July 2017, during the 41st session of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee which took place in Kraków, Poland, 2–12 July 2017.