Khoisan leaders split over new law, but share one chief concern
The passing of the traditional leadership bill has divided leaders in the Khoisan community
Khoisan leaders and law experts are equally divided over the passing of the Traditional and Khoisan Leadership Bill last week, with some describing it as a historic moment, while others dismissed it as an injustice.
Khoisan leader Christian Martin told Times Select the bill would create new opportunities for the Khoisan community, but Kaptein John Cornelius Witbooi, of the Nama community in the Western Cape, believed it addressed none of their concerns.
Monica de Souza, deputy director at the Land and Accountability Centre at the University of Cape Town, said the bill discriminated against Khoisan leaders, but political analyst Levy Ndou said it would finally give the Khoisan the recognition they had longed for.
The bill was passed last Thursday during a special sitting of the national council of provinces (NCOP). Among other things, the bill will enable Khoisan leaders to be recognised and become part of formal government structures such as the traditional council of leaders.
“This is a historic moment for us. The passing of the bill is a right step, as it will fill that desire to belong the Khoisan people have longed for more than 367 years,” Martin said.
Martin dismissed criticism against the bill, saying it was a step in the right direction, but added he hoped land would one day be allocated to the leaders.
“What is a chief without land? He’s just like a rhino without horns,” he said.
Khoisan leader Chief Khoisan SA rejected the bill, mainly for the land reason, saying it did not address their demand to be declared the first and rightful owners of South African land. He also wants the language to be declared an official language.
Witbooi agreed: “If the president passes this into law, it will be an injustice. We are very unhappy with the bill, as it is because it doesn’t address any of our concerns.”
Khoisan communities wishing to be recognised in respective provinces will have to apply with their premier for recognition, and then an advisory committee will make recommendations to the premier. The appointed leaders will receive salaries from the government.
De Souza said the bill was discriminatory.
“The bill only recognises two hierarchical levels for the Khoisan leaders, while for other traditional leaders, it’s four hierarchical levels,” De Souza explained. Political analyst Levy Ndou said the bill would give the Khoisan the recognition they asked for.
“Remember that the Khoisan people staged a protest at Nasrec entrance [in December 2017 during the ANC’s 54th national policy conference] from the beginning of the conference because they wanted recognition. They also at some point staged a protest at the Union Buildings, where they had a discussion with the president [Ramapahosa] when he was still the deputy.
“The passing of the bill simply gives the people what they always wanted: to be recognised as an indigenous group of the South African population,” Ndou said. The Democratic Alliance in the Western Cape was the only province not to support the bill. Its chief whip, Cathleen Labuschagne, said she believed it suppressed the rights of Khoisan communities.
“For instance, the criteria in which the traditional leaders of the Khoisan people are elected and appointed is not the same as how other traditional leaders are appointed. The bill requires for the Khoisan leaders to apply annually in order to be recognised, which is not the case for other traditional leaders. This is clear prejudice,” Labuschagne told Times Select. The bill now awaits the president to sign it and pass it into law.