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Language course cements Khoi identity


Khoi community members of the Oasis farm in Philippi said they wanted to learn to speak their indigenous language.

Khoisan activist Bradley van Sitters presenting the 2020 Online Basic Foundation of Khoekhoegowab language class from his home in Seawinds near Muizenberg. Picture Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

Cape Town – A Khoi community is solidifying its identity through the Khoekhoegowab language and members are ready to become its next teachers.

The language course, offered by the Khoi and San Unit at the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT), has been pivotal in maintaining an indigenous and endangered language and its culture.

Khoi community members of the Oasis farm in Philippi said they wanted to study more of the Khoekhoegowab language as they took part in UCT’s online course where they live.

One of the students who’s been living on the farm for 10 years, Tazlin Maarsdorp, also known as IHom !Gas (Heaven Servant), described the farm as an oasis surrounded by a concrete jungle.

“There’s so much greenery here. We have a little bit of everything on the farm. There are so many birds and animals; we even have a food garden. It’s like our own nature reserve,” Maarsdorp said.

IAm Khurus (Glenda Herman), Mādawas ( Marina Adonis) and IHom !Gas (Tazlin Maasdorp) are taking part in an Online Basic Foundation of Khoekhoegowab language course at the Philippi Customary Council Koi-San Village  presented by Khoisan activist Bradley van Sitters. Picture Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

Maarsdorp, who began the Khoekhoegowab course in October, said participants spend their evenings together learning and practising the clicks.

“On the farm, I’m not experiencing the course alone. There’s a trauma that comes with it, the trauma of our ancestors being banned from speaking their own language. But we are not doing this for us alone, we are doing it for our future generations” Maarsdorp said.

The significance of learning Khoekhoegowab by the Khoi community, is rooted in the late Chief Kenneth Herman’s vision for the community. Chief Herman died this year due to ill health and is better known in the community as Kai Danab! Nanseb which means Great leader.

His wife Glenda Herman, also known as !Am Kurus (Green Creation), said her husband had a dream for their community.

“He wanted us to teach the language and our customs. At first I didn’t want to do it but after much persistence on his end, I felt he was right and I’m glad…,” Herman said.

Khoisan activist, traditional leader and teacher of Khoekhoegowab at UCT, Bradley van Sitters, also known as Danab ||Hui !Gaeb di !Huni!nâ !Gûkhoeb (a name which bears many meanings including, a leader and yellow walker) said that the chief’s vision was for the community to be self sufficient in farming. He had a dream in which he was moved by the Khoi language. Van Sitters said the farm is a safe place where people can live out their culture without concern or judgement.

“The farm is the outcome of the chief’s vision and now there’s a community that wants to become closer to their language,” Van Sitters said.

Van Sitters said that he’s been teaching the course since last year and the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies, known as the summer school, and the Centre for African Studies at UCT, has opened the doors to people from all ages and walks of life to study Khoekhoegowab.

“The work we are doing is centred around revitalisation and regeneration. There has been a genocide of the language. There’s been a great interest from the older generation who are knowledgeable about history who find the language as a tool of empowerment,” Van Sitters said.

Weekend Argus