The National Khoisan Council and National Heritage Council briefed the Committee on the history of the Khoisan people and the project that was under way to honour the memory and return the remains of David Stuurman to South Africa from Australia. Dawid Stuurman played a key role in the Khoi Rebellion, or Third Frontier War, which lasted from 1799 to 1803. The briefing spoke to the history of David Stuurnman, various roles and mandates, the stakeholders in the project, international relations and political interventions for repatriation of the heritage remains as well as stakeholder involvement and administrative and technical issues around exhumation and repatriation.
Members asked questions on the role of the Department, lineage, whom from government had been lobbied on the matter, how information could reach those who were not literate, what state institutions supported the initiative, the comment from the Chairperson of South End Museum that there was a lack of cooperation from the Australian government, the role of the National Heritage Council and public participation. Members commented on the need to document African history properly, the role of the Department of Rural Development, the need for joint meetings with other parliamentary committees on this, the use of the word ‘chief’, the delay in the tabling of the National Traditional Affairs Bill, nation building, the need to use the Khoi language and the notion of site visits.
The Chairperson said the National Heritage Council (NHC) had been asked to come with its steering committee and all affected groups. She said the NHC had been invited as the Arts and Culture Portfolio Committee was a custodian of heritage within South Africa. There was a great deal of South African history that was yet to be known. The Chairperson said that this was a learning experience for all.
She added that there had been notions emerging of people saying that they ‘owned the Khoisan’. The government was one body and no segment owned the process of uplifting the Khoisan. No matter which part of the government called the Khoisan delegation to come, then it should go and meet with that part of government.
Mr Cecil De Fleur, Chairperson of the National Khoi-San Council (NCK), said that no one owned the Council and the notion was offensive.
It was requested that a prayer open the meeting. The Chairperson said that it was important to check that no one was offended as there was a need to respect the Constitution.
Prayers from the Khoisan nation opened the meeting.
Ms T Nwamitwa-Shilubana (ANC) requested that the chiefs within the meeting (herself and Mr Mavunda) be addressed in their official capacity as chiefs using the indigenous term in light of the fact that there were other chiefs in meeting.
National Heritage Council (NHC) briefing
Adv Sonwabile Mancotywa, Chief Executive Officer of the National Heritage Council, said that the Committee would remember that part of the Heritage Council’s mandate was to advise government on the repatriation of heritage objects such as human remains and audio visual products.
Adv Mancotywa presented on the history of David Stuurnam, the roles and mandates of various stakeholders including the NHC, the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) and the traditional leaders who had attended discussion on the matter. He stated that the importance of the matter was shown in the mandate that the NHC and SAHRA had been given by the government.
Adv Mancotywa identified the stakeholders in the endeavour as the Department of Defence and Military Veterans, the Office of the Premier of the Eastern Cape Province, South African Navy, Department of Arts and Culture, Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Department of Arts Sports and Recreation in the Eastern Cape Province, SAHRA, Nelson Mandela Bay Metro Municipality and the Robben Island Museum Council. He spoke to issues of inclusivity, participation, facilitation and membership nomination.
Adv Mancotywa said that the Khoisan leadership had been talking about the issue and had mobilised society. This was an emotive issue as when one talked about the icon it was about someone who led a rebellion but who also could be a symbol of unification within the country.
He said the process had been going on in a haphazard way but at least now there was a more focused process which was being run by the people of South Africa. There were frameworks that ensured that the process was done in a dignified way. This was an opportunity that the people of South Africa must not miss to engage in unification.
National Khoisan Council (NKC) briefing
Mr Cecil De Fleur, Chairperson of the National Khoisan Council, gave the history of the Khoisan Nation. He said to reflect on the matter was a huge task and he would try and do it ‘in a nutshell’. He said it was widely known that there are people who call themselves ‘the first indigenous people’ and this had caused a great deal of debate in political and social spaces. The Khoi and San people had been in the Southern part of Africa long before any other people. This knowledge had been procured from oral history, geology and anthropology. It was not his intention to go into the debate, he merely sought to reflect that as long as human memory went back the San people had been in South Africa.
He spoke about the nomad history of the San people and how they had been hunter gatherers moving around the whole country. The original group split into pastoralists and hunter gathers. This had been as a result of lifestyle changes as well as variations in genetic make up. They begun to look different from the San people from whom they derived. Today some people did not understand the difference between Khoi and San. The difference was that around 2000 years ago they split and became the two different entities. In 1828 a German anthropologist did research on the Khoi and San people and came with the assumption that the Khoi and San people were the same and termed them KhoiSan people. It was also known that with colonisation, the Khoi and San people were given other labels such as ‘bushman’. He said that a great number of Xhosa communities were coming forward and saying that they were part of the Khoisan people and associated with them. The Khoi people split into sub groupings and tribes under certain leadership.
The first war in South Africa was when the Europeans came to the shores and the Khoi Khoi people fought them. For the first 110 years of colonisation the colonial powers only interacted with Khoi and San people. Only after that did they meet with the Xhosa farmers. By that time the so called ‘coloured thing’ had started as settlers had come here and ‘not with wives so you could only imagine’. Coloured people also drove Khoi people out of their geographical settlements within the area. He stated that there had been mixing amongst the white people, Khoi people and even with slaves that had been brought from other places and escaped. He quoted Thabo Mbeki’s ‘I am an African speech’ but stated that the speech had been incorrect in saying that the Khoi San had perished and he was issued an apology a year later. He mentioned that the Khoi people were the first to be dispossessed to the extent that prior to 1994 the Khoi had no land whatsoever. The government had now provided the opportunity to look back at dispossession prior to the 1913. When it had been requested at CODESA that it look further back than 1913 as this did not take into account the whole history of the Khoi, the request had been ignored. They were now grateful to President Zuma for allowing this opportunity. He was aware that this was a contentious issue and could cause tension in the country but a solution needed to be reached. He noted that there had been a great delay in passing the National Traditional Affairs Bill and there seemed to be no reason why. He hoped the Committee could investigate as to why the bill seemed ‘stuck’.
Mr Errol Heynes, former deputy Mayor of Port Elizabeth Municipality and Chairperson of South End Museum, said the museum had become involved as it was a museum that looked at forced removals. When they had delved into functions and priorities, they found that forced removals did not only take place during apartheid but a great deal earlier when the settlers had arrived in the country. What the settlers had done was one of the first examples and David Stuurman was one of the first revolutionaries in the country. It was important to highlight those who had fought the first settlers and fought colonisation before apartheid. David Stuurman had been arrested and had escaped and been on the front line of initial struggles against colonial powers. He opposed the recruitment of Khoi people to the British ranks and launched attacks on colonial farms. Stuurman eventually died in Australia after being taken there. There was now the issue of getting back his remains. There had been no cooperation from the Australian government in getting back the remains. There were questions of where were the remains and how was South Africa to get them back. The good thing was that there was now a ‘fire’ that had been lit and the issue was being highlighted by a number of actors including the NHC.
Mr Denver Webb, NHC Heritage Panel Member, stated that there were various legal (both national and international) considerations that needed to take place as well as the consideration of what stakeholders were to be involved. There was a need for an inclusive process and the cooperation of the two governments. There were many matters that came into the picture when it came to the repatriation of heritage items such as grave location and DNA identification. He stated that there was a great deal that could be learned from the Sara Baartman process (see document).
Adv Mancotywa stated that he was happy at the level of cooperation that the project had met. He thanked the Committee for its help and stated that a national debate would bring the issue back into the limelight.
History of Africa
The Chairperson said that their history as Africans was not written correctly. There had been too much of a focus on European history.
Ms F Mushwana (ANC) said that there was a need to re-write our history properly. She said that although there was a need to unite, this could not be done at the expense of some people.
Adv Mancotywa replied that it had been noted by visitors to South Africa that the memory of indigenous people lay below the monuments of settlers. Indigenous people did not have strong monuments.
Mr Anthony Petersen, Deputy Chairperson of the NKC, replied there had been a void in the historical knowledge and this void would continue, if there were not moves made to remedy the situation.
Ms H Van Schalkwyk (DA) agreed that the history needed to be re-written. However, it was important not to wipe out things from the past when trying to promote things from the present (referring to the idea that some statues reminded people of the bad past of South Africa and were being removed).
Adv Mancotywa replied that the idea of preserving heritage was one that was important. There was a need to showcase all of the history of South Africa and it needed to be a matter of preservation. Heritage needs to be funded.
Role of the Department
The Chairperson asked what the role of the Department was in all this?
Mr Vusithemba Ndima, Department Deputy Director General of Heritage Promotion and Preservation, replied he did not want to pre-empt the decision of the Minister on how to proceed, however he had been privileged to be part of a meeting with various stakeholders. The Department would continue to support the NHC however he felt at some point there was a need for a comprehensive document to be presented to the Minister that outlined what was expected from himself and the Department. This would allow the Minister to take a proactive decision.
The Chairperson asked if anyone had claimed to be part of David Stuurnman’s lineage?
Mr De Fleur replied that he had made the suggestion that not too much prominence be given to the close family and that the remains be brought back for South Africa. If it was broken down further, then it could be looked at in terms of the Khoi people and then family could be brought in. There were attempts to avoid issues of family tension and the contentious nature of focusing on close family. He knew this could be a controversial statement but it was up for deliberation.
The Chairperson said that the question had been raised in terms of DNA and identification.
Mr Webb replied that it did not have to go down to DNA. There were other ways of identifying that the remains were from Africa and as long as there was consensus. Not many Africans had been sent to Australia and they had all gone to different places. It all came down to probabilities.
The Chairperson said that it was important to make sure that the right person was brought back.
The Chairperson asked who had been lobbied within government, especially in terms of the lack of the cooperation with the Australian government?
Mr Andrew Jordaan, Member of the Khoisan Task Team, replied that the political support that was being rallied begun with the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and a council resolution had been taken in which the Municipal Council fully supported the initiative. A dedicated councillor had been appointed to ensure a political task team was established. There had been the seeking of support from the provincial government which had been done successfully. There had been pushes from people within the NKC in their various political capacities and connections. There had been the rallying of the media as the matter had been showcased on TV and in newspapers. There had also been a meeting with the National Heritage Resources Agency and interaction on that.
Literacy and teaching the people
The Chairperson said that some people were not literate and could not read the documents produced. How were these people being reached?
Ms Mushwana stated that there was a need for all people to be informed. It needed to be told to all people.
The Chairperson asked what other institutions had given support as there were a wide array of skills needed for this endeavour.
Africans and the remains of the forefathers
Mr S Ntapane (UDM) said to Africans the remains of our forefathers was important and this was another reason that the remains needed to return.
Department of Rural Development
Mr Ntapane noted that the Department of Rural Development was taking seriously the issue of opening up historical exploration to encompass times before 1913.
British and Australian government
Mr Ntapane said that although there had been mention of the lack of Australian government cooperation, this whole mess was due to the British government. He also found it improbable that the Australian government could not find the remains of David Stuurman.
Mr Ndima replied that possibly some form of government to government interaction could aid in this matter.
Adv Mancotywa replied the international relations process had been formalised and DIRCO had been contacted, in particular, the directorate that dealt with Australia. This directorate was to hold a meeting to discuss the matter. There had also been a bi-lateral agreement with Australia on culture and this matter would be raised. He went on to say that the issue of the atrocities against people within this country had not been raised. The role Britain played was a ‘debt unacknowledged’. There had been many acts committed by the British, many of which had not seen an apology forthcoming.
Joint parliamentary committee meetings
Mr Ntapane said that there needed to be joint committee meetings on the issue with all relevant parliamentary committees.
Role of the NHC
Ms Mushwana asked what the role of the NHC was. The NHC was placed in a position to lead.
Use of the word chief
Ms Nwamitwa-Shilubana said she had learned a great deal today. She pointed out that the word ‘chief’ was not to be used as this was a means of undermining traditional leaders during colonisation. She thus urged that the term not to be used.
Ms Nwamitwa-Shilubana asked if the project time frame would be adhered. There were a great number of stakeholders and there was a need for all of them to be brought together and the matter to become a priority.
National Traditional Affairs Bill
Ms Nwamitwa-Shilubana said she was not sure why the National Traditional Affairs Bill* had not gotten off the ground. The National House of Traditional Leaders was the entity that could help with the issue. [The Bill seeks to consolidate the National House of Traditional Leaders Act, 2009, and the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, 2003 and provide for the recognition of Khoi-San communities, leadership positions and structures.]
The Chairperson said that she would raise the issue in the proper forums as, if there were challenges, then people needed to know what they were.
Adv Mancotywa replied that this Bill was important. The issue was that indigenous knowledge had been commercialised. There was a need to look at the WTO and see how to protect indigenous knowledge.
The Chairperson commented that there was never a move to wipe out any part of the history but there was a need to note that there were some reminders of history that were offensive. There was a move not to wipe out parts of history but to make sure all history was incorporated. For example in the Northern Cape, there was literally nothing that spoke to the history of the Khoi people. There was a need for the Committee to engage in the debate.
Mr N Van Den Berg (DA) said that being a part of this Committee enriched his life. Nation building and social cohesion was a journey and the history of present day South Africa was a short one. It was important that no one acted as if they ‘owned’ the process of documenting and bringing to light the issues of the Khoi.
Mr P Ntshiqela (COPE) said that he would be happy if there was a congress of the Khoisan. A great deal had been said on oppression and more needed to be written about it.
Mr Ntshiqela asked how far had this initiative gone in terms of public participation?
Mr Ntshiqela asked if the Khoi-San language was now being widely spoken. This was important as the Khoisan people were a nation and not just a people.
Mr Anthony Petersen, NKC Deputy Chairperson, replied that language was important but it had been told that the language needed to be developed to a certain level. There was also the issue that the Khoi and San people were not officially recognised. If one did not know who the people were, then how could one cater officially for the people?
Ms L Moss (ANC) said that the Committee needed to visit the places that had had come up as being part of the history.
The meeting was adjourned.
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