After years of knocking at what they saw to be a closed door, a breakthrough appears in sight for descendants of South Africa’s foundational Khoi and San peoples, who were told by the minister of rural development and land Reform that President Jacob Zuma would address Khoisan recognition at a national conference in June.
Gugile Nkwinti addressed the Western Cape Khoisan representatives in Cape Town on Mothers’ Day, after members of the group interrupted his quarterly meeting with the National Reference Group on Khoi and Boesman land restitution.
The minister was told the government should implement a restitution tax to resource the movement for Khoisan recognition, that the Khoisan reference group was communicating effectively with their constituents, that the government should implement United Nations protocols on indigenous restoration and that there was growing concern over the marginalisation of Khoisan concerns by policy makers and other officials.
What was unusual about the meeting is that the group, nominally known as the Western Cape Khoisan crisis committee, was able to engage him directly on several contentious issues, including problems with his official reference group, and also structural problems related to communications with members of his department.
Nkwinti, who greeted each delegate personally before the meeting, addressed the problems between the official reference group and the crisis committee. He defused any potential for confrontation by relating his discussions with other colleagues in the executive who, he said, were aware of the “long journey together” through to the bill on Khoisan recognition, now before Parliament.
“When we build there is always tension, which is not a bad thing, because sometimes when there is tension it is an indication that things are moving forward, and, hopefully, through this process we can find one another. Part of the reason for this is that the Western Cape is the most complex of all the provinces, because everything started here in this city, in Cape Town, and this is a conversation on how to proceed.”
He noted that his encounter with the Western Cape representatives was part of a process that would inform the preparations for a national conference of Khoisan leaders scheduled to take place in Kimberley at the end of next month.
Chief Tania Kleyhans of the Cochoqua Royal house said the crisis group was mandated to engage the department and it was important to review the legislation in the pipeline.
Belinda Petersen of the January Royal House said the reason the crisis group had demanded the meeting with the minister was that “for two years the reference group did not give account of its work”.
Chief Abre Hector, senior chief of the Ubiqua in the Cederberg, called for the Rural Development and Land Reform Department to be restructured “to ensure that the National Reference Group and the Khoisan leadership is resourced.”
Chief Ernest Solomon of the Gorinhaiqua Cultural Council told delegates that to be effective “we need to gather our own resources.”
Nkwinti made a commitment that their concerns would inform the preparation for a Western Cape region restitution conference, as well as the national Khoisan conference in Kimberley.
“We want you to prepare in such a way that the president understands your frustrations. President Zuma told me recently that “if we could resolve the problems with the Khoi and the San I could die peacefully,” he said.