Khoisan History Xby Monishia Schoeman, images by Roxzy Lok / 21.09.2010
There’s a stirring amongst the people, a restlessness that is escalating and breaking the silence of the oppressed descendants of Southern Africa’s first inhabitants – the Khoi, more commonly referred to as “coloured” people today, have made a stand for the right to be recognized.
“The revolution will not be televised…” are the words by Gil Scott Heron that wring through my head as I disembark from the Metro train on Cape Town station en route to the march for Khoi people’s liberation on the morning of Saturday, 4th September 2010. I glance at strangers all around, some who look like me but who are clearly heading in a different direction of life and of the CBD. I can’t help but wonder whether it’s all in vain – this business – but simultaneously I remember where I come from and where I need to be.
As I walk up Darling Street I can feel the atmosphere changing all around, and suddenly I see people in yellow t-shirts holding banners stating ‘Khoisan Rights Now!’ which lets me know I’m heading in the right direction. All along the road I look at the faces of women and men, who look like family, and I realize that these are my living ancestors staring back at me through ancient, slanted eyes reflecting my own; I acknowledge this and walk on with a bit more urgency in my stride.
The masses of people are all geared up with placards, posters, banners, drums, flags, and horns as I reach the point of departure near the Distrix Café in Kaizergracht Street. All ranges of generations are present: mothers, fathers, children, old and young all ready to stand up for their rights.
As the procession began shortly after 10am we were lead by a truck with a representative who directed a series of call and response chants asserting the basis for the march clearly to the on-looker and passer-by. Along Darling Street we stopped opposite the Castle Building, just before the Buitenkant Street turn-off, where we were told that the spot we stood on was the same place where our ancestors were brutally killed and buried hundreds of years ago. The march snaked up Buitenkant Street and down Roeland until we reached the gates of Parliament.
At Parliament the masses of people were addressed by representatives to clarify some of the more specific reasons for the march: this year marks the 500th Anniversary of the battle of Gorinhaiqua, during which Portuguese militarist Francisco D’Almeida and all his men were conquered in a conflict with the Cape Khoi on 1st March 1510; a memorandum was read, signed and handed to a representative of parliament and the presidency stating a concise list of demands for the indigenous identity of the Khoi to be recognized and for people to be repatriated; the derogatory label of “coloured” to be removed; the memorandum states that Khoi people should have the right to recognition and control of Khoi heritage; traditional Khoi leaders must be recognized and equated to all other South African traditional leaders.
Zenzile Khoisan lead the address with fervent conviction as the crowds cheered at the denouncement of the “coloured” term and the cry for general, long-overdue recognition of the indigenous peoples. The Rastafarian movement was ever-present with red, gold and green flags flying high alongside Khoi chiefs from far and wide who spoke of promises delivered by several Democratic South African presidents since 1994 regarding reparation and reconciliation…never to be seen. The empty promises are plenty but the delivery is more barren than a rain-less desert. I wondered if it is because of the nature of a peaceful people who refused to compromise the spirit of unity that ironically lead to their brutal division by the need of the greedy to conquer? What has become of the world if it’s first people are no longer recognized as such? How do we proceed forward when our leaders, who were once freedom fighters, refuse to acknowledge and seemingly so easily forget what it feels like to become invisible whilst still alive?
We sang and we stomped and we burned mpepho to invoke the spirits of our ancestors as the march proceeded toward the Company Gardens for a celebratory renaming of the gardens to Gogosoa Gardens, after the great Khoi chief.
I left the Gogosoa Gardens in the afternoon as the performances were about to commence. The elated smiling faces of energized people on the precipice of a brand new old revolution stayed with me and joined the many mixed emotions I felt in my mind and heart. I wondered about the old Kalahari chief who spoke so emotively of the plight of our people with the wrinkles of his face signifying ancient and humble wisdom beyond comprehension; of the beautiful, copper-skin young girl who sang a Rastafarian freedom song with her parents and the expression in her eyes denoting that she held the secrets of our future.
*All images © Roxzy Lok.