The Khoisan indigenous people — South Africa’s first inhabitants have camped outside the Seat of government demanding the official recognition of their languages and to negotiate land ownership.
For the past two years, these Khoisans have been camped outside this facility and are likely not to leave until their demands are met. Union Buildings is an imposing 110-year-old structure that has housed colonial, apartheid, and democratic leaders including Mandela and now President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“We will wait here until we have what we came for,” said one protestor describing himself King Khoisan South Africa. They also want the word “coloured” — the mixed-race tag they have been carrying since apartheid and which is still largely used in official documents — to be abolished.
Ramaphosa last year signed into law the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act, which grants more autonomy to the Khoisan community. But some of the Khoisan remain unsatisfied and see the law as the starting point for a constitutional and cultural struggle. The Khoisan have been referred to in the past as “Bushmen” — and when the Dutch settlers landed in South Africa in the 17th century, they called them Hottentots, a word derived from the famous clicks in their languages.
In one of the grimmest episodes of colonial times, a Khoisan named Sarah Baartman was taken to Europe in the early 19th century by a British doctor and paraded as an anatomical freak — the “Hottentot Venus,” who people could see and touch for a fee. Abused and sick, she died in poverty, and her remains were displayed in a Paris museum. They were returned to South Africa in 2002 and buried with honour in the Eastern Cape. Her tale is described in “Black Venus,” a 2010 French film directed by Abdellatif Kechiche.