President Cyril Ramaphosa File picture: Kopano Tlape/GCIS
Cape Town – “Given the history of systemic and structural violence we faced, we were not able to start again in 1994 as other communities were collectively able to. 

"The Khoikhoi and San were only able to start to do so as of November 28, 2019, the day President Cyril Ramaphosa signed into law the Traditional and Khoisan Leadership Bill 2019,” says National Khoi and San Council chairperson Cecil le Fleur.

This after Ramaphosa signed into law the legislation, which constitutes the statutory recognition of the Khoisan communities, leaders and structures, a move welcomed by indigenous people as a step in the right direction.

The Presidency said the Traditional and Khoisan Leadership Act sought to transform traditional and Khoisan institutions in line with constitutional imperatives, such as the Bill of Rights and restore the integrity and legitimacy of the institutions of traditional and Khoisan leadership in line with customary law and practices.

It also provides for the protection and promotion of the institutions of traditional and Khoisan leadership.

While certain traditional structures and leadership positions have been recognised by law in compliance with Constitutional prescripts, there has never before been statutory recognition of the Khoisan.

The NKC was formed in 1999 by former President Nelson Mandela after a consultative process. The communities and leaders of this body were independently researched and membership vetted through the former president’s administration. 

Le Fleur said: “This body negotiated their communities’ constitutional recognition over the last 21 years. We’ve also been the official body negotiating in partnership with indigenous farming communities regarding their rights as traditional knowledge holders to key indigenous plant species, among some of them included the recent Rooibos contract agreement.

“This body undertook this long journey after the Khoikhoi and San were not included in the Codesa negotiations for the democratic dispensation in 1994.”

Le Fleur described the community as a “broken people” having to start again.

Le Fleur said the council wanted to dispel the myth that the act would only benefit a few.

He said the law would now formally record the Khoikhoi and San’s collective presence in South Africa and afford them the opportunity structurally to live under traditional law and custom in accordance with Constitutional provision. It would allow the Khoikhoi and San to structurally access all tiers of government.

“Now that we are formally existing in South Africa, we have a better chance of ensuring our indigenous languages such as Khoekhoegoewab, !Nuu, Khomani and Khwe can get official status to ensure our children can learn them in schools beyond pilot initiatives, but systematically and institutionally included on par with other indigenous languages.

“It now also gives the Khoikhoi and San communities a stronger ground to ensure their land reform concerns are included in the national developmental initiatives and priorities on par with other communal land challenges.

“We now have an opportunity to start the healing of our youth, who are ridden by effects of foetal alcohol syndrome, crime, drug addiction and disproportionate rates of incarceration within the provincial prison system.

"This will allow us to start lobbying processes to help facilitate the healing of our children," Le Fleur said.

Khoisan activist Christian Martin welcomed the bill.

“There are mixed feelings when it comes to the Khoi and San nation. I believe the bill is going to assist us in correcting the wrong that had been for 367 years, where structures of governance and organising our nation has been broken down.”

Martin said those doubting the bill need not fear.

“We need to start somewhere. Here we have an opportunity to challenge the government if there's anything wrong, we have all the means, through the Constitutional Court, to take the bill through the relevant processes,” Martin said.

The president has also assented to the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Amendment Act, which seeks to address failures to reconstitute the tribal authorities and traditional councils within the prescribed time, including aligning the term of office of the re-constituted tribal authorities and traditional councils with the terms of the National House of Traditional Leaders.

Cape Times