In the era of freedom

IMG-20170421-WA0013Chief Joseph Wade has been the traditional leader of the Cobuqua people for many years now. The community is scattered throughout the area that was once the apartheid homeland of Transkei, often uprooted from their old homesteads like the one in the image. The precarious status of those of Khoi-San ancestry within this jurisdiction has meant that though the redressal of apartheid’s deprivation targets the Xhosa who were relegated to living in the homelands, the particular concerns of the Khoi-San communities in this region are often lost in the shuffle. As the new dispensation begins to try to restore what has been taken from the majority of the population, the specific needs of the Khoi-San seem to be forgotten. Numerous groups have been trying to work on this front over the last twenty years, as Khoi-San groups become increasingly organised in an attempt to battle what they feel is continued exclusion and lack of regard for their needs.

Due to some of this pressure, the current government has proposed the Khoi-San governance bill. Chief Wade notes that this bill was not written in consultation with Khoi-San communities, apart from a few figureheads. The South African government is thus imposing on communities a system that invests authority in traditional governments, but only those governments recognised as legitimate by the national government. Many Khoi-San communities have had no say in how these governance structures will interact with their own local context and particular needs. And indeed, without a meaningful discussion of relationship to the land, issues of Indigenous redress are not fully resolved.

The government will suggest that many of the concerns about land have already been settled, whereby land claims for territory lost under apartheid have been addressed through cash payments. But many Cobuqua were excluded from these negotiations. In any case, individual settlements cannot stand in stead for a collective agreement between two equal negotiating parties, as a nation to nation treaty might suggest between South Africa and Khoi-San nations. In compensating people individually with cash, the government has paid off those who might have been desperate for money rather than working with a strong group of partners who would have been able to maintain a more consistent negotiating position of a more restorative approach to the loss of land and livelihood that many people of Khoi-San descent experienced through the past five hundred years.

For Chief Wade, the imposition of the upcoming Khoi-San government does mean having to adapt to changing circumstances. There might prove to be some opportunity to enhance the social and the political outcomes for the Cobuqua. But many issues remain problematic. The bill does not clarify how much the traditional leaders of the old homelands interact with the leadership of the Khoi-San where communities may overlap, such as happens for the Cobuqua people of the Eastern Cape. While the Xhosa leadership may be able to make claims on the land and its resources, because the Khoi-San government will only be able to make claims to people as a community and not to territory, a resource base to support this government is largely lacking, setting it up to be powerless, especially if the land base that was traditionally associated with the community remains in the hands of unaccountable bodies. As we move into this new era, the Conuqua people – and many Khoi-San peoples across South Africa – now need specific solidarity and support.

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