THE NATIONAL QUESTION: Over the last decade I have constantly raised the issue of the failure of the ANC to deal with the National Question. Over the past few weeks suddenly all sorts of people are talking about this failure and indeed about the National Question. Much of the recent use of the term is quite garbled and have simply used this as a label for their cause, rather than understanding the actual content of what has been a debate in liberation politics since the 1930s. Let me contribute to this debate in the South African context.
Firstly it is important to note that the question of what is meant by the term “Nation” is highly contestable. There are numerous laisser-faire interpretations of the term. In theories engaging the National Question there is also a distinction made between “Nationalities” and “Nations”. The concept of “Nation” particularly as we use the term politically is fairly modern and European and has everything to do with the rise of the “Nation-State” and “Nationalism” in the last 500 years in Europe and spreading out to the colonies. It took shape especially after the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the 30-year-war in Europe, when the concept of “Westphalian sovereignty” was introduced. This concept was exported to Africa with the European carving up of Africa by the British, French, Portuguese, Germans, Belgians, Spanish and Italians. The concept has no real place in San and Khoena culture where it is now vociferously used, and only some similarities can be found among political cultures such as Zulu and Xhosa which moved in the direction of uniting clans and tribes with different histories into singular national groups. Before the Peace of Westphalia in Europe there also was no firm idea of “Nation” and “Nationalism”.
The National Question in South Africa is framed by a simple twist of fate in the form of two forces within colonialism, the Boer and the British, declaring as part of the peaceful ending of their conflict, a territory with defined borders known as the Union of South Africa. In 1961 this territory and its political controllers the National Party founded on Apartheid principles, seceded from being a British Crown colonial state to becoming an independent republic and “South African Nation”, whatever that meant. The notion of SOUTH AFRICA and SOUTH AFRICAN NATION arose out of the Act of Union pretty much like the consequences of the Peace of Westphalia.
From the beginning not all who lived in South Africa had full national status as it would be defined by modern international definitions of democratic nation states. A hierarchy of rights emerged that was based on colour and ethnicity between 1910 and 1950 a system was developed that would in fact deny any semblance of full national status by all persons of colour within the territory, economy and social-political infrastructure of the South African State. Effectively it was a “Whites-Only” state and nation.
Regulated silos of second, third and fourth class status for people of colour, with only token citizenship, was imposed on the majority of inhabitants of South Africa. Four silos determining status were set up to rigidly determine how the lives of each Apartheid defined national group be determined – White, Asian, Coloured and Native. Only the white silo had any form of self-determination.
The Apartheid ideological concept however was a work in progress that developed into a grand scheme within its first decade of implementation. Those categorised as ‘Natives’ would later be collectively labelled first as Bantu and then as Black, with the latter having a very specific ethnic meaning rather than the international meaning when referencing all people of colour. A number of ‘native’ or ‘aboriginal’ peoples were also not included in the ‘native’ silo, but rather co-opted into the ‘Coloured’ silo.
With the advent of Apartheid and in terms of its ‘separate development’ ideology the White minority Apartheid regime determined that a semblance of highly controlled self-determination would be imposed on those labelled ‘Natives’. The Apartheid government unilaterally decided which groups would be recognised as tribal ‘nations’ and what land would be apportioned and which leaders would be recognised and when ‘independence’ for such territories and leadership could be recognised and under what constraints. In this way Apartheid created “Nation-Consciousness” on ethnic formations and promoted ethno-nationalism as their contribution towards resolving the “National Question” which indeed was only a “Question” in the first place because of the unilateral creation by the British and the Boers of a South African state with its diverse collection of people brought together in a modern state construct to resemble the “Nation-States” that emerged in Europe.
A huge conundrum existed in the form of what constituted being labelled and marshalled as ‘Coloured’. Over four centuries up to 1904 a number of peoples with different roots were thrown together in sharing common experiences of enslavement, dispossession of identity, land and resource dispossession, oppression, repression, marshalling, ethnocide and genocide. A Cape Colony was developed over 176 years at the expense of the indigene Khoena and /Xam people of the Cape. In a series of 15 wars, step by step, over 176 years, what became the Cape Colony was established by ethnically cleansing the Cape of its indigene peoples. Tribal leadership, traditions and infrastructure were destroyed and the people were pacified and turned into labourers or military conscripts. Others fled, constantly keeping ahead of the onslaught until there was nowhere else to move and take up abode. In this process different peoples – Indigenes, Slaves (majority of whom were indigene Africans – others Indigene Asians) found themselves making common cause to survive and integrating at every level.
Indigenes livestock were appropriated and their sustainable livelihoods as once successful farmers destroyed. The original port of Cape Town and its business operations with the outside world was the first to be appropriated from 1652. As all of this was happening to the indigenes thousands of slaves were brought to the Cape from India, Southeast Asia and from Madagascar and Africa. The largest numbers were from Africa and Madagascar numbering some 45 000, plus 17 500 from India, Sri Lanka and Bengal, and 13 200 from a wide variety of countries in Southeast Asia. Their children and children’s children were all born into slavery generation after generation.
When slavery ended in 1834 another epoch started with imported indentured labour largely from Africa and India but also from elsewhere; and alongside that for a range of reasons a wide range of migrants of colour poured into South Africa, peaking with the Anglo-Boer War. Migrants of colour included enforced banishments from territories occupied by the Dutch and later the British from elsewhere in the world, as well as others who freely travelled to South Africa to make new lives, or many sent to South Africa as sailors and soldiers. These migrants of colour came from such diverse places as the Americas and Caribbean through to the Philippines and Southern China.
One category of African slaves and later indentured labourers were from South Africa’s neighbouring Southern African states – Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Congo, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. In time they became cut off from their countries and came to be known as Masbiekers in the Cape. What happened to this wide range of peoples is that by a bureaucratic scrawl of a pen, after a conference of census authorities in 1904, that all were labelled as “Coloured”.
There are over 40 roots of the people labelled “Coloured”. Pacified and detribalised generations of indigene Cape Khoena, the Nama, the Griqua, some of the Korana and the tiny few remnants of people with /Xam ancestry were collectively called ‘Hottentots’ in the 1865 census and numbered around 80 000 making up about 30% of those to be classified as ‘Coloured’ in 1904 when they were collectively brought under the single title of “Coloured’.
Over the following years and by the time that full blown Apartheid was instituted the Apartheid authorities while not recognising these indigenes in the same way that they recognised other indigenous African tribes as ‘Natives’, they did create sub-silos for some within the “Coloured” category when “Coloured” was divided into Cape Coloured, Cape Malay, Nama, Griqua, and Other Coloured. The latter category made room for either ‘Whites’ or ‘Natives’ who had married any of these sub-groups or were their offspring. The actual Apartheid Population Registration Act and the Group Areas Act were as clear as mud on these matters. Then there were three categories of Asians – Indians, Chinese and Other Asiatics – the latter being a net to cover any Southeast Asians who found themselves in South Africa or for Indians and Asians who had married and had offspring with Whites or Natives or Coloureds.
There is much complex history involved in all of this evolution in the politics of nation, nationality, national groups, tribes and clans as well as other identity formations, too long to go into here.
The ANC as a NATIONAL Liberation Movement committed to resolving the “National Question” has failed dismally to deal with one of its core reasons for being. In fact like the National Party it has acted in a typically ethnicist narrow nationalist manner when dealing with this thorny issue and nation-building. It has fuelled the fire of discontent in that it has kept alive the monster created by colonialism and Apartheid which pulls us all apart by holding onto the notions of races and race silos and co-relating this to “National Group” status.
The complexity before us has no ONE-FIX solution, but the point of departure with the past should be to relegate the pseudo-scientific concept of ‘RACE’ to the rubbish bin of history and to stoop entertaining narrow ethno-nationalism which is a twin to racism and will inevitably lead to polarisation and racist agitation.
Secondly in South Africa as framed by what we accepted it to be in 1994 we have to acknowledge that we are a country and state made up of diverse cultural heritages and trajectories of different experiences. There are three basic heritage streams that come together in South Africa – Africans, Asians and Europeans.
With the passage of time these Asians and Europeans developed an African allegiance and many characteristics born out of generations of living on this continent, notwithstanding the tensions and contradictions that arise from their having made their homes in Africa. We thus are faced with acknowledging that the continued use of a race-based framework of “White”, “Coloured” and “Black” is mis-focused and results in us not being able to develop into a modern “Nation-State”.
In terms of historical evolution there can be no question that there are Afro-Asians and Afro-Europeans who over many generations have lived in Africa and have to a large extent become estranged from the homelands of their original ancestors. Acknowledging the cultural reality of a coming together of Africa and Asia, and a coming together of Africa and Europe simply respects that the heritage that each carries from Asia or Europe is very real and meaningful to such people as is their African experience. The adoption of recognition of heritage rather than a white race and an Asian race is fundamental to resolving the “National Question”. Here the dropping of the term “white” allows all regardless of pigmentation, who wish to celebrate both their African-ness however they express this and their European-ness. In fact some now thought of as “Coloured” or “Black” or “Asian” may well see their heritage as Afro-European. People can self-identify.
Others may want to self-identify as Afro-Asian and this too may not necessarily be along the lines today expressed as ‘race’. Self-identification as having an African and European and Asian heritage is an inclusive way in which we can build bridges and build national cohesion. We can also on this basis stand up to racism and beat this demon. In no way does this mean that it seeks to bury disparity and unfair gain because of colonialism and Apartheid. That can more be effectively and more focused be tackled by affirmative action based on class. The vast majority of the underclass and dispossessed of South Africa are people of colour and by focussing on class we are much more effectively and justly able to tackle the inequality legacy of the past.
When it comes to the label “Coloured” we really have to tackle a huge problem and contradiction created by the ANC in around 1958 when it chucked out its founding definitions of what constituted the claim of African birth-right, in favour of a prejudiced statement relegating “Coloured” to be a “non-African minority”. The ANC in 1919 in drafting its founding constitution and adopting the term African to replace the term ‘Native’ emphasised an opposite position to that adopted in 1958 where it said that ANY person who has at least one of their forebears who is indigenous to Africa must be accepted as an African.
Effectively in 1958 the ANC pressured by narrow ethno-nationalism made a huge mistake and it took three decades to rectify this mistake. But the damage had been done and the legacy of that mistake has created a trust deficit. The ANC has also continued to see “Coloured” people as a “non-African minority”, and also as “privileged” even although the social and economic profile shows that all the conditions faced by other Africans pertain to the vast majority of those labelled “Coloured”. In many ways this demonstrates the adoption of part of the racist Apartheid ideology, whatever reason is used to justify the continuation of this categorisation.
The resolution of the “Coloured Question” within the resolution of the “National Question” must allow people to unpack and adopt their birth-right to a cultural heritage. There clearly are people with an authentic Nama, San, Griqua, Korana, and Revivalist Cape Khoena framework of their cultural heritage and they would at least make up about 30% of those categorised as “Coloured”. Why should these identifiable formations not have the right to be recognised identities within the African family of identities and express their cultural heritage affiliations? But this resolves the issue just for a minority. What about the others?
I would argue that the dominant heritage of the other component is also African and collectively this heritage must be seen as having some traces of Cape Khoena, but also has strong traces of other South African indigenous African formations. Not only that, but through the slave trade and indentured labour system they have tributaries from the four corners of the African continent. The historical numbers show that the dominant tributary among those categorised as “Coloured” is African.
The other historical tributaries that flow into this heritage identity is dominated by slavery and indentureship, and enforced exile. There are other tributaries that are also characterised by various forms of adversity.
A common thread in the heritage of those labelled “Coloured” is a long and conscious struggle to rise above adversities, most of which were induced by colonialism, slavery and racism. It is in the embrace of indigenous Africans in the Cape which was mutually beneficial to Indigenes and Slaves that an African Creole identity arose. When one interrogates this we are simply left with how do we express this heritage as Africans without reference to colour, race and ethnicity. The answer lies back at the first shoreline frontier and the community of Table Bay that established and ran a successfully port operation.
From the turn of the century as indigenes began engaging in trade with the ships frequently dropping anchor in Table Bay and staying over for lengthy periods of time, a new economic and social phenomenon developed. Maritime records show that over 1071 ships carrying 200 000 travellers stopped off in Table Bay between 1600 and 1652, and engaged the trading and other services of the local population largely without adverse incidents. Some from the various tribes on the Peninsular and in the South Western Cape chose to break from tribal life and formed a non-cattle-keeping way of life. Some of these indigenes went abroad to London and Java and trained in servicing the shipping. They also altered their way of life in many respects. They began to mine much-demanded salt for instance for trade with the ships. Human relations as with all port settlements globally occurred at every level including relations that led to procreation.
A collaboration with the English first supported Autshumaoa’s trading community in helping them settle on Robben Island. When they no longer wished to operate from Robben Island they were resettled at the Camissa River mouth – the source for fresh water for the ships. This community of Camissa people, known by other tribal formations as drifters from those communities were labelled as Goringhaicona – the children of the dominant Goringhaiqua tribe on the Peninsula. It was the proto-port operation at Camissa which was the first indigene resource and institution to be taken over by Dutch colonial aggression. The Camissa footprint is the first reference-point for the dramatic change that was to be experienced by the indigenous population.
Slaves, indentures, migrants of colour and non-conformist Europeans all of whom embraced each other, did so on the foundation of the Camissa embrace or Camissa footprint in history. Today this Camissa River still flows through Cape Town but it has been forced out of site, just like the heritage identity of those who were labelled “Coloured”. The Camissa heritage identity is there to be embraced and recognised and offers an opportunity to give a cultural heritage framework to those descendants who rose above adversity, now labelled “Coloured”.
So all people labelled “Coloured” who wish to self-identify either as one of the five indigene formations based on free association or who wish to identify as Camissa, while asserting their African birth-right gives us the basis for resolving the “National Question”.
All who were seen as “Coloured” can chose to associate with the three heritage streams African, Afro-Asian or Afro-European. All are able to celebrate these heritages whether as Africans – Xhosa, Zulu, Korana, Nama, Cape Khoena, Camissa. Tswana etc, or as Afro- Europeans whether of Dutch, British, German or other heritage, or those Afro-Asians who celebrate either an Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asian heritage. The UNITY IN DIVERSITY thus becomes a union of diverse cultural heritages and not a separation of South Africans into races. In this way we can resolve the “National Question”.
There can be no justification of panel-beating cultures and heritage into one single new heritage. Our national unity would be based on a common appreciation of and respect for diversity in our national make up based on respect for the human rights of ALL. We are challenged to combat racism and narrow ethno-nationalism. The answer to this is to enshrine respectfulness toward diversity of cultural heritage and to ensure that all South Africans get introduced to multi-culturalism and own our multicultural society. Multi-culturalism is respect for all cultural heritages within one national framework. This also enhances our respect for international diversity. That is the basis of building a solution to the “National Question”.
Clearly there are other complexities to also deal with. We cannot ignore that various happenings over two centuries and were fanned by Apartheid to create narrow ethno-nationalist tendencies. One cannot wish away the negative growth of ethno-nationalism. Over time this needs to give way to unification of the human family in South Africa.
The starting point is to acknowledge that most of the tribal formations existent in South Africa today and welded into ethno-national entities and kingdoms are a modern social construct rather than age-old constructs and that the world external to South Africa influenced these formations to come into their modern forms. If we deconstruct the Zulu and the Xhosa today we can easily see what those older formations looked like before the wars of consolidation. Some of this took place prior to colonisation and some post colonisation. In the modern era over the last 500 years we have seen this post-Westphalia political construct of “Nations” come and go with new replacing old frequently. Wars altered borders regularly. Do we really need to go through all of this conflict to get to a place of harmonious and respectful relations?
What we see occurring in some corners of those who are labelled “Coloured” is attempts to artificially recreate tribal formations some of which disappeared before colonisation 600 or more years ago and some which were wiped out by colonisation between 1652 and 1828 in the main. We also see a competing for recognition and resources among narrow ethno-nationalist formations and a high degree of unauthentic claims and aspiration to have what other tribal formations have acquired through deals with various political authorities over time. This cannot be good for anybody and this does not contribute to resolving the “National Question” but rather takes us all backwards in the worst possible way. Effectively it is the old buy-in to ‘divide and rule’ of the past.
To resolve that part of the “National Question” that affects memory and allegiance to the cultural heritage of the Cape Khoena (some prefer to use “KhoiSan” – the German anthropological term) we need to establish that this is a vitally important part of resolving the African heritage of a significant sector of those labelled “Coloured”.
There are however differences about how this is resolved. Questions abound. Some of the key planks of strategies adopted are highly questionable and no amount of attempting to bulldoze the broader South African population and institutions to recognise this approach is going to succeed and in fact is doing great harm to the cause. Here are some of the questions:
Do the attempts at reviving long extinct tribal formations, lacking authenticity, help or hinder the cause? Do misplaced claims of being “First People” or “First Nation” and claims to being “The Only Indigenous People” help or hinder the resolution of the “National Question” and the restoration of cultural heritage? Does the claim that all “Coloured People” are KhoiSan and are the “only True Descendants of the KhoiSan” help us or hinder us in attaining restorative justice for those marginalised and discriminated against because of this indigenous identity?
Does the quest to reconstruct Cape Khoena tribes of the period 1100 AD to 1828 AD assist or undermine the restoration of Cape Khoena revived cultural heritage? These are the questions that need thorough interrogation informed not by cherry-picking at colonial versions of the past, but by a comprehensive and honest look at the past in as many dimensions as can be put together. Does one united organisational formation, for those who have allegiance to revived Cape Khoena cultural heritage, not do more to successfully champion restorative justice, than multiple ethno-nationalist and tribal formations with questionable authenticity and a tendency towards racist outbursts? It is these types of questions that must be considered when we look at the bigger picture of a just resolution to the “National Question”.
Like all other tribal and clan formations of African indigenes in South Africa over the same last 600 years one has seen the bonding together of clans and tribes into larger formations as in the case of the Xhosa and Zulu which are relatively modern entities. This has been the global trend over the last 500 years. The Khoena both in the north – the BaKoni tribes and clans and, in the South – the Cape Khoena tribes and clans had a trend of multiplying by division resulting in vulnerability to becoming part of other formations. Eg: At least 20% of the Xhosa comprise of Cape Khoena absorbed into the ranks of a new formation comprising of Khoena, //Kosa, and various Nguni tribes and clans which became the Xhosa as we know it today. Other Khoena tribes and clans around either side of the Gariep River mixed with the Tswana and the Sotho and the Korana. Indeed it is hard to find Khoena (Khoi) linage that is not part of most African tribes across South Africa. The relatively modern Zulu construct is a mix of Bakoni (Khoena), //Xegwi (Drakensberg San) and Tsonga which gave birth to larger groupings such as the Mthwethwa and Ndwandwe and the many other Nguni formations that drifted southwards or later fled Shaka’s unification drive.
One can track back 12 tribes and clans of Khoena which are part of the base of the modern Xhosa formation, then two in-between tribes, and then a further 8 tribes and clans which faced attrition through the European colonial conquest. These 8 tribes and clans as well as the 2 Xhosa-Khoena tribes fought valiantly against the Dutch and later the British colonial might over a 176 year period when the Cape was ethnically cleansed of its organised social formations of its African population in ethnocide warfare. Besides the 22 Cape Khoena formations alluded to here, there were also 5 more Khoena tribes along the Gariep alongside the Korana (also a Khoena people) to the east, and the Nama to the west (also a Khoena people). The Bakoni all along the Limpopo and across to KZN in the east is a whole story of its own. The Koni people (Bakoni) were at root Khoena people who had mixed with Sotho people and were the first to be called amaNguni long before this referenced the mix of peoples that became the Zulu Kingdom. The origins of the Bakoni goes back to the great Southern African stone-walled settlements that stretch from Mapangubwe all along the Limpopo into Zimbabwe (Great Zimbabwe) all the way to Mozambique. The origins of the Khoena are not in the Eastern nor Western Cape, but rather on the northern fringes of the Kalahari and along the Limpopo. Here local Tshua San not directly related to the Cape San formations known as the /Xam, had relations with East Africans with Nilotic roots, who were pastoralists keeping sheep, and from these relationships around 2300 years ago the Khoena emerged and migrated west, south and east. This history requires much more study but enough research shows us clearly, that although the Cape Khoena were the first people that the Europeans encountered, they were not the “First People of the Cape”, and had indeed over the thousand years before colonisation gradually entered the southernmost territories and through the pastoralism had displaced the /Xam “First People”.
It is important that unauthentic arguments and mythologies designed to create conflict are disposed of if we are to successfully and honestly tackle the “National Question”. All South African peoples can be proud of the different historical heritage that they share with the Khoena peoples who migrated all over South Africa and left their genetic markers. All South Africans also can be proud of and be respectful of the ancient ancestral ties that we have to the different San peoples of South Africa such as the various We Gai and Eis clans, the Khwe and !Xun, the //Xegwi and the /Xam. Their footprint may be feint today but their winds still blow from afar to inform our present
must, in dealing honestly with the past, note in bold lights when we explore our heritage, that during the 176 years of European ethnic cleansing wars, and immediately after, the original and only “First People” of the Cape – the /Xam (Cape San), were virtually wiped out by genocide attacks by European led Commandos comprising of both European and Khoena (60%) troopers. There was no direct ancestral links between the Khoena (Khoi) and the /Xam (Cape San). The /Xam had earlier been displaced from their thousands of years Eastern and Western Cape traditional lands by migrant pastoral groups of Khoena (Khoi) and Xhosa. Post the main genocide thrust against the /Xam people by the Dutch and then British between 1750 and the 1790s, the Nama, Griqua, Orlam, Korana and the British all carried out further genocide attacks on the /Xam (Cape San). By the 1970s only a small handful of very old people existed that had direct links to the /Xam. A few small rural townspeople have indirect tenuous links to the /Xam today. The /Xam or Cape San have been abused by all and continue to have their memory abused today through misappropriation of identity.
The points being made here is that we simply cannot authentically resurrect actual formations destroyed by ethnocide. It’s a very sensitive arena. I personally see this presently as going down the wrong path which will be self-destructive in the long run and succumb to internal conflicts and divide and rule tactics externally. It is also potentially conflictual with all other people in South Africa, the majority of whom are as indigenous as the Cape Khoena claimants. One cannot just conjure up the past most particularly where one only really has European colonial versions of that past to draw on.
With the tiny San formations, and with the Nama, the Korana (although there are here contesting voices from the traditional Korana region and the Western Cape) and in the case of the Griqua the resolution of their cause can easily be negotiated in terms of the recognitions and cautions given by the IWGIA, the ILO, the United Nations and the ACHIPR. It is more difficult with those recognised as the Cape Khoena which is highly fractured and have a very poor and disunited understanding of both the meaning and the content of the support by these international organisations and the protocols of responsibility demanded in return for the support. The support of these organisations is termed in referencing the five formations, not as the ONLY indigenous people of South Africa, nor as the “First People” or “First Nations” having exclusive rights from others, but rather as the indigenous formations who are discriminated against and marginalised. There is a huge distinction to be made in this regard. These organisations are not sanctioning a chauvinistic and narrow ethno-nationalist claim of exclusivity. The ACHIPR stresses the following:
“The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights recognizes the concerns regarding use of the term indigenous peoples in the African context, and that there might be a number of issues specific to Africa that need to be discussed in order to reach fruitful common understandings. Nevertheless, it is the ACHPR’s position that the overall present-day international framework relating to indigenous peoples should be accepted as the point of departure. The principle of self-identification as expressed, for example, by ILO Convention 169 and by the ACHPR’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities is a key principle which should also guide the further deliberations of the African Commission.
As has been argued, it is indeed a fact that Africa is characterized by multiculturalism. Almost all African states host a rich variety of different ethnic groups, some of which are dominant and some of which are in subordinate positions. All of these groups are indigenous to Africa.
However, some are in a structurally subordinate position to the dominant groups and the state, and this leads to marginalisation and discrimination. It is this situation that the indigenous concept, in its modern analytical form and the international legal framework attached to it, addresses.”
The protocols go on to say – “It is of course important that the term indigenous peoples is not misused as a chauvinistic term with the aim of achieving rights and positions over and above other ethnic groups or members of the national community, nor as a term by which to nurture tribalism or ethnic strife and violence. Needless to say, this is absolutely not the spirit of the term.
The very spirit of the term is to be an instrument of true democratisation whereby the most marginalised groups/peoples within a state can gain recognition and a voice. It is a term by which those groups – among the variety of ethnic groups within a state – who identify themselves as indigenous and who experience particular forms of systematic discrimination, subordination and marginalisation because of their particular cultures, ways of life and mode of production, can analyse and draw attention to their situation. It is a term by which they can voice the human rights abuses they suffer from – not only as individuals but also as groups or peoples. If genuinely understood in this way, it is a term by which the groups concerned can seek to achieve dialogue.”
Now as I have previously stated, the San, Nama, Korana, Griqua and Revivalist Cape Khoena have a right to be recognised and not to be marginalised and discriminated against. That is non-negotiable, but in the case of the latter, which is a revived formation the question arises of how they organise themselves optimally and authentically and not in competition with or conflict with other Africans. Once one accepts that we are talking about revival and not the actual past entity, how you go forward has to be carefully constructed, because these groups are reconstructionist exercising self-identification. By taking a narrow ethno-nationalist path groups actually are doing themselves great harm, besides the fact that they are also impinging on the rights of others and this path is counter to finding resolution of the “National Question”.
The trajectory or path down which most have been going is to try and recreate some of the 30 plus tribes and clans that once existed. There is a failure to understand that many of these formations were simply more recent breakaways from older tribes in a process of multiplication by division, and those divisions were detrimental when they had to face adversaries in the form of the colonial forces. There is also a failure to accept that other Khoena tribes and clans exist within supra-tribes that evolved from the same roots.
The formation of many tribes each with kings and queens or other titled leaders is not the route to follow in resolving a dignified place within the resolution of the “National Question”. Unauthentic claims of sole indigene status and insult towards others both undermines Khoena revivalism and the ability to find a just and inclusive resolution to the “National Question”.
I support the Revivalist Cape Khoena’s right to exist and to celebrate their cultural heritage like any other tribe, clan or cultural heritage formation. I also support the struggle of the Revivalist Cape Khoena alongside the San, Korana, Nama and Griqua to overcome discrimination and marginalisation. I further support the framework in which this should occur as established by the UN, IWGIA, the ILO, and the ACHIPR.
I don’t however believe that the divisive, exclusionary and antagonistic path that is presently being pursued is in line with the spirit and ethos of the international support for marginalised indigenous peoples in South Africa nor in keeping with the ethos required to resolve the “National Question”. The Zuma government has mischievously played a ethno-nationalist promotion game with these groups and has not been honest in dealing with them. This is largely because they have NOT ADDRESSED THE BIGGER “National Question” within which resolution of the cultural heritage affinity of a possible 30% of those labelled “Coloured” are expressing the desire to be recognised as legitimately self-identifying with each of the five most marginalised groups facing discrimination. Government is also not addressing the practical and material issues of restorative justice that arises out of these cultural heritage groups. The waters are however muddied on both sides when chauvinistic ethno-nationalism is equated with cultural heritage identities.
Effectively at the end of the line government or the state should not interfere in the realm of cultural heritage groups either as patron or as regulator. Self-identification and association an infrastructure is the business of any cultural heritage group. Only the initial issues of restorative justice, requires the facilitation and intervention of government. Such groups as these five as well as the 70% of people who should be able to celebrate their Camissa heritage rather than be labelled as “Coloured” or a “non-African minority”, and also be facilitated in terms of restorative justice, should be accepted as AFRICANS as part of the South Africa family of Africans. That is how we can realise resolution of the “National Question”.
I pose that it is time for the “Revivalist Cape Khoena” (or KhoiSan) to look at the bigger picture presented here if real progress is to be made. Stop the antagonism towards fellow Africans. Stop the unauthentic claim to exclusively being “First People” or “First Nation” – It is just not true and is a stumbling block to progress. Stop equating “Coloured” to being Khoena or San because this is also simply not true. Stop denying other indigenous Africans the fact that they too have Khoena ancestry and ancient links to the various San groups. Fight for recognition as a single united modern association and manifestation of Cape Khoena and build on that reality. Within that formation, not unlike the 200 year old revivalist Khoena formation that we know as the Griqua, the goals of the Cape Khoena are achievable and powerfully so. Within that single association the old tribe names can be honoured as chapters for organisational purposes right down to grassroots level. This makes sense and will achieve a respected outcome.
I reiterate that only one now extinct tribe, the /Xam of /Xam-ka, were strictly the only “First People” of the Cape who go back thousands of years and all African indigenes in South Africa including the Khoena, other than the !Xam, !Xun, Khwe and //Xegwi, are not indigenous in the old fashioned use of the term; ie. having from time immemorial, existed in a particular sub-region of the continent.
History shows us that the Khoena are a migrant group of pastoralists who evolve from the Tshua or other San groups of the northern reaches of the Kalahari and Limpopo, not directly related to the Cape San. They also evolve from a coming together of East African and Nilotic peoples with a pastoral economy, and those northern San people. The Khoena too are not just the Cape Khoena. Other Khoena, the Bakoni migrated across the west to the KZN east of South Africa as much as the Khoena drifted to the Gariep and through the Eastern Cape down into the Western Cape over more than a thousand years. Most tribes in South Africa have Khoena ancestry and some also have San ancestry. The Khoena wherever they went in South Africa also displaced San hunters by their pastoral practices and the hegemony it created. In the Southeast the Khoena make up at least 20% of the Xhosa ancestry too.
Therefore it is a false fight that is being waged against all and sundry when claims of FIRST and ONLY are made the focus. What should be the focus is to overcome discrimination and marginalisation and that the best way to do this is to establish a modern political framework in the form of ONE association of Cape Khoena People. Once one has such a framework, rather than having multiple claims of heredity leaderships or Kings and Queens et al , the association should have one leadership council of elders. Within that association one could have chapters (rather than recreated tribes) which honour the old tribes by use of their names. It would be invaluable to the struggle against discrimination and marginalisation for such a body to exist and to command respect. To get such respect is not to fight for sectional tribal claims but rather to lead the fight for claims that will improve the position of the communities which members and leaders of the associated come from. Such a united Association could have its own trust, take on the British and Dutch authorities under whose command the atrocities and dispossession took place. It would also be able to more effectively fight for trust land to be used for the homeless and farmless and so on.
Such an association would have its cultural identity and can ally with those with a Camissa heritage focus and support each other. We all can forge a place in a united African family of heritages and in one South African Nation.
The resolution of our “National Question” has to be based on peacefully having ALL South Africans finding a place in a National Framework that breaks away from race and is easily understood even as a child. For me in South Africa I see the focus needing to move from “RACE” and “COLOUR” to mutually appreciated cultural heritage in a diverse society of AFRICANS, AFRO-ASIANS and AFRO-EUROPEANS. Those presently labelled as “Coloured” can self-identify as they wish and if they see themselves as part of the AFRICAN family, they are able to celebrate either one of the five paths that emphasis wholly indigenous roots, or the Camissa path that recognises the coming together of a range of indigenous roots, with slavery roots and other migrants of colour and non-conformists Europeans in the experience of rising above adversity in Africa. This is a real cultural heritage and does not dwell on race or colour.
This outline could be the basis of finding a practical resolution of the “National Question” in all its facets and put to bed the “Coloured Question”. South Africa needs to get to the bottom of this subject and come out of this space so that we can unite in a just and respectful manner towards each other. All political parties, churches and organisations should be dealing with this in a visible manner aimed at an outcome. The ANC once championed the resolution of the National Question” and had as core goal, the building of one nation of diverse peoples and our cultural heritage formations and institutions, but dropped the ball and probably made matters worse. We need to negotiate the way forward in an honest, factual and robust manner. These are just a few thoughts on this issue. When in exile myself and my late comrade Mzala Jabulani Khumalo spent a lot of time talking, writing and researching on this issue and the different ways that it has been tackled around the world. The foundation that we wholly agreed upon was that ethno-nationalism was the antithesis of a just resolution to the “National Question” but that the answer was also not the panel-beating of people into an artificial cultural one-ness. Diverse cultural heritage in one country is a social reality of our times and our fight against colonialism and Apartheid was for the freedom of all our diverse people and the recognition of our different struggles against diversity.
I personally celebrate that I am a South African of Camissa African heritage and proud of it. I have friends who are South African of Cape Khoena African Heritage, of Griqua African Heritage, of Zulu African Heritage, of Nama African Heritage and of Xhosa African Heritage. I also have South African friends of Afro-Asian Heritage and Afro-European Heritage. We live in a country as one nation with diverse cultural heritage and are proud of our diversity. This is how I want to see our future. I don’t want a future filled with race and colour labels, nor a future of ethno-nationalism. Can we get there? What do we do that stops us from getting there? The resolution of the “National Question” requires that at the same time we deal with our past injustices and the legacy of disparity otherwise it would be quite hollow. It requires us to be firm in rejecting colonialism and ideas and practices of race superiority. This requires all to have a critical and honest look at many things that many regard as “normal”.