Dispossessed, unrecognised and facing a ‘cultural genocide’, South Africa’s Khoikhoi and San community are petitioning the government for full recognition of their rights as indigenous people.
They claim that their history of oppression and dispossession has long been overlooked, with government preferring to focus on rectifying the evils of apartheid’s land policies.
Indeed, South Africa’s indigenous population have lived in the region of the Cape for thousands of years, but lost their and land and water to the first settlers who arrived in 1652. The current Land Restitution Act however, only considers claims for land that was dispossessed after the 1913 Native Land Act came into effect.
Zenzile Khoisan, a spokesman for the Khoi and Boesman National Assembly argues “In 1913 most of our land had already been usurped by various entities including the colonial authorities. Under the Land Restitution Act it is impossible for us to claim because we were the first in opposition of colonialism.”
Their grievances came to the fore in a march on Cape Town’s Parliament Buildings on Saturday 4th September, as reported by the U.K Guardian. They have issued a memorandum to President Jacob Zuma outlining their demands for recognition as the original inhabitants of South Africa.
This memorandum goes hand in hand with the case lodged in the Equality Court by the Khoi and Boesman National Assembly against the government of South Africa, which is centered around their desire for “proper and suitable constitutional accommodation” and “a recognition of the damage caused by colonialism, apartheid and the current government for the continued assault on our rights to cultural identity”.
A key issue in their case is the lack of recognition of their languages; as Zenzile Khoisan states: “In South Africa at the present time we are not recognised as a people. There are 11 official languages and none of them is ours.”
Further demands in the memorandum include:
Steven Robins deals with the identity and social mobilisation of the San people in his book From Revolution to Rights in South Africa: Social movements, NGOs and Popular Politics after Apartheid. Creative Consulting & Development Works reviewed the book in a previous newsletter.
He looks specifically at the NGO called the South African San Institute (SASI) and its land claim. According to Ronbins the NGO stressed the cultural rights of the San as this helped them to gain more support from the media and donors.
But he also mentions that although they won the case, the San are still extremely poor. They keep to the hunter-gatherer lifestyles that has gained them support from those who want to protect these “remnants from the Late Stone Age”.