August 9 is commemorated as International World Indigenous Day each year. We, the Cobuqua people, celebrate the resilience of Indigenous Peoples worldwide who have survived the ravages of colonialism for many decades. In South Africa, the Khoi-San people suffered dispossession by European settlers, followed by their attempted enforced assimilation that resulted in the erasure of their cultural identity during apartheid in a process that has been recognised as a form of ‘cultural genocide’. Now, in the democratic dispensation, the Cobuqua people along with other First Nation Peoples, continue their struggle to have their rights recognised in law.
Presently, we are unable to celebrate the actions of the South African government, especially as Parliamentary debates are resumed about the Traditional Courts Bill. The bill seeks to regulate the way justice is delivered in our communities who live in areas that were apartheid creations – the ‘homeland system’. For us, the biggest injustice has been our continuing exclusion from community consultations in which government’s framework was developed.
As the Cobuqua People, we claim the right to manage our own systems of governance. In the current process, the state has failed to recognise our history and lived experience as indigenous people. The state continues to promote our inclusion within the framework of regulations designed for the apartheid homeland system. The current draft legislation assumes that for rurally-based communities such as ourselves, there is a territory associated with a traditional court that will serve our needs. While the homelands provided a rural land base for some of the people incorporated into the system on the basis of their ethnicity, no land base was created for the First Peoples of the subcontinent, such as ourselves who were dispossessed of their land base over generations including under the homeland system as happened to us when we were dispossessed of our ancestral land by the first Chief Minister of the Transkei homeland / independent self-governing territory. Despite the submission of our land claim prior to the 1998 closing date for claims for land restitution, our claim to our ancestral land has not yet been evaluated or adjudicated by the state. We reject the possibility of becoming subject to local courts that are not our own, as we believe may happen.
We cannot delink our struggles for justice within our communities from our struggle for justice for our entire community. Many of our struggles with youth in conflict with the law and their high levels of unemployment, can be traced back to this history of dispossession of our land and our culture. We are aware of how few opportunities are available for members of our community and how few resources are allocated to our efforts to develop ourselves and our communities. We are committed to building a future for ourselves, but this requires the allocation of budgets. Until our political and social systems specifically address this history of deliberate disempowerment and dispossession, the burden will have intergenerational consequences and impacts, as we have seen in the lives of Indigenous Peoples across the world.
Plans developed for us without our full participation will never deliver the outcomes that are so badly needed. We are committed to our own development along with addressing the psychosocial issues that are the result of our long history of oppression. We believe this is within the competence of our government, working in partnership with us towards achieving the vision of the National Development Plan for 2030. All resolution of these issues will need to take account of our forced dispersal following our 1976 dispossession from our ancestral land and our lack of a resource base from which to draw our collective livelihood. The failure of the the OR Tambo District Municipality to pay many of us for our work in the Expanded Public Works programme has exacerbated our levels of poverty. This case is currently before the Mthatha High Court for a satisfactory resolution. Towards finally paying its EPWP workers, the sheriff of the court was ordered to take possession of vehicles belonging to the municipality. At this time, the workers have yet to be paid their earnings for the labour they supplied.
As we confront the social damage caused by decades of dispossession, and the consequent need for healing, we reject any piecemeal approach to the planning of our people’s future. We believe a comprehensive review of the relationship between the South African government and the Khoi-San peoples is an essential first step. This should include recognition of our right to consent to or to withhold our consent to plans that we perceive as not addressing the challenges we face as we reckon with our long history of suffering. We are committed to building our future as full and contributing citizens in this country we call our own.