By SIYAMTHANDA PONGCO
The Commission on Khoi-San Matters kicked off its campaign in the Eastern Cape this month for communities and leaders who wish to apply for recognition under the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act.
But, Makhanda-based Khoi-San leader Jean Burgess opposes the Act and will not be attending.
Burgess says her identity does not lie in status bestowed by government legislation but in who she is “intrinsically inside of her spirituality” – through her relationship with her ancestors and Mother Earth.
Burgess says she witnessed how the colonial and apartheid systems’ obsession with creating and classifying identity imposed a ‘coloured’ identity on the first indigenous people of South Africa.
Apartheid did not only affect her on a personal level but heavily impacted the long history of indigenous cultures.
Born on Raglan Road (now Jacob Zuma Drive), her family was forcibly removed from the area by the apartheid government in 1963. Her grandmother passed away the following year – her mother died ten years later. Neither could bear being forcibly removed from the earth they were born to.
Burgess said in her culture, it is the role of the father to bury children’s placentas in the back yard – with Mother Earth.
Hers is buried in Raglan Road.
Burgess said the Act is a “Bantustan policy”. It tells people that wearing an animal skin – an external expression of identity – significantly tells you who you are. “My internal expression of identity is more powerful than my external expression”, she said.
The Act needs to be critically analysed and evaluated, Burgess said.
“Why must we, as the first indigenous people of South Africa, have to apply for recognition? In which Act in the post-apartheid era does it say that you Siyamthanda [the journalist writing this article]must apply to be recognised as Xhosa? Which nationality has to apply for membership to their birthright? This is what the Act now tells us.”
“This act is being applied in the same way as the dompas [pass]system created to annihilate and freeze the KhoiSan people in time and space”, she said.
The Commission on Khoi-San Matters has recruited several scholars – historians, anthropologists and the like. But, Burgess said, “It was these very same historians who wrote the Khoi-San out of history – that assisted the government of the time to create identities by calling us ‘coloureds’ so that we didn’t have a claim to the land.”
Burgess said the Act is a “strategic plan to write the first indigenous people of South Africa out of history”.
“What the Act does is that it ‘recognises’ – but it does not acknowledge nor accept the Khoi-San people as the first indigenous people. And this is a true reflection of how the first indigenous people of South Africa are treated.”
A clause in the Act reads: “The provisions of this Act relating to the recognition of a traditional or Khoi-San community or leader shall not be construed as bestowing upon such a community or leader any special indigenous, first nation or any other similar status.”
Furthermore, Burgess said, the Act is already a violation of a citizen’s right because there was no informed prior consent regarding the Act. “The people must be informed first, and they must know the repercussions of the Act.”
“People accept the act because they have not internalised first indigenous identity”, Burgess said.