Guest Column

The forgotten people of South Africa

2018-08-17 15:33
Khoisan Chief SA with the activists outside the Union Buildings. (Leon Sadiki/City Press)

Khoisan Chief SA with the activists outside the Union Buildings. (Leon Sadiki/City Press)

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Hendrik Jaars

In the recent past, we have heard strong voices appealing for the recognition of Khoisan communities, their land, identity and culture. These people have been living in parts of southern Africa for more than two thousand years and was well organised in terms of their culture and lifestyle. They had land, and owned vast herds of cattle, water resources, game, wild fruit and vegetables. 

There is a common understanding that the Khoi and San people were indeed the first inhabitants of South Africa. However, with the arrival of the European settlers in 1652 their lifestyle was brutally disrupted by people who tried to make them extinct by undermining their language and identity.

The natural chaos that followed in southern Africa left the Khoisan people vulnerable and they lost many of their claims to land and other resources. Therefore, the issue of the Khoisan's recognition as an indigenous population of South Africa is at present far from resolved and their struggles are largely forgotten. 

On 9 February 2012, in his State of the Nation Address, President Jacob Zuma made certain undertakings that provisions would be made for the recognition of Khoisan communities, their leadership and structures. The significance of his address will remain a turning point as one of the first official recognitions of Khoisan communities in the history of modern South Africa by a head of state. 

These people form an integral part of South Africa. There is evidence of inter-marriage both between the Khoi and San populations with colonial slave populations as well as African farmers and white settlers. There is therefore no doubt that many white and black people in South Africa are descendants of the Khoi.

It is a fact that Khoisan people were later under apartheid government forced to register as "coloured". The issue of coloured registration and identity is problematic as many of us have grown up either as Cape Coloured, Cape Malay, Griqua, Nama, Inland and other coloured. Therefore, many people from these groups find it difficult to disassociate themselves from the coloured classification. 

Along with land dispossession that came because of forced removals and relocation policies the Khoisan identity was further undermined in its struggle for official recognition. The land question is currently a contentious and emotionally charged issue in South Africa and there is no doubt that it will continue to dominate the national discourse for some time in the future. The Land Restitution Act of 1994 does not help Khoisan people because this act does not make provision for land which communities lost before the cut-off date of 1913. These people were dispossessed of their land during the earlier colonial era hence the Native Land Act did not make any mention of Khoisan land confiscation.

Khoisan communities must make the most of the opportunities the current Constitution and the new order offer them. It is my humble view that these communities are still too fragmented and incoherent on the ground. A first step should be to mobilise communities with the aim to enhance structures on the ground and ultimately establish a national structure that will serve as a mouthpiece from which the new order can be confronted to ensure sustained political participation. 

The goal must be to participate in parliamentary politics to ensure legislative outcomes that will promote Khoisan interests and values in a broader inclusive society. Equally important is the role that higher learning institutions can play in a multi-cultural society by preserving and promoting the rich cultural heritage, leadership, tradition and literature of Khoisan people.

As the Khoisan people rise to re-introduce their pride of who they are for the sake of their identity, culture and human dignity the new order must be equally seen as a partner of hope in realising this noble struggle. 

As the Freedom Charter rightfully points out, South Africa belongs to all who live in it I believe practical steps need to be done to give effect to this directive. In this regard the new order and the African National Congress (ANC) can get the ball rolling by renaming Cape Town International Airport to Krotoa International Airport. 

Krotoa was a Khoi translator, ambassador and peace negotiator in time of war between the Khoi and European settlers. This will be a giant step forward with monumental symbolic value and a victory for inclusivity.

- Jaars is a deputy director in the public sector and write this article in his personal capacity.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    cape town international airport  |  heritage  |  khoisan
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