Legislating our lives

Wildcoast MapAs the government of South Africa prepares to review the governance of traditional leadership in the country, the Cobuqua people, in partnership with Khulumani Support Group, have submitted a brief on their concerns with the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Amendment Bill. We continue to express our reservation about the use of terminology such as “traditional communities” that perpetuate the use of colonial, Eurocentric language to describe our continent’s complex social realities.

While the bill claims to address fairly inconsequential matters such as timelines and elections periods, the amendment of a bill that is already flawed because it does not address the fundamental concerns of Khoi-San peoples continues to perpetuate the structural inequities that communities like the Cobuqua face. South African legislative frameworks continue to assume that the concerns of all traditional communities include the particular concerns of the Khoi-San, and that solutions for their needs can simply be subsumed into generic solutions for all.

As we have mentioned on this blog before, this conflation is simply not an accurate depiction of reality. Throughout South African history, Khoi-San communities have faced unique struggles to maintain community cohesion and direction. One of the biggest blows to the Khoi-San that has not been redressed is the loss of a landbase with resources to sustain a livelihood. The traditional leadership bills – or any of its administrative amendments – do not change that fact.

The lack of meaningful participation of the Khoi-San within the process of legislations governing their futures is also critically missing in this context. Representative democracy is only democracy if those chosen to represent are grounded in the actual struggles of the people so as to be able to reflect their realities with integrity and accountability. This process of community mobilisation has been sadly lacking in any of the work around Khoi-San legislative agendas, with the imposition of frameworks upon communities with only token, nominal consultation through individuals who have not been chosen by communities at large to represent their interests to national decision-makers.

In response to the latest attempts by the South African government to legislate the lives of Khoi-San people yet again, we as the Cobuqua people ask that the South African government recognise the right to self-determination of Khoi-San communities to choose the legislative frameworks that have an impact on our lives and our land and our livelihoods.

In particular, we believe we deserve a real voice in negotiating how we will share our journeys of redress with others within the nation to enhance the welfare for all. This process includes guaranteeing the representation of Indigenous peoples within political spaces where decisions are being made to affect our lives, such as Parliament. But that representation has to be meaningful, with communities choosing people grounded within our struggles to continue our work in the arenas of national collective decision-making. We question the legitimacy of representatives who are appointed by the government. As Cobuqua people, we are acutely aware of opportunists who co-opt our movements in order to benefit from access to the resources of leadership, and we demand that it stop.

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