South Africa's First Nations Give Land Claims Consultation Thumbs Down

By Anna Majavu · 26 Feb 2013

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Picture credit: KhoiSan Royalty courtesy 350.org/Flickr.
Picture credit: KhoiSan Royalty courtesy 350.org/Flickr.

A Khoi and San umbrella organisation has given the thumbs down to government’s latest offer to allow new claims for land stolen from indigenous South Africans before 1913.

According to Chief !Kora Danab Hennie van Wyk of the Xoraxoukhoe Khoisan Indigenous Peoples’ Organisation, the department of rural development and land reform has chosen “puppets” for its new “consultative process” which will not restore any real rights to the already marginalised Khoi and San.

“The land claim of the Khoi is not regarding property and area but an entire country. It is different than any other. We cannot only speak of a Land Claim here. We should be speaking of a treaty. We expect that Government would do the right thing which is to engage with communities and enter into a treaty with the Khoi, regarding all aspects of our status as Indigenous People, since we are a sovereign Nation” says van Wyk.

The land claims process started by government in the mid-90’s allowed people whose land was stolen after 1913 to lodge a claim for restitution by 1998. The first problem was that many people missed the 1998 deadline through no fault of their own. The other problem was that the Khoi (Nama, Griqua and Koranna) and the San were side-lined since their land was colonised prior to 1913, when the Natives Land Act was passed prohibiting blacks from owning or renting land outside the small areas designated by the colonial ‘government’.

Draft documents from government’s new “restitution policy commission” now promise that government will discover exactly which citizens are Khoi and San, and come up with a way to facilitate new Khoi and San land claims dating back to before 1913. But van Wyk says the first nations do not only want a few pieces of land returned, but also want to share in the control over marine resources and mineral rights and to have their language recognised.

The Khoisan Indigenous Peoples Organisation has written to the government complaining that government is consulting only a few delegates from the National Khoisan Council – which was created by government - instead of bringing all the first nation groups together to come up with a list of their own demands. The Indigenous Peoples’ Organisation also opposes the Khoisan First Nations Status Company, which was supported by the National Khoisan Council.

“The Khoe and San have our own governance structures, going way back into history. We do not need government to set these up for us” says van Wyk.

The choice of words in government’s draft documents seems to bear out van Wyk’s fears. First nations’ have the right to self-determination under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. But the draft documents qualify this right, saying the Khoi and San “have a right to self-determination and must do so, with the assistance/guidance from the Government” – presumably whether the first nations want that guidance or not.

It is highly unlikely that the ANC would support any new land claims process that went back before 1652. Yet this is feasible, says van Wyk.

“We are claiming the whole of South Africa, but there were no property rights during that period of time, only communal rights. Our view is that the first nations should be able to have a piece of land and not deny others land as long as they don't intrude on our privacy” says van Wyk.

Any new restitution policy that does not also allow the Khoi and San to share in the control of mines or marine resources will be a sham.

The Khoi and San have indeed lost a lot more than land, mineral and marine rights. Any re-opening of the land date should also include reparation for the loss of the profitable Rooibos tea brand, aloe medicinal products, commercialised Bushman alcoholic drinks, and the Sutherlandia “cancer bush” which has been turned into medicine by a major pharmaceutical company.

It is unlikely that the Khoi and San will get anything back via government’s ‘consultative process’ since government still refuses to even recognise the first nations’ mother tongue as an official language and will not grant the first nations symbolic recognition in other areas. For example, a Khoi and San group asked two years ago for Cape Town’s Company’s Gardens to be named after Gogosoa, who ruled the area right up until Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival there. But this has never happened.

The consensus in the DA and ANC governments appears to be that 1652 was a long time ago, the Khoi and San are no longer living their “traditional lifestyles” and so it would be foolish to take seriously land claims dating back that far. Yet the national Iziko museum still commemorates the Khoisan victory over Portuguese invaders in 1510. The history of that time is well documented, especially by the Khoisan people themselves who are well placed to say exactly what land and products were stolen from them.

In places like Nieuwoudtville, Northern Cape, it is easy to find Khoi and San people who have been living on the same land for generations, albeit squeezed into tiny corners of what was once theirs following different white land grabs. Wild rooibos tea farmers from the area, such as Drieka Kotze, are able to physically point to landmarks delineating exactly where their ancestral land began and ended, until it was stolen by colonisers.

Like much other farming land in South Africa, much of the stolen land in Northern Cape is not even being used and could easily be handed back to its original owners. This will not happen because the ANC’s willing buyer-willing seller policy, supported by the DA, allows landowners to offer land for sale to government at greatly inflated prices.

Having given KhoiSan groups affiliated to the National Khoisan Council just two weeks to come up with written responses to their plans to determine who is KhoiSan and to allow for land claims pre-1913, Government will hold its ‘consultative conference’ to finalise its new policy in March – potentially leaving many KhoiSan groups out in the cold.

Majavu is a writer concentrating on the rights of workers, oppressed people, the environment, anti-militarism and what makes a better world. She is currently studying for a Masters Degree in New Zealand.

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