'Government must make our language official': Chief Khoisan SA


Shane Plaatjies, Christian Martin, Chief Khoisan SA, Brendon Billings and Christian Martin speak to Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Director General Mzamani Mwaila on Monday on the lawns at Union Buildings.

PRETORIA – Four men dressed in traditional Khoisan attire, who have been camping outside Union Buildings for nearly two weeks as a protest to force an audience with President Jacob Zuma, on Monday said there was “light at the end of the tunnel” when they met Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Director General (DG) Mzamani Mwaila.

The Khoisan tribesmen say they walked barefoot for 18 days from their homes in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, to reach Pretoria, with an intention to meet Zuma or his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa. It has been 11 days since they arrived and set up camp on the lush greens at the Union Buildings – the official seat of the South African government.

READ: Khoisan march to Parliament to demand land rights

Unlike their tribal attire, the men have erected four modern tents near the statue of Nelson Mandela, They have circled their camp with seed pods. They also used the pods to write telling words “First Nation” inside the circle.

Bare-chested and wearing only a loin covering made of animal skin, 49-year-old tribe leader Chief Khoisan SA, Shane Plaatjies, 23,  Brendon Billings, 37, and Christian Martin, 37, appeared determined to hand over their memorandum to the president or his deputy.

In the memorandum, the indigenous Khoisan tribe is demanding recognition from the South African government as “first citizens”.

“Our second demand is that government must make our language official,” said Chief Khoisan SA.

When approached by DG Mwaila on Monday, at first the men were reluctant to hand over their memorandum, because they feared it would not reach the president.

But after Mwaila promised them he would make sure his boss Cogta Minister Des van Rooyen, received the memorandum, after which it would be passed onto to the president’s office, they relented.

“For us, it’s a big thing that we were really actually able to hand over the memorandum to the department of Cogta … we said they must use the memorandum to get us to meet the president,” explained Martin.

He, however, said the ultimate aim was to meet Zuma and discuss their grievances.

READ: Don&39;t classify us as coloured, says KZN Khoisan community

The tribesmen said they have been praying and fasting for the last four days. They have survived only on water.

“We just asking for God to give us the power to sustain this fast until we meet the president.”

Chief Khoisan SA said the Land Act must be scrapped or amended because it was making it difficult for them to own land. He said the tribe’s representatives have tried numerous times to raise their issues by going to Parliament in Cape Town, but they felt they were ignored.

He said that is why they will see nobody else but the president or his deputy.

Martin said they want to be recognised as Khoisan, San or Bushmen.

“Why recognise us through the coat of arms, use the language … we are the first indigenous people … Coloureds are not the first indigenous people, the Khoi-Khoi are the first indigenous people,” Martin said. He, however, said the Khoisan don’t have a problem with people who want to be called Coloured.

The men said they came with three small tents and when it rained, water would come inside the tents, but luckily a stranger gave them a bigger and better tent. Well-wishers have given them food. Martin said because they are fasting they gave the food to homeless people.

Despite all the hardship, Martin said they have come far to give up now and vowed they are not going home until Zuma or Ramaphosa addresses them.

“To walk 1,200 km you know what you are busy with, to come sleep here even if it’s for one day you know what you are busy with. We made up our minds … I can’t go home, in my constituency I’m a leader there. I would rather die here than go home,” he declared.

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