The first are no longer the last

2012-02-18 11:33

It was no small victory for Johannes Kraalshoek when President Jacob Zuma announced that
his government would “correct the past” by recognising the KhoiSan people as South Africa’s original inhabitants.

In his state of the nation address last week, Zuma was quoted as saying the KhoiSan were “the most brutalised by colonialists who tried to make them extinct, and undermined their language and identity.
“As a free and democratic South Africa today, we cannot ignore to correct the past.”

After an 11-year battle, Kraalshoek, captain of the Free State Griqua Council, says: “It’s high time.” However, it’s too late for his language.
He adds: “We are the first indigenous people of South Africa, but yet, we have been left behind. Our language has been ignored to the point that it is now extinct.”

Many of the KhoiSan leaders died while waiting for the traditional affairs department’s National Traditional Bill – set to, among other things, formally recognise its people (South Africans at large) and leaders – to come into effect.

Prince Wentzel Katjara, leader of the Khwe people in the small and dusty Platfontein village, near Kimberley in Northern Cape, says he hopes the bill will restore their dignity as a people and result in them getting better services from government.

In sweltering Platfontein, residents gather under the village’s only two trees near its only shop.
Katjara, pointing at the dusty street running through the village, says: “Maybe they (the government) would finally give attention to our roads. Maybe then we will also be represented at local and provincial government level, in Parliament and internationally.”

The new National Traditional Bill replaces two previous acts and, for the first time, makes provision for traditional KhoiSan leadership structures and the interests of its people. The KhoiSan leaders will now form part of the National House of Traditional Leaders which, according to Katjara, will go some way to getting their needs addressed.

“Education is a problem here at Platfontein. Unemployment is rife and the youth do not have access to bursaries to further their studies,” he says.

But poor service delivery isn’t the only issue that angers the townsfolk. During the national census in October, they were outraged at being racially excluded from the questionnaire.

Jan Makampies from the Griqua Tribe in George, Western Cape, says: “I am ‘other’” in reference to the box indicating race. “When you are coloured or black, there is a number allocated to your race, but for us – the first of the first – there is no number. That is why I prefer the number instead of ‘other’ on the list.” It wasn’t only Makampies who took offence.

After offering his greeting, “!Gai tses”, in Nama language, Elroy Baron says he refused to be “unclassified again or alternatively termed as ‘other’.

“Other what? Animal, alien, thing or what?” Baron asked.

“We accepted these foreigners with open arms into our homeland over 500 years ago and they have termed us barbarians and savages, labelled us slaves and thieves, called our wives ‘meide’ and our children ‘kleingoed’. I refuse be an ‘other’.

“I am a proud Khoi man who protects and cares for his family and community, and I will be called a Khoi and nothing else.”

Kraalshoek adds that he didn’t understand why it took the government so long to recognise its own people. His one concern about the bill, which makes provision for a king, is that the monarch would need to be endorsed by the premier.

“The premiers never recognised us or consulted with us when taking decisions. Why would they do now?” he asked.

Katjara, however, disagrees saying the final decision will rest with communities. “If you are a leader and you can prove that you are from a royal background, the community will have to investigate your claim.”

Katjara is himself a prince as his mother was the daughter of a king. “In our culture it works differently. My grandfather was a king and I’m a prince because our bloodline is being traced from the daughters and not the sons. The daughters’ sons will therefore get the title.”

In confirming the theory, Peter Raper, honorary linguistics professor in the department of language management and language practice at University of the Free State, says until 2?000 years ago, the KhoiSan people were the only inhabitants of Southern Africa.

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