The case for a Khoisan Identity in 2017!
“..I owe my being to the Khoi and San whose desolate souls haunt the great expanses of the beautiful Cape- they who fell victim to the most merciless genocide our native land has ever seen, they who were the first to lose their lives in the struggle to defend our freedom and independence and who as a people perished in the result…” Thabo M. Mbeki
The Khoisan Cause has perhaps reached a place of new dimension, if not a crossroads. The challenge before them is a choice between engaging a democratic state with the expressed hope of finding a political settlement, informed by a case that can stand legal scrutiny. Or a choice for not engaging and thus continuing a form of subliminal self – isolation crowned with a claim of sovereignty and therefore falsely insulated in its struggle because they plausibly do not trust the major role players in the constitutional democratic society evidenced in the state, political parties and those who are of political formation claim.
Permit me to put my disclaimer upfront, I am not a historian, neither a cultural specialist, and I am equally not a constitutional law expert. I gladly sit at the feet of the respective thought leaders for these disciplines and willingly drink from their fountains to be educated.
I am at best a theologian and a social scientist that attempts to analyse the many conflictual aspects that make for a society in transition. My academic or seminal interest spans black theology, identity, race, and non-racialism themes. From this bedrock I opine and engage less in a mind that I have the answers but to influence the discourse and to assist the charting of a way forward.
It is against that backdrop that I have taken the liberty to articulate my convictions for a need to engage as a means to find a way forward as next step. I take the liberty to make arguments for the engagement. This is the first of four planned installments where the overarching case for engaging of the Constitutional Democracy and its attending role players is made. This first installment concerns itself with a KHOISAN IDENTITY CASE
A HISTORY OF RESISTANCE
It is important to pause and pay homage to all known and unknown Khoisan men and women who have from before a documented known history of combat since the late 1500’s fought gallantly it’s cause and right to exist in ownership of nomadic life expression for identity, land and ultimately its existence as First Nation in the Southland. A struggle that evidences immense casualties easily argued a genocide, its true record only the sun, moon, the vast expanse and an arid land truly knows.
I therefore stand on the shoulders of a group of great leaders from an Autsomoah to a Dawid Kruiper who equally sacrificed, everything for a cause immanent in true Khoisan emancipation.
This justified cause of resistance meanders through having experienced the first European (Portuguese) attempt to steal land from us, the subsequent treacherous Dutch 1652 invasion, the dastard act of a promulgated law that declared the Khoisan ‘vermin’ therefore the object of hunting. Whilst this demonic law was repealed in 1828, yet by that time the British settlers of 1820 too had made their unwelcomed arrival. Our cause lived through the commissions of the Segregated / Colonial state that resulted in the conflicting 1913 Native Land Act, a shackle till today that defines our land claims frame.
When the Khoisan thought this was it, after having participated in two world wars in which some of its forebears were used to fight wars for others and never recognized for their formidable role come 1948. Yes, that dreadful advent of the Apartheid State, a State that would in a sense be the most brutal for its then already outdated eugenics race anthropology for a common humanity and its core focus to identify its respective client as confirmed in Act 30 of 1950 Section C, we went from vermin to Coloured. An identity the apartheid state accorded us it as it sought to describe us as their target.
More than 500 years later a half-century that coincides with the European reformation we seem to stand on the precipice of history where finally our case can stand. We are told every five hundred years the world is redefined. Can the case be made that we have reached that point of the fulcrum of a Southland identity of aboriginal and First Nation status as UNDRIP ages ago had declared? Is this the time for Tsiloab’, the Khoisan G-d to finally smile in letting us be the centre of the discussion?
REASON FOR THE MUSING
I will in this musing attempt to make the argument for a Khoisan People to engage a constitutional democracy and its manifold role players in particular the accepted political leader of the democratic society immanent in the African National Congress and its formations.
The ontology for this musing and now a case for engaging is a public debate the Khoisan on an IFNASA platform raised as a means for solutions for the more than five-century-old Khoisan Cause.
I will attempt to build this case on the four fundamental pillars that constitute and axis of an Identity case, a Political case, a Land case, and an Economic case.
It is my conviction that the case for engaging the constitutional democracy and its role players to varying degrees is framed against the backdrop of a 1992-1994 political settlement and a subsequent 1996 Constitution.
OURS IS AN IDENTITY CASE
When we raise the identity case here as the first leg of the argument it may be considered as rhetorical yet close examination suggests the 1996 Constitution attests a silence on the Khoisan (identity) be that in acknowledged historical reality of aboriginal claim or in claim of apartheid victims definition embrace.
This is an important point to make since for all practical purposes the 1996 Constitution is silent and that silence is pervasive. The question that can thus be asked is why is there such silence?
The prevailing logic from the ruling elites would dictate that there exists a generally accepted belief that the Khoisan is a historical society, meaning it was obliterated and everything that defines it renders it a historic society and identity. Their intrinsic existence for an identity and blood watered the tree of Freedom which grew and failed provide shade for the very Khoisan children. They argue the Khoisan’s manifested humanity remains to this day reduced to the ash heap of a yesterday. Its bones not to be disturbed.
I have in recent years gained a much deeper appreciation for the centrality of Mbeki in identity politics in democracy. That appreciation is not in simplistic admiration but perhaps a cold and stoic observation that cuts to the heart of all our critical debates on race, identity, racism, and economic empowerment. No ANC politicians in democracy has shaped or influenced more the epistemology and understanding of identity than this son from Idutywa, Transkei by way of Sussex London. He has introduced us to what we have as identity configuration for a democratic state and society.
It is Mbeki who took the latitude to first define the African identity albeit in poetic rendition not even in his own reign but during that of Madiba.
It is Mbeki who introduced us to the two nations analysis in South Africa, defined in ‘white’ economic wealth and a ‘black’ poverty.
It is Mbeki, who introduces legislation to seek redress for his analysis of a two-nations country.
It is Mbeki that used that very race prism for a means for redress. It can be argued a doctrine of race that has it’s roots in Kant and Linnaeus, known for giving us the first formal definition of race.
It is Mbeki and others who lead the ANC into a National Question framed in intellectual hegemony that articulates the ANC exists to liberate …blacks in general and the African in particular… Though that African identity is derived and extrapolated from the narrow apartheid frame of degrees of exacted suffering as I have lamented. (for my critique on the National Question please view The Thinker edition 71, January 2017 – “Quest for Non Racial South African Society – The Case for remythologising identity construction.
It is Mbeki that in his 2016 SAHRC speech proffer solutions for racism at the hand of asking as to why we have not made such progress from colonialism and apartheid.
My most recent article penned for the Thinker edition 72, due in April 2017, engages Mbeki on his solutions for racism at the hand of his 2016 SAHRC Speech. I have argued Mbeki fails to problematize race for its relevance or irrelevance in our democratic sojourn. I attempted to make the case that race is the product of a racist mind. If we therefore seek to annihilate racism we will need to eradicate race, and discard the thinking of race as a benign construct that can exist in innocence outside racism.
To underscore the importance of Mbeki in our democratic sojourn for a means of understanding South African identities, race, racism and economic empowerment I am compelled to look at his most hallowed speech delivered as deputy president at the acceptance of the constitution.
Perhaps nowhere do we hear this obliterated society and identity immanent in Khoisan more in his I am an African speech:
‘I owe my being to the Khoi and San whose desolate souls haunt the great expanses of the beautiful Cape- they who fell victim to the most merciless genocide our native land has ever seen, they who were the first to lose their lives in the struggle to defend our freedom and independence and who as a people perished in the result”
The choice of words beyond the beauty of a soliloquy is whose desolate soul haunts the great expanse, but more poignantly who as a people perished in the result.
Need I remind us again this speech of Mbeki was not delivered during his tenure, but it was delivered during Mandela’s reign. Is it than coincidental that this speech in articulation on the Khoisan identity as perished people and haunted souls for identity description and the concomitant silence of the 1996 constitution share a causal and decisive link?
I will not here engage the centrality of Mbeki in our identity configuration, that is worthy of unpacking in another musing, suffice to say its more than coincidental that Mbeki’s speech can be this categorical in declaring the Khoisan a historic perished community, obliterated and whose souls haunts the great expanse.
I will equally later in the third installment under the heading THE LAND CASE use again Mbeki where he in the same speech appears to assign the Khoisan land as that of a Cape.
Can the case now be made at a practical level that when Mbeki declared the Khoisan dead in his famed speech at this significant moment of the constitution adoption at a practical level Mbeki then showed the death of the Khoisan when in the Western Cape he opted for a Ebrahim Rasool instead of Allan Aubrey Boesak.
With this Mbeki in a poetic sense extends life to the notion of a dead Khoisan society. Meaning there cannot be any Khoisan in 2017.
Yet despite this conviction of Mbeki as vocalized in a speech that stands in a class of its own, there are today in South Africa thousands if not a million who claim an identity directly extrapolated from the reality of a Khoisan claim and I am one of them.
Does Mbeki’s most famed speech hold a key as to the truculence of the democratic state to engage honestly on a Khoisan identity? Is Mbeki’s articulation the bedrock from which all ANC leaderships in post-apartheid context came to engage the Khoisan identity?
To those who advocated the death of Khoisan identity in perished state, we must say the identity of the Khoisan was NEVER perishable. It could never have succumb in equal staleness of milk or cheese that perishes.
This brings us to two fundamental questions: What are the ramifications for making the claim of a perished people? What are the implications for the silence of the 1996 Constitution on this identity that many of us today boldly claim?
At one level we may argue, you reading too much into this poetic expression. On another level I would remonstrate and say, it is crystal clear. We can safely conclude Mbeki either consciously or unwittingly have drawn a line through our claim for such identity by reducing it to a historical society. To argue it unwittingly may mean he merely wanted to complete a mosaic picture of how terrible the assault on the Khoisan was.
I however struggle to see it only as that for these thoughts from one man is the prevailing panaplea of an ongoing ANC identity appreciation in 2017.
On another level the silence of the constitution in not acknowledging the presence of the Khoisan equally by implication follows Mbeki in that reducing of our common identity into the museums of history.
We must still ascertain who is leading, is it the silence of the constitution or Mbeki with his death declaration of a Khoisan identity veiled in beauty of poetic license.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
- Our rightful claim to a Khoisan identity must be cognizant and hurdle the reality of this prism of an obliterated society that is reduced to the annals of history and dead in every sphere.
- Our claim of a Khoisan Identity must secondly make sense and hurdle the reality that this Constitution has chosen in finite sense to exact us an identity from the archaic Act 30 of 1950 section C, that made us Coloureds for an apartheid State
- Our claim must ask why the constitution is deliberate in traditional community context, a space the haunted souls and perished people in identity configuration must find expression in duplicity of tribal setting, but not as aboriginals where a case can be made for their rights to be enfranchised.
In the interest of brevity I am not here entertaining the aspects of identity that is encapsulated in culture, language and values and practices, suffice to say on that front massive strides have been made to bring back to life and in the mouth of common society the Khoisan language and its varied dialects.
The Khoisan identity lives, its dialects live when we greet each other daily as Gaitse’s. It’s traditions and values are being taught, the children of the Khoisan protest not being reduced to Riemvasmaak where they in democracy are part of the BIG 6 of Southern Africa with cameras that click from tourist from both local and international world.
PANSALB as far as I know has a project on the reviving of the Khoisan languages. This has been ongoing for the last 4-5 years.
On many fronts local communities are beginning to celebrate their special days and this oft in regalia and decorum of celebration of that very dead Khoisan identity.
Recently South Africa at an 2016 IJR event discovered the true aliveness of the Khoisan when they showed up at the Castle draped in their accoutrements with proud expression of their heritage.
The Khoisan live and we will not afford anyone the right to declare us dead. It is out of that alive state of the Khoisan that we seek to engage anyone to inform, educate and advocate our space and place in South Africa, who hitherto have struggled to recognise this state of our aliveness.
WHY WE MUST ENGAGE?
- Engaging is not negotiating: Generally those who hear us make the case for engaging confuse engaging as a natural negotiation. I don’t think we can ever afford anyone the right to have us negotiate our identity. I am consciously against anyone seeking to negotiate on my identity. It’s a promise I made to my late father who indulged me in conversation at 16 on a topic of self-definition for which I had no appetite or appreciation for. His words were simple, “I wont tell you who you are, all I ask when you do find out who you are, permit no one to ever define you again”. I committed myself to this and have made self-definition not an option but the only base for my identity configuration.
- Engaging from my vantage point assumes both overt and covert means. The struggle for emancipation warrants distinct tactics and our engagement must have strategy that imbibes tactics that engage the State and it’s attending formations in dialogue but also in confrontation in picketing. Nowhere in my understanding of engaging is the tactic of covert sacrificed for overt and vice versa.
WHO AND WHAT MUST WE ENGAGE?
- Engaging the Constitution is to ask what does the Constitution say about the Khoisan, it’s to question its silence. Engaging the ANC is to engage the ruling elites whose frame and prism of thinking on identity is articulated in a controversial national question of …blacks in general and Africans in particular… I have elsewhere contended we must engage what I have termed, apartheid-accrued-identity-benefit of the African in the National Question.
- Engaging the ANC therefore is an engaging of Mbeki, no ANC politician has had a bigger hand in our prism of identity configuration than Thabo Mbeki. He and the likes of Joel Nethshitenzhe is by extension the accepted custodians if not proverbial surrogate womb for the articulation of a National question identity configuration. Engaging means to seek opportunity to engage in public debate, in written reply, and in leading coherent articulation at both academic and public context level.
- The obligation is for us to tell those whom we engage how we understand their identity configuration of an obliterated Khoisan identity, to serve notice that the Khoisan is not dead because you have chosen in convenience to draw a line thorough his ongoing existence.
- Our Message: The Khoisan is not dead because you as Democratic State have chosen to uncritically adopt apartheid configured outdated eugenics race anthropology and identity markers for our democratic dispensation.
- We must serve notice on them the Khoisan identity cannot die, it is not reduced to haunted souls status, but it lives in a people who are willing to work for the inalienable right of self-definition.
- We dare not engage in emotional rhetoric a trademark of our struggle in democracy, we must make our case for the existence in 2017 of Khoisan identity.
- We must object to the new forms of institutionalized and structural racism that seeks to decide our identity in Colouredness of description as if the state assumes it has the capacity to distinguish between ‘African’, ‘Coloured’, ‘Indian’ and ‘white’ for markers for identities.
- We must protest the completing of legal forms and write in cancellation empty spaces emphatically Khoisan not other, not black, not coloured.
- Our engaging must be sober, principled and resolute educating, analytical, informing rather than shouting expletives and insults we must make the case for our identity not in a form of cheap exceptionalism or separateness where act as police for who can claim the Khoisan identity but in thoroughness of coherent argument and solidness of praxis.
I have with this article ONLY attempted to make the case for us engaging the democratic state and its role players, on the premise of one of the four fundamentals namely (OUR IDENTITY CASE) that define for me our Cause. It is impossible to make all four cornerstones stand in one article because it would be too long to read.
I therefore have committed to pen these each in its own article and over the cause of the next few days. I would pray that that I have not overstated truth, but captured in simplicity the core arguments for our claim on identity that for many is a historical and perished people.
Please feel free to engage the content, and tear it apart it’s a discussion document, but my firm convictions.
Clyde N.S. Ramalaine