President Jacob Zuma walked into fiery demands for land restitution from Khoi and San leaders on Tuesday in the debate on his annual address to the house of traditional leaders.
They said they were the original inhabitants of the country, yet had been sidelined in the state’s restoration drive, which offers redress for land dispossession that happened from 1913 onwards.
Chief Hennie van Wyk of the Xoraxoukhoe House, told traditional leaders: “We are the original people. Whenever people go ‘this is our land’ –there runs the blood of the Khoi.”
He said the Khoi people and its leaders did not seek to be assimilated into the recognised structures of traditional chiefs, and had been waiting for Zuma to make good on a promise to grant them separate, official recognition in law for years.
“You are the ones who said not so many moons ago that the Bushmen and the Khoi are the most marginalised and exploited people.
“Here we are still struggling. Our struggle is not to be assimilated into traditional leadership. We are an entity on our own.”
An unscheduled speaker who identified herself as a direct descendent of Maria de la Quellerie, wife of Jan van Riebeeck, said the Khoi in 1998 submitted the biggest land claim received by the government and were still waiting for it to be settled.
“Give our land back. God will hold you fully accountable and I will pray to It,” she exclaimed.
However, chief Jonathan Muller said many Khoi and San did not wish to become farmers but should, like all others from whom land had been taken, be allowed to receive financial compensation instead.
“We are not necessarily looking for land but there is a way of looking at competition. Not everyone of us is a farmer but there is a way of resolving this issue.”
In June last year, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti announced that government was mulling a policy that would address the exclusion of the Khoi and the San from the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act.
The law allows South Africans to claim back land from which they were forcibly removed due to the 1913 Natives Land Act and later apartheid laws, and created a new claims period running up to 2019.
He acknowledged that the situation of the Khoi and San was complex because they were dispossessed much earlier than 1913.
In his annual address to traditional leaders last week, Zuma encouraged them to file restoration claims on behalf of communities and to take away land from recipients who were not conscientiously farming it.
His comments drew criticism from the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Law and Society who said it was indicative of an exclusive dialogue between the president and leaders, ignoring the fact that communities had protested against land being claimed on their behalf by chiefs. SAPA