Sharon Gabie

Since the dawn of democracy many groups of Khoe and San people across the country have been actively involved in the politics of revivalism and advocating for the recognition of their identity. The recognition of one’s identity is layered, and recognition must be holistic, including culture, heritage and land that is inclusive of the ocean for coastal communities. When one considers the concept of cultural manifestation seen among the Khoe and San people, they must think of issues surrounding dispossession, exclusion, and continual ethnocide through the non-recognition of this cultural group. Recognising the identity of this group of people means that you recognise their right to land and their rights in the ocean economy, that includes the different types of rituals Khoe and San people are doing to comply with a concept of cultural manifestation. The act of recognition is not a standalone endeavour. This piece of writing highlights the political dynamics of these groups and its impact on the cultural heritage impact assessment reports.

Khoe and San people’s culture exists and they as a people are not frozen in the historical imagination of colonialism and apartheid as popularly asserted by the ‘I am an African’ speech of the former President Thabo Mbeki in the early 1990s, where he alluded to Khoe and San people as being ‘extinct’. The people interviewed in this research project, under the frame of Ocean Cultures and Heritage regard themselves as indigenous / First Nation or aboriginal peoples descending from the people who first encountered the European settlers who made a home for themselves on the Southern tip of Africa.

In latter years, at the post-colonial turn in Africa, different countries gained independence at different times. To hone the political dynamics of South Africa and Namibia, two geographical areas that were under the control of one system, the apartheid government. Namibia gained its independence from South Africa in the early 1990s and in 1994 power changed hands from the apartheid minority rule to a democratic system of majority rule in South Africa. However, in both spaces indigenous people have been dispossessed and displaced by the ruling system and continue to be marginalised by the democratic systems of both countries. In both countries identity politics is central and linked to the land and sea nexus. By way of example, in Lüderitz, Namibia, what is called the Sperrgebiet, meaning a restricted area, in the memory of Nama people like Mr Freyer, a history teacher, and other people like the Fredericks family in Bethanie, Lüderitz as it is known will always be Nami≠nüs, the name of the people. The area remains restricted and in recent times oil and gas were discovered of the coast of the Sperrgebiet. In the minds of conglomerates this area is ‘terra nullius’, nobody's land, which is a fallacy as the displaced people attach a history and cultural memory to the place.

In the same vein, the indigenous people who lived in the Cape, a geographical space that was once one, now divided into three parts called Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, and parts of the present-day Kwa-Zulu Natal was known as the Cape. The indigenous people who occupied these vast spaces, through their displacement and the formation of identity politics past and present, makes issues of cultural assessment enormous and difficult and it is important to take into consideration the views raised by the indigenous peoples. The unfolding process in South Africa on land dispossession is that it happened before 1913 for indigenous people. Thus current debates regarding cultural impact assessments of various groups have presented a huge task in pinpointing the exact locations of land to prove cultural manifestation and a connection to the sea marred by displacement. The development of coastal land further complicates the exact location of these places of land but is not to say they do not have memory of such places, even though limited at times, they deal with intangible cultural revivalism as best they can in both spaces mentioned here in this piece.


Posted on 20 March 2024 08:59:15

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