A moment in history – Truth, Reconciliation and Justice for Indigenous peoples in South Africa

27 APR 2021 — 

Today, a momentous day unfolded when the Salt River Heritage Society (SRHS), the Observatory Civic Association (OCA), the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Council, the Two River Urban Park Association (TRUPA), and the Oude Molen Eco Village joined forces to commemorate the deep spiritual history of the Two Rivers Urban Park area, in the form of a Walk to Freedom on Freedom Day.

In doing so, we registered our opposition to the proposed multi-billion-rand River Club Development and reinstalled a commemorative plaque that was vandalised and destroyed 8 months ago on the Liesbeek River. The plaque, which was the only artefact indicating the heritage importance of the area, despite its potential as a world heritage site, had not been replaced by the City. So, the organisations took the initiative restore the plaque on Freedom Day.

The bottoms-up initiative of the Salt River, Goringhaicona, and Observatory communities who share and value this heritage stands in sharp contrast to the way in which the City decision-makers applaud Amazon and multi-million rand developments as a victory while the heritage and history of indigenous peoples are continuously ignored. In fact, the only contribution of the City to the proceedings was to send FOUR Law Enforcement vehicles to stand watch at the gates of the River Club nearby. Seemingly, they were there to protect the River Club should any ideas or talk of justice or redress drift across the road and intrude on the developer’s peace of mind.

The walk began at the Oude Molen millstone where Yusuf Lalkhen, Chair of the Salt River Heritage Society, Dan Neser, Chair of the Oude Molen Eco Village and Tauriq Jenkins, Councillor and spokesperson for the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Council, welcomed participants to the event. All speakers highlighted the importance of the site as a spiritual and community-owned site, unlike the top-down versions of development being foisted on communities around the world. The failure of the new South African dispensation to bring equality and social justice remains a stumbling block to progress, yet this precinct, which embodies centuries-old resistance to colonial oppression, and the close relationships of indigenous people to the land, the river and the mountain, has the potential to heal our country.

Rod Solomons, the chair of the Iziko Museums, noted that Iziko was intending to support an Interpretive Centre at Oude Molen which would bring alive the history of the area including the house arrest of King Cetshwayo in 1879 in the building slated to house the interpretive centre. Participants then walked past the Goringhaicona kraal and garden (see image) to the bank of the Black River, where the extraordinary vista of the mountain, swathed in clouds, reminded us of the importance of our relationship with nature. Khoebaba Arendse of the Kai Korana Trans Frontier reiterated the opposition of indigenous Khoi leaders to the River Club development, which will forever change the landscape, placing Amazon and its 44m high buildings on a sacred site, when we should be celebrating it as the place where the stars gather – |gamirodi !khais.

Participants then walked across over the Black River, passing Valkenburg Hospital and the South African Astronomical Observatory to gather near the defaced plaque for a ceremony that included speakers from the OCA (Leslie London), the Goringhaicona (Tauriq Jenkins) and the A|XARRA Restorative Justice Forum, who emphasised the importance of the river, the land and the mountain – and deep connections that all of us have with this identity. Reverend Alan Boesak then addressed the crowd [LL1] , describing the importance of the event as undoing a great historical wrong – the subjugation of the indigenous people, the dispossession of their land, their genocide and their epistimicide – a genocide of people’s ideas, stories, history and therefore dignity. As part of reclaiming a heritage of being African, Reverend Boesak urged us to expose this ‘unremembering’ intended to obliterate indigenous history. He labelled the City and Provincial administration as recolonialising powers, which bow down to the rich and powerful but spit in the face of Khoi leaders by turning sacred ground into a development for ‘neoliberal capitalists from across the sea’ with ‘friends and allies in this country.’

Reverend Boesak also reminded us that colonialists and apartheid leaders used strategies of divide and rule to immobilise popular resistance. He therefore called for unity and urged people to abandon what he labelled “fruitless competition for pennies here and there” or “little bits of honours and reward bestowed on you by the new Colonialists and new imperialists.” Rather than fighting each other, our fight should be against the new colonialists in 2021.

Reverend Boesak also announced a call for a new Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would address the historical wrongs of colonial dispossession – from Chapter 1, as he put it – in which the question of land is central.

The event then closed with replacing of the plaque and blessings from religious leaders of different faiths and traditions, and messages of support from other Civic associations.

The Observatory Civic Association was truly privileged to be part of this historic event. To share it with a diverse set of organisations, whose unity puts the lie to the developer’s claims that we are a small set of people out to foil his plans.

If we are to heal our nation, we have to acknowledge both the historical wrongs of the past, and the wrongs that continue to be perpetuated today in the name of power, of privilege of elite decision-making for the benefit of the powerful few.

We will walk that journey with our fellow organisations and our partners in the Indigenous movements, supporting their call for a new TRC, whilst also seeking legal justice in the High Court for the travesty of the decisions allowing the River Club development to go ahead. We will not let what Jan van Riebeeck started and what Verwoed perpetuated repeat itself in a democratic South Africa.

We urge you to support us. Remember our fundraising site where we are collecting funds for our High Court action.