Angered by Disdain; Indigenous Seek Recognition

Indigenous communities want the government of South Africa to amend the constitution to officially recognized South Africa’s first Indigenous Peoples.
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The Khoi and San communities want the government of South Africa to amend the country’s constitution in order to officially be recognized as South Africa’s first Indigenous Peoples.

This is one of the main demands currently being investigated by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

The demand for recognition, which includes the Nama, Griqua and Koranna communities was listed in a memorandum that instigated national public hearings hosted by the SAHRC in the country recently. Another key demand is the recognition and promotion of the language of the Khoi and the San to be equal to the other nine official languages of the country.

Last year, leaders and supporters of the Khoi and the San community in the city of Johannesburg in South Africa chose the country’s historically significant public holiday of April 27 to hand over a memorandum of their grievances and demands to authorities.

In South Africa, April 27 is Freedom Day; it is a national public holiday commemorating the first democratic vote on that day in 1994 after the racist Apartheid regime was toppled.

The National Khoisan Council's, John van Rooyen said that the march was the culmination of several attempts to gain government’s attention to address their grievances and demands.

“They don’t come back to us. They treat us with disdain. It was good that the SAHRC took it upon themselves to investigate, he said.

The SAHRC is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. The Commission, according to it’s website has the powers to investigate and report on the observance of human rights; take steps and secure appropriate redress where human rights have been violated; carry out research; and educate.

The public hearings conducted by the SAHRC began last year and the next hearings are scheduled for April this year. Once the public hearings have been concluded the SAHRC will release a complete report with findings and recommendations to the public and the same report would be forwarded to Parliament for review.

Van Rooyen said it’s a good thing that Parliament will receive the report as they cannot deny the fact that nothing has happened. The government will have to be held accountable he said.

Meanwhile, Delme Cupido who is the Indigenous Peoples Rights Senior Programme Officer at the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA) said that while the SAHRC will collect testimonies during the public hearings and will compile a report with their findings and recommendations; “the idea that something concrete will come out of it... it’s not in their control.”

Cupido explained that in the past government had paid lip service to addressing the concerns of the Khoi and San communities but “did not act on it.”

“The real value of these hearings – (and) it is a good thing – is that communities who have not been heard and rendered invisible, can now be heard.”

He pointed out the influential position of the SAHRC in that it has the power to order remedial change.

However, Cupido questioned some of the demands put forwarded by the Khoi and the San in the memorandum that the SAHRC is investigating, such as the demand to be recognized as first peoples of the country.

“When people say they want recognition as first people’s, what does that mean? What is the practical effect of that? I don’t think that these hearings will achieve that. What the Commission will realistically achieve is to document these stories which is a very valuable function. They have the potential to bring these stories (about the Khoi and the San community) and awareness into public spaces.”

The SAHRC could not confirm when the final report after the hearings would be completed except to say that it would likely be done in the months of May or June.