Home Opinion and Features Restoring the dignity of the Khoi-San and descendants

Restoring the dignity of the Khoi-San and descendants


OPINION: We can practically demonstrate inclusivity, diversity and equity, for a people who, for a long time, have felt marginalised and rightly so.

Khoi rock art depicting European colonists in ox wagons on the walls of a cave on Groenfontein farm in the Koue Bokkeveld around 250km from Cape Town. Picture: EPA/Nic Bothma

By Dr Wallace Amos Mgoqi

BY NOW, it has become common knowledge from the writings of historians like Dr Ruben Richards and others on the history of this part of Southern Africa/Azania that the original inhabitants, the Khoi-San tribes were not only colonised, but also dispossessed of all they possessed: their land, their livestock, their language and culture, and worst of all, they were subjected to genocidal killings, and only a remnant survived whose descendants we know today as so-called Coloureds.

In my previous writings on this matter, A Decade of Restoration, highlighting the importance of honouring the heroes and heroines of the Khoi-San as a form of recognition of what their ancestors had to go through, having been the first to come face-to-face with the brutality of conquest. Some of it is captured in the words of former president Thabo Mbeki when he said:

“I owe my being to the Khoi and the San, whose desolate souls haunt the great expanses of the beautiful Cape. They, who fell victim to the most merciless genocide our native land has ever seen. They, who were the first to lose their lives in the struggle to defend our freedom and independence, and they, who as a people, perished in the result.”


He continued …

“Today, as a country, we keep an audible silence about these ancestors of the generations that lived, fearful to admit the horror of a former deed, seeking to obliterate from our memories a cruel occurrence which, in its remembering, should teach us not and never not be inhuman again.”

At a meeting held recently on October 21, 2021, in Retreat, addressed by the former Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng, Dr Henri Meyer made the following statement during question time:

“Justice Mogoeng, you’ve captured the world’s attention with your unequivocal support for the Jewish Nation, and in the process, you‘ve earned the admiration and support of sections of the Christian and Jewish communities. If you were prepared to do so for a foreign nation, who rejected and crucified the Lord Jesus Christ, and who, up until today, still do the same, would you, and are you prepared to invest the same amount of time, resources and energy to do so for the Aboriginal peoples of this land? To which former Chief Justice Mogoeng replied in the affirmative, for as long as there is breath in his body.

Dr Meyer concluded his input by making the critical point that:

“Holistic healing will never happen in South Africa until, and unless we deal with the merciless genocide that sought to decimate and obliterate our ancestors.”


Lest we are found guilty of the charge of “keeping an audible silence about this matter”, it is incumbent upon us to do those things which are in our capacity to do, otherwise, the bench of history will judge us harshly. We shall be found guilty for acts of omission when we knew what happened and did nothing by way of reparation for the healing of the descendants of the victims of genocide. We live with them daily and know them personally and are familiar with their pain, they live with every day, as they look themselves in the mirror.

Countries all over the world that have a similar history of committing atrocities against indigenous peoples are to this day haunted by those atrocities and are grappling with making amends. Canada, right now, is grappling with the practice of the children of the indigenous people who were forced out of their families, raised in church schools, among others, denied their right to speak their native language and their way of life (culture) derided, and were alienated from their true identity in order to be assimilated into the mainstream Canadian way of life. Australia and Zealand are also seized with finding ways of compensating the indigenous peoples of those lands.

Our Constitution in the Preamble states:

“We, the people of South Africa, recognise the injustices of our past;

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and


Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We, therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to – Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;

Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;

Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and

Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.”

A Proposal to begin the process of reparation in recognition of the injustices of the past, as they affect the Khoi-San and their descendants; honouring those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land, is the following :

All entry points into Cape Town/Table Mountain (which were the first place targeted for human settlement by both the Dutch and the British) be renamed by the National Place Names Board, in the name of one or other of the original leaders of the Khoi-San – the N1, N2, N7, R27, and the satellite roads linking to national routes.


An example of such renaming could take the following format:

N1 – Krotoa

N2 – Stuurman (he used this route frequently, to the Eastern Cape, as a military leader who, among other things, together with Chief Maqoma – son of King Ngqika of Ama-Xhosa, planned the sinking of the British military ship, the Birkenhead which sank near Hermanus/ Gansbaai area in 1852.)

N7 – Xhore (a military commander in his own right, who allegedly was killed by the Dutch for refusing to supply them food), the Griquas, from the political bullying at the Cape into the Northern Cape, later traversed the land across the Free State, past Lesotho and finally settled in today’s Kokstad)

R27 – Autshumato – of whom Nelson Mandela spoke with special fondness for this revolutionary leader. Very little is known about him – he was trained and educated in Batavia, the commercial headquarters of the VOC.

There are other leaders to be taken into account. This is just planting a seed, hoping that it will germinate and bear much fruit.

The Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has recently appointed a Commission to investigate matters relating to honouring the Khoi-San.


Its members should refine this proposal and take it forward to practical implementation.

The Commission is chaired by Mr Nico Adam Botha, deputy Mr Douglas Langley Bennett. Other members are Ms Nokubonga Nokwanda Mazibuko-Ngidi and Professor Edna Van Harte, as published in a Government Gazette dated 25 August 2021, No .45044.

The Minister of Transport would have to take charge of this assignment as well, to ensure that it is done inexpensively and with minimum disruption.

Use of the land to attain developmental goals.


The Department for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs must lead the charge in seeing to the implementation of Section 153 of the Constitution, which, among others, provides as follows:

Developmental Duties of municipalities

A municipality must structure and manage its administration and budgeting and planning process to give priority to the basic needs of the community, and to promote the social and economic development of the community, and participate in national and provincial development programmes.

This section of the Constitution can be used in favour of paying attention to the reparation challenges facing government in relation, in particular, to indigenous communities.


It must be remembered that municipalities have municipal commonage land in every town as introduced by the British government after the second British Occupation of the Cape in 1806. These commonages have over the years been used in racially skewed ways, in some cases to benefit rich businessmen who bought their way through the town clerks, in other cases to make them available at nominal rentals, in long-term leases as golf courses.

It is possible that these commonages may remain state land, but access to the land be made possible for productive, profitable and sustainable use to those willing and capable of doing so.

What we have learnt from the past in our land reform process is that it is both dangerous and futile to allocate land to people without preparing them, especially through mentoring to be capable of stewarding the land for the present and future generations.

We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past, such as the very first land claim to have been settled under the Restitution of Land Rights Act No 22 of 1994, as amended. This claim was settled in 1996, two years after the commencement of the restitution process, by myself as the Regional Land Claims Commissioner for the Western Cape and Northern Cape. The restitution process was driven politically quantitatively, in the sense of it being how many claims were settled over as short a space of time as possible.


Consequently, the qualitative aspects of ensuring that there was adequate spatial planning; proper and adequate training of those who were going to use the land; proper and adequate budgeting and resourcing for the needs of the community – an enablement programme.

As a result, those who received the land were involved in internecine conflicts and internal battles to the detriment of any development. In the case of Elandskloof, near Citrusdal, tragically, for twenty-five years. Yet, they received no less than two hundred hectares of land, at the foot of two mountains, with streams of water flowing into a river that runs across the length of the farm, benefiting all the white farmers in the area below, farming in citrus fruits.

Leasing of State land.

The Department of Public Works would also have a pivotal role to play in this mega- reparation exercise as the custodian of State land. There are large tracts of land, including SANDF land, presently lying empty and fallow, which could also be made available to those who would have been trained from the Khoi-San communities, who are willing to use the land productively, profitably and sustainably.

Examples where mentoring has worked:

At the dawn of our democracy, here in the Western Cape, we learnt of a benevolent farmer, who, upon the introduction of the land reform programme, excised a portion of his farm for the benefit of his farmworkers.


He allowed them time to work on it as they did the normal duties on his farm, with some mentoring.

The person who did this was one of the eight short-listed candidates to become the new Chief Justice, Mr Allan Nelson. There are many others about whom little is known. As a nation, we have become masters in highlighting the negative things fuelled by a media that does so for nefarious reasons.

More recently, from 2006 to date near Napier, a young Afrikaner farmer, Kosie van Zyl, who had been favoured by an elderly couple that sold him their farm at a hugely discounted price, came across a group of about thirty destitute Coloured families, whom he asked how he could show them favour as well and to extend the blessing he had received. They replied that as he knew them to be unskilled and uneducated, all they desired was to be given an opportunity to work on a farm. Little did they know at the time that they would be working on a farm for their own account.

Kosie van Zyl approached the local municipality and negotiated a lease of a 640 ha farm for rental to be paid at the end of the year, after harvest.

Upon securing the lease agreement, he established a Trust as well as a Trading Company, with 70-30 % shareholding between the 30 families, and himself and Pieter Blom, respectively, on the understanding that, as mentors, in the tenth year, they would exit the arrangement and sell back their 30 % share to the Trust and Company, which they did in 2016.


He mentored them in growing wheat, barley, oats, and canola. Over time, they acquired a second farm, in their name from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, as well as a donation of R8m from Pioneer Foods to buy another farm, which they bought, with a house on it, which they converted into a guest-house for women to run as a business, as well as a hall which they converted into a hospitality venue to host weddings, anniversary celebrations and other community events.

The trust also acquired its own tractor, sprayer and harvester, which after using on their farm, they would hire to neighbouring farmers for additional revenue. They also bought some high-quality cattle from the Eastern Cape as well as some sheep to rear and sell to the meat market.

In a space of eight years, they had revenues totalling R7.3 million – a people who had been destitute, victims of farm evictions, were now able to feed their families, educate their children up to university, things they never dreamed they would be able to achieve in their lifetime.

Through a process of enablement and mentoring, they were able to turn their misfortunes around. Today, they are a shining example of what people can do for themselves with the necessary support and resources they need. Agri-Dwala is the name of the project: www.agri-dwala.co.za.

There are numerous other case studies we can learn from to avoid the mistakes of our past.


In these small steps, we can begin the journey of breaking “the loud silence about the atrocities of our past, set on a course of healing the wounds and divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights”.

We must do this work together as a nation. It cannot be left to a few nor to government alone. It is too big a burden to carry. Former president Thabo Mbeki was right when he spoke at the handover of restitution land to the Khoi and San at the Kgalagadi and said:

“We shall mend the broken strings of the distant past so that our dreams can take root for the stories of the Khoi and the San have told us that this dream is too big for one person to hold. It must be dreamed collectively, by all the people. It is by acting together, by that dreaming together – by mending the broken strings that tore us apart in the past – that we shall, all of us, produce a better life for you who have been the worst victims of oppression… Here is your land. Take it, look after it, and thrive on it…”

We can practically demonstrate inclusivity, diversity and equity, for a people who, for a long time, have felt marginalised and rightly so.

We must do this work because it is the right thing to do, and the time is long overdue. Asserting the right of the Khoi and the San, one of their descendants, a son of the soil, Bra Don Mattera, once made the point quite poignantly and forcefully thus:


“When the first sun rose,

It found us awake and waiting

Long before they came to this hill

Our footsteps shaped the landscape

Tamed the (Gemsbok)

We rode the wind

Silenced the hurricane

Look at us,

We have been here before.”

History will bestow upon us a garment of honour and praise, and our children and grandchildren and their grandchildren will look upon us with deep respect for having done this thing.

* Dr Wallace Amos Mgoqi has written this piece in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed here may not necessarily be those of the DFA.

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