When it flows, it floods

By Tauriq Jenkins

Tauriq Jenkins is Supreme High Commissioner for the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Traditional Indigenous Council under Paramount Chief Aran

In 1996, the Khoi and San were not part of the Constitution.
Then President Thabo Mbeki’s “I am an African” speech, with the founding of South Africa’s Constitution, would remain in its nascent stage until the fullness of the African body was completed.

For it is in the unmistakable lines of a shared history of resistance that we ultimately are one nation. Above all else we are African.

At the confluence of the waters of the Black River and the Liesbeek River, the Khoi collectively sustained the longest resistance against colonial oppression which fanned out across the subcontinent for 169 years. It spanned 16 Khoi wars, the last five of which were fought together with the AmaXhosa in the East. David Stuurman and prophet leader Makhanda fought side by side and were captured and taken to Robben Island.

Our matriarchal guide, Krotoa, brought with her an umbilical connection with the Dutch. We share a history too with Portuguese, English, Irish, Scottish, German, Flemish, French, Swiss, Russian, Greek and Turkish influences. The intermingling of these groups forged mixed groups, and the etchings of the Afrikaans language began to emerge on the banks of the Liesbeek River as first frontier.

Our claim is the human claim. The controversial development on the floodplains of the oldest urbanised river valley in South Africa is a tale of where  much of what we have become begins. At the foot of Devil’s Peak, which forms part of the Hoerikwaggo, a mountain that rose from the sea and is older than the Himalayas, is the Liesbeek river. The memory of it speaks to the root of mankind itself.

The Observatory itself was built on a hill where our ancestors navigated the stars and with the kindred and sentient fellowship of the Quagga, Cape Lion and Blue Buck. Their permanent departure from the valley and the face of the earth, together with the Cape San, flowed from the genocidal menace of colonial conquest and theft.

The embankments on what is today’s Two Rivers Urban Park (TRUP) are a place of return. It is the place of the first victorious line of defence against a colonial aggressor, Franciso D’Almeida, the Portuguese viceroy who vanquished India in 1510. It is also the place of loss – the First Frontier War in 1659, theft of land, the first evictions of the indigenous Khoi Khoi, the deployment of agricultural slaves in 1657 with the establishment of the Free Burgher Farms. This is where we came undone.

Today, the most significant heritage battle ensues with a threat of a
R4.5 billion development on its sacred terrain. It is led by a local developer backed by an enterprise with coffers amassed as the vOC (Dutch East India Company) itself did at its peak 360 years ago. The significant impact of the genocidal smallpox epidemics on the Khoi and San notwithstanding, part of the TRUP is Ndabeni, the first black township which was built to quarantine migrant (mostly Xhosa-speaking) labourers when the city was hit by the bubonic plague.