What will 2019 bring for our people?

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As the year draws to a close, the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill remains pending review at the National Council of the Provinces. We continue to draw attention to the serious flaws in the bill, which perpetuates many injustices against our peoples that have continued through colonial, apartheid, and current times.

For cheap political gain ahead of an election year, for the loyalty of a few powerful people in our country, the ANC is about to commit the grievous mistake of re-entrenching deep divides and dispossession that mark South Africa. This reality does not affect only KhoiSan communities, but also many others who live in what were the traditional homelands, leaving us vulnerable to the exploitation of mining companies and land redevelopers, with little recourse for appeal against the power of traditional leaders reinforced by the state. Our rights as the Cobuqua people, and those of many of our neighbours, are in danger of being threatened by ideas of customary law that do not abide by the spirit of the Constitution or of common understanding, but instead bolster the arbitrary power of authorities we do not necessarily recognise over our lives.

We continue to highlight that constructing governance systems for our peoples without addressing the question of access to resources, we who have been long dispossessed of our livelihoods in our lands, is not very meaningful. We have not benefited from the economic transformation that was promised many South Africans after the end of apartheid, and the arbitrary cut-off for dispossession from land in 1913 has meant that we have not been able to return to the territories that once sustained us. Furthermore, the profound cultural alienation of our youth, robbed of our languages and our kinship networks that tied us together, has left us vulnerable to violence and loss.

We must have answers for our future, but they can only come from addressing our past. The Traditional and KhoiSan Leadership Bill is an abject failure in this regard of redress. It seems to us that this bill is attempting to contain us, by fear of what our Indigeneity may represent. But we do not feel the recognition of our Indigeneity is a threat to the nation of South Africa. In fact, there are many models of nations coming to terms with the histories of Indigenous peoples they displaced. In Ecuador and in Bolivia, Indigenous peoples lead in politics with a renewed comprehension of the environmental crises of our times. In New Zealand, understanding that country’s founding treaty between Indigenous peoples and settlers has provided a framework for people to work together to build a country together. We lack that initial founding document in South Africa to guide our relationships with each other, and our nation-building efforts have to navigate some profoundly complicated dynamics. But being honest with our history is the first place to start, so that we retell a history in which we are all recognised and in which we can all see ourselves. That process is critical to becoming the country we want to become. Here is hoping that the time that remains to debate the Traditional and KhoiSan Leadership Bill opens the door in 2019 for this collective narration of our country’s story, and we move forward in a manner that includes those amongst us have been forgotten many times over.

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