NEWS 2005


South-African spin-doctors at work


The South-African spin-doctors are at work again here.
In the real Khoisan-speaking people there is not only hope, there is growing anger against those double-gamers and also a clear vision: WE SHALL OVERCOME !
Certainly some of their people have fallen off the track, BUT: JUST LEAVE US IN PEACE ! is now (slowly) amended with "... OR ELSE"!
Maybe the most gentle people in this world find their final survival only in counter-aggression. Guilt would have not to be sought in them, but in US!


The San a "Community Fast Losing Hope"

Moyiga Nduru

JOHANNESBURG, Mar 4 (IPS) - The plight of an indigenous community in South Africa, the San, was placed in the spotlight this week with the launch of a report by the South African Human Rights Commission.

Entitled ‘Report on the Inquiry Into Human Rights Violations in the Khomani San Community in South Africa’, the 35-page document details what commission chairman Jody Kollapen said was "a sad story of neglect and of indifference".

"What we found was a community fast losing hope, which often lacked the means and the ability to function and survive in a world so very different from that to which it is accustomed," he noted. Kollapen was speaking at the launch of the report, which took place Thursday in South Africa’s commercial hub, Johannesburg.

The San, also referred to as Bushmen, are hunter-gatherers who have traditionally inhabited the Kalahari desert – an expanse straddling South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. (‘Khomani’ is the name given to the main San group in the southern Kalahari.)

According to the Working Group for Indigenous Minorities of Southern Africa, there are currently about 100,000 San – the majority of whom live in Botswana (49,000). Namibia has a population of 38,000, and South Africa 4,500. About 6,000 San are also found in Angola, 1,600 in Zambia and 1,200 in Zimbabwe.

Under apartheid in the 1970s, members of the community in South Africa were dispossessed of their traditional lands and dispersed throughout the country. This effectively turned them into an underclass, plagued with drug and alcohol abuse that affects adults and children alike.

The local liquor store in the Askham-Andriesvale area of the Kalahari, where many members of the Khomani live, runs a thriving trade selling ‘killing me softly’ – the name given by the San to a favourite alcoholic drink. Marijuana use has also been reported.

"They drink a lot of alcohol – some of them start drinking at an early age of 14 years. And sometimes when the male relatives return home drunk at night, they go into the girls’ thatched huts and abuse them," Eliot Ndlovu, an activist in the community, told IPS.

"We tell the girls to go and report to the community leaders," he added. Ndlovu works for Rainbow Mantis, a non-governmental organisation which assists the Khomani.

Proper employment is scarce, with most community members making ends meet through craft sales to tourists.

"They have no formal jobs. They sit on the main road to Namibia and tourists give them money," Ndlovu said. "With the money they buy food, but use most of it on alcohol."

In addition, "The Khomani San have no access to water and housing...Yet these are the things that we take for granted in terms of development," Mongezi Guma of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities told journalists Thursday.

Concerns about threats facing the San were brought to the fore early last year with the killing of Optel Rooi, a well known tracker.

On Jan. 3, Rooi and an associate, Silikat van Wyk, stopped at a bar in the Askham-Andriesvale area, apparently to fetch water which they planned to carry home. Two police officers who claim to have been responding to a reported housebreaking then arrived on the premises, prompting Rooi and Van Wyk to flee. A shooting ensued in which Rooi was killed.

The uncertainty surrounding the exact details of the incident, and dissatisfaction with the way in which the matter was investigated have damaged relations between the San and the police.

"We found the community and the police deeply divided. The community simply didn’t trust the police," Kollapen said.

As a result of the community’s complaints, a three-day inquiry was eventually held about Rooi’s death – and the officer who shot him is now facing trial.

The incident also highlighted broader tensions between the San and police, which relate to the involvement of officers in farming and hunting.

In 1999 the Khomani San achieved a historic victory when tracts of land in the Kalahari were returned to them under South Africa’s land reform programme, which seeks to rectify racial disparities in land ownership that date back to the apartheid past.

But some of this land, notably that which formed part of a holding called Witdraai, has previously been farmed by local police, says the commission’s report. It also claims that police have continued "to undertake commercial ventures on Khomani San land...(contributing) to a distorted relationship between the community and the police."

"We feel that the police should only be involved in policing – not farming and hunting," observed Kollapen, adding that he hoped to see the appointment of managers who could help the San engage in agricultural activities on their land.

In a bid to equip the Khomani with the skills they need to survive in a modern world, efforts are underway to educate children from the community – so that members of the San can become aware of their rights.

"So far, the government has repealed 800 discriminatory laws since 1994. Still, it’s difficult to instill the culture of one’s rights into people," Zonke Majodina, deputy chairperson of the human rights commission, told IPS. "People’s equality must be promoted and protected." (South Africa’s apartheid system of racial segregation was brought to an end in 1994, when the country’s first-ever multi-racial elections were held.)

But, as Thursday’s report by the human rights commission notes, San children experience difficulty functioning in a confined school environment, as they are used to moving about more freely. As a result, "They are lured from school by the money they can make and entertaining tourists at stalls selling traditional Khomani San artifacts," says the document.

In July last year a local official took action on this matter, and brought some of the children back to school. "However, there is concern that these children will return to a lifestyle where they can make up to R200 (200 rand, about 34 dollars) a day by entertaining tourists," says the report.

These fears are well-founded. An inquiry by the Department of Education found that a month after being returned to school by the local official, three of the five children concerned were absent from lessons.

Matters are not helped by the fact that facilities to educate San children are less than satisfactory. "Schooling is still rudimentary," says Guma.

"The plight of the Khomani San raises the question on how many others live in such a situation in the country. We have to look out for such abuses and address them," he noted further.

However, it is not only within South Africa’s borders that the situation of the San is raising concern.

In neighbouring Botswana, the Basarwa – as the San are known locally – have allegedly been coerced from their traditional lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to allow authorities to exploit diamond reserves in this region.

Government denies the accusation, claiming that any relocation of the San has been done because the community’s activities are threatening wildlife conservation, and because it wants to improve the Basarwa’s quality of life. (END/2005)

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