Time to give unsung Khoisan heroes their place in the sun

The Khoisan group camped at the Union Buildings for more than a year. It is recorded that by 1700 several Khoikhoi whose economic backbone had been decimated found themselves as servants on the farms on land they had previously owned or had become dependent on the colony for their livelihood, to this day. Photo: Oupa Mokoena African News Agency (ANA)


JOHANNESBURG – Having regard to what happened in our past, going back more than 500 years, from 1488 to date, when the first Portuguese maritime explorer Bartholomew Diaz landed on our shores around Mossel Bay, as disclosed by Dr Ruben Richards in his two-volume history books, maybe it is time to go beyond just knowing about the contributions of the first leaders of this diverse nation by doing something concrete to honour them.

Maybe alongside the statues of De Klerk, Tutu and Mandela should stand the statues of Doman, Gogosa, Xhore, Autshumato, Adam Kok, Krotoa and contemporary figures such as Allan Boesak. They laid the foundations for our freedom, from the very early beginning, through their resistance to colonialism, at great sacrifice. They paid with their lives.

If we did that we would not only be honouring history, which started more than 500 years ago, not in 1910, but also be saying to their descendants, the coloured people of today and many others, how much as a nation we value them, as a people, and the contributions of their ancestors who preceded them.

We stand upon their shoulders today. If we appear to be tall in the eyes of the world, it is because we stand upon the broad shoulders of these giants of the first nation, the first citizens of this country, the Khoisan people, in all their diversity. What is recorded as a diarised conversation between Jan van Riebeeck and the local Khoisan leaders is quite revealing in regard to the mindset and values framework of the Khoisan people.

He writes: “They (Khoisan) strongly insisted that we (Dutch) had been appropriating more of their land, which had been theirs all these centuries, and on which they had been accustomed to let their cattle graze, etc. They asked if they would be allowed to do such a thing supposing they went to Holland, and they added: ‘It would be of little consequence if you people stayed here at the fort, but you come right into the interior and select the best land for yourselves, without even asking whether we mind or whether it will cause us any inconvenience.’”

With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that these leaders ended up fighting no less than five recorded wars of resistance, the Khoi-Dutch Wars, the first being 1659-60, second 1673, third 1674-77, fourth 1692 and the fifth war 1700-03.

It is recorded that by 1700 several Khoikhoi whose economic backbone had been decimated found themselves as servants on the farms on land they had previously owned, or had become dependent on the colony for their livelihood, to this day.

Their cattle and grazing pastures had been seized by the Dutch East India Company and their chiefs had been subordinated. Frequent raids were sent into the interior and brought back thousands of livestock.

Going forward, as a country, in the next decade 2020-29, we would do well to find a way and a process by which we should honour the heroes and heroines of the Khoisan people. The Ministry of Arts, at national, provincial and local government levels, would do well to lead this process, as the National Council of Khoisan as well as all the reference groups would guide the process in the compilation of leaders to be so honoured as well as the strategic sites where the statues would and should be located.

There can be no doubt that such a memorial-type park-like Freedom Park in Pretoria would have to be around Cape Town, where it all started. The question to be settled would be where exactly in Cape Town, and it is here where the people, including experts such as Richards, would have to be consulted.

It is imperative that this project is undertaken, as articulated by Richards in Volume 1, where he says: “Unfortunately, the narrative (that is, history) of the original inhabitants and their descendants is one written in tears of blood rather than tears of joy and jubilation. A poignant moment in this regard was in 2012, during the State of the Nation address by former president Jacob Zuma, when he drew the nation’s attention to this narrative of blood.

While it was his predecessor, former president Thabo Mbeki, who was the first to formally acknowledge the atrocities experienced by the Khoisan people, it was Zuma who was first to make an undertaking that this unjust history needed to be addressed.

This year seems to be both the year and the decade in which this project must be undertaken and implemented, to the minutest detail, once for all, in the spirit of restoration, rebuilding the ruins of our past, and inclusiveness.

We owe it to this generation of the descendants of the Khoisan, the coloured people, as well as future generations, that this history is told, not just in books, in libraries, and all information storage places, but also, and more importantly, in physical form in statues in a memorial park, where it can be displayed, for all the world to see.

If not for any reason, but precisely for the point made by Richards: “The corrective measure required is to acknowledge that such a group of people do exist phenotypically and that they are not second-class citizens, but in fact, they carry the soul of South Africa in their veins

“Coloured people are a gift to South Africa as the progenitors of what it means to be a non-racial fully integrated society.”

The time is now. Sekunjalo!

Dr Wallace Mgoqi is the non-executive chairperson of AYO Technology Solutions and former acting judge of the Land Claims Court. He writes in his personal capacity.