Khoisan will continue to camp outside Union Buildings until their demands are met

Using the Nelson Mandela statue at the Union Buildings in Pretoria for shade, six Khoisan, led by Chief Khoisan SA, said the time for talking about their demands was over.

The group made the arduous 1 200km trek to Pretoria from the Eastern Cape last year and have been camped outside the Union Buildings since November 30.

There is little shade in sight and they have had to withstand hail storms that severely damaged their tents, but they remained steadfast in their convictions.

READ MORE: The forgotten people of South Africa

"The president [Cyril Ramaphosa] was the deputy president when he received the demands [in 2017]. Since then, he has not engaged us," said Chief Khoisan SA.

"He can't come now and talk to us. Now is the time for implementing our demands, and we will not leave here until then."


The group's list of demands include that:

  • the Khoisan people must be recognised as the first indigenous nation in South Africa;
  • the label "coloured" must be removed from all official papers as a reference for people of mixed colour, and be replaced with "Khoisan";
  • Kwadi–Khoe must be listed as an official language in South Africa; and
  • the Khoisan must be given land and resources to continue their cultures and traditions.

union buildings

Chief Khoisan and others use the Nelson Mandela statue at the Union Buildings in Pretoria as shade during their protest. (Photographer: Alex Mitchley)

Barefoot and only wearing loincloths made from buck skin, the chief said they had two meetings with officials since arriving in November, where they were told that headway was being made with efforts to have Kwadi–Khoe recognised as an official language. A Khoisan traditional bill is in the works.

These answers, however, did not satisfy the Khoisan people, who said democracy was born 25 years ago and that it could not take so long to recognise a language and the people who practise the "click" dialect.

News24 recently reported that Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko said the Khoisan demands were "complex matters which the group wants government to address instantly".

She said the group also met with two senior officials from the Ministry of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, but refused to hand their "notice" to them or to Presidency director general, Dr Cassius Lubisi.

"The collection has since returned to the south lawns of the Union Buildings to demand that the president personally receive a notice in support of their 2017 memorandum," said Diko.

Ultimatum of independence

On Friday, Chief Khoisan SA also repeated his ultimatum to Ramaphosa: met their demands or the Khoisan people will declare independence from South Africa.

He added that a meeting of Khoisan leaders was expected to take place at the beginning of February when issues of self-determination and governance was to be discussed.

Chief Khoisan SA previously said that lobby groups in the US, Russia, Botswana and Namibia had declared their support for such a move. If the government failed to come forward to "deal" with their challenges, they would begin a process of "engaging on ways to share the country's budget and mineral resources".

READ: Presidency 'still committed' to addressing Khoisan concerns amid threats to declare independence

"Those who were supposed to be the richest people in the country are the poorest, and engulfed by drugs and gangsterism, and we need a redress in that matter," he said.

In a recent statement, the Presidency said the government had made big strides on the promotion and recognition of the Khoi and San languages, through the Pan South African Language Board (PANSALB).

This included the development of a Khoekhoegowab Dictionary Glossarium, of which 500 copies of which have been distributed.


The camp set up by the Khoisan who have been at the Union Buildings since November 2018, demanding that they be recognised at the first nation of SA. (Photographer: Alex Mitchley)

Two memorandums were also signed - one with the National Arts Council and another with Namibia - to further develop the language, and to protect and train educators.

An indigenous people's conference was also held in 2017, attended by 300 delegates from South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, and another PANSALB workshop was planned.

"Regarding the demand to remove the word 'coloured', the group was informed that such removal could not be effected without following a public consultation process", said Diko.

Previous Khoisan protest

In 2017, Chief Khoisan SA and three others made a similar journey to the Union Buildings in an attempt to be recognised.

Things took a dangerous turn when the four of them embarked on a hunger strike that lasted close to a month.

News24 reported that Chief Khoisan SA suffered extreme fatigue, malaise and that he lost 34kg.

Christian Martin, 37, who joined them at the Union Buildings, lost 26kg and suffered from  hypoglycaemia as a result of malnourishment.

READ: There's a Khoisan on Zuma's stoep

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