– from Marjorie Jobson, guest blogger from Khulumani
For the past six days, rain has poured down on the City of Tshwane (Pretoria). It is for these past six days, that Chief Khoisan SA and two of his people have waited patiently in the small encampment that they have set up close to the 9 metre high statue of Mandela on one of the levels in the gardens in front of the Union Buildings, that houses the Presidency.
The Mandela statue is placed just below the level from which then-President Mandela addressed the thousands of South Africans who had shown up to share the celebration of his inauguration as the country’s first democratically-elected President. December 5 marked four years since his passing. It is a site of great importance to people of Khoisan ancestry, an ancestry that was shared with the much-loved President Mandela.
The Khoisan encampment is surrounded by a circle of large pine cones, picked up from the gardens below the Union Buildings, to designate the space as sacred. The falling rain at this time is for a people who live lightly on the earth on this subcontinent, a symbol of a blessing on an endeavour. For Khoisan people, these signs could be seen as a blessing on their mission to make their appeals directly to the President or the Deputy President. It certainly is time that the voices of the first peoples of this subcontinent were heard.
The three people of Khoisan descent have walked 1,000 km from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria to bring their appeals directly to the Presidency. The demands are straightfoward: that the identity of Khoisan people as the first people of the country be recognised; that their language be adopted as one of the country’s official languages; and that the 1913 Natives Land Act be scrapped because reliance in law on this legislation prevents the adjudication of many Khoisan claims for land restitution.
Recognition of the first nation status of people of Khoisan descent would finally redress the denial of their history and their existence and would provide a platform for discussing remedies to support the development of Khoisan people ‘by themslves for themselves’, including their need for access to land, given the prolonged history of their dispossession.
In December 2016, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs commenced Public Hearings on the Traditional and Khoi San Leadership Bill. Ground Up, an internet-based news service, reported that at these hearings, “no provision was made for translation services, not even into Afrikaans, let alone Khoi and San languages. Member after member of the Khoi and San communities who spoke stressed that recognition of their language and their culture were key priorities. Recognition of their language must precede recognition of leadership and structures, they said, because a people without a language and culture are not a people, even if they have leaders.”
As reported in the attached article, community members saw right through these promises of recognition. They repeatedly pointed out to the committee that the recognition of language and the return of land are the heart and soul of any form of recognition and must come first. The lack of translation was seen as the weakest point in the hearings. As journalist Nolundi Luwaya explained, (see attached Ground Up article), “it does not bode well that in a context where people are making it clear that recognising them means recognising their languages, the Portfolio Committee could overlook providing translation. We are still speaking past each other, it seems.”
Recognition is an essential step in paying attention to the particular insights and knowledges of indigenous peoples, especially in relation to living sustainably. It was this knowledge that was formally recognised at the Climate Conference, COP 23 that took place from 6 to 17 November 2017. One of the decisions of that UN Conference was to establish “a local communities and indigenous peoples platform” for the exchange of experience and sharing of best practices on mitigation of and adaptation to climate change in a holistic and integrated manner.
Another year has passed in South Africa, with little attention being paid to the need to confront and address the central issues affecting people of Khoisan ancestry, those of language, culture and land as a starting point to resolving the other challenges facing them.
Khulumani supports the call for justice and redress for Khoisan peoples, towards enabling their fullest participation in and contribution to addressing their own development challenges as well as the challenges of climate change, presently causing massive climatic upheavals across South Africa. May 2018 bring recognition and justice for Khoisan peoples living in South Africa.
Images: South Africa Tourism, https://www.brandsouthafrica.com/people-culture/mandela/18-facts-about-the-9-metre-mandela-statue