We reject the Leadership Bill

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The Cobuqua people were dispossessed of our ancestral lands in 1976 under the direction of the Chief Minister of the Transkei, Chief Kaiser Matanzima when the independent state of Transkei was formally established in the pursuit of the Verwoerdian apartheid fallacy of “separate but equal development”. As people whose First Nation status has yet to be recognised by the post-apartheid state, our struggle for the restitution of our ancestral land has remained unresolved despite ongoing engagement with the Commission for Land Restitution in the Eastern Cape since 1998.

While this struggle remains incomplete, the greater struggle as the historically first people to occupy this region of the country, is for the realisation of our full and equal citizenship in a united and democratic South African state in which the Constitution serves as the supreme law of the land and the citizenship rights of all are equally protected and promoted. We have been rendered politically and socially invisible. The continuing classification of First Nation people as “coloured” remains a forced categorisation that deepens our marginalisation. In the absence of formal recognition of our identity as Khoi-San people, we are unable to rebuild our identities and social structures, a situation compounded by the lack of restitution of our lands. Continuing exclusion pushes people of Khoi-San identity further into the margins of society while our culture, traditions and traditional knowledge systems continue on a trajectory of erasure.

In order to be officially recognised, the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill prescribes that a community claiming such an identity should have a history of self-identification as Khoi-San; must be separate from all other communities – impossible when we have been dispossessed from our lands; must observe distinctive established Khoi-San customary laws and customs – which have been stolen from us; and must have a track record of existence within a specific geographical area – from which many of us have been dispersed though we survive to this day. Furthermore, the proposed Bill requires Khoi-San leaders to submit membership lists to government on an annual basis, including the full names and surnames of members, with certified copies of their identity documents. No other community is required to fulfill this unfair requirement.

The Cobuqua people reject the re-imposition of the apartheid-created traditional leadership systems against which the people mounted a long-sustained and costly struggle for freedom. The prospect facing people who formally occupied homelands is one of having a traditional leadership that is focused on the personal benefits they are able to extract on the basis of their often deeply contested claims to authority over people who occupy the land under their alleged control. This system deprives us of our right as South Africans to assert our own choices in respect of whom we recognise as our leaders. The enactment of this Bill will inevitably lead to continuing legal challenges to contest the way it privileges the interests of the politically-connected over those of the 17 million people who still live on the land previously comprising the homelands. So many rural homeland dwellers fought for a state that served the people as opposed to those with power, where rural communities can operate within decentralised customary systems of participatory decision-making.

The central issue remains one of redress for historical crimes including the crime of dispossession of people from sites where they practised their livelihoods over generations. Such loss represents a form of “cultural genocide”. It is the crime perpetrated against the Cobuqua people who lived for generations along the Port St Johns coastline. Every effort of the Cobuqua People to develop forms of co-existence through constructive engagement with the responsible state agencies, have been aborted without resolution. Their efforts assisted by land activist, Mr Nontshiza Pasika, have been eschewed in place of privileging certain people over others. The revictimisation of the Cobuqua people through this apparently determined refusal to recognise the legitimacy of their claims, is a violation of the provisions of our Constitution, of the rule of law and of the efforts of many to restore peoples’ dignity and their efforts in support of their own agency and resilience.

We reject the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill as it stands, and demand that we be allowed to participate in building a legislative framework that recognises our rights and protects our dignity instead.

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