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  • The Dispossessed

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    yout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1149889811741&call_pag eid=1020420665036&col=1
    The Dispossessed

    Mike Hutchings, Reuters
    Dancers perform at the burial for Saartjie Baartman in 2002 after the
    aboriginal woman's remains were returned to South Africa from France. Baartman had
    been taken to France in the 1800s as an example of the Khoekhoen female.

    Obed Zilwa, the Associated Press
    A diorama of the traditional Khoekhoen at the South African Museum in Cape
    Town in 2001. Considered demeaning, it was later closed.

    Charles Platiau, Reuters
    A painted plaster cast of Saartjie Baartman made after her death. She had
    been paraded in Europe as the Hottentot Venus.
    com/ Segments=2646,2664,2668&Targets=2529&Values=20,31, 43,51,60,72,86,93,101,
    110,150,152,230,284,342,409,410,421,449,6149,6177, 6254,6265,6321,6323,6396,639
    8,6406,6407,6408,6409,6419,6442,6443,6444,6656,666 1,6677,6679,6681&RawValues=T
    sition=bigbox&HChannel=news) Justice of a kind; For 350 years, the Khoi Khoi
    tribe -- derisively dubbed the Hottentots by Dutch settlers -- have been
    denied access to their homelands. That may be about to change.
    By Steve Bloomfield
    The Independent
    (Jun 10, 2006)
    They are South Africa's first people, but since the first Europeans set foot
    on their soil, they have always been last in line. From the moment they
    encountered the Dutch Afrikaners in 1652, the nomadic Khoekhoen realized these
    visitors were not like anyone they had encountered before.
    The Western colonialists were going to be a permanent fixture of the
    landscape -- and they would change the lives of its indigenous people forever.
    Almost everything the tribe had established over the previous 30,000 years
    was gradually taken away from them.
    The land they had roamed for centuries was taken over by white settlers. The
    pastoral peace which they cultivated for generations was shattered. Much of
    the tribe died out; those who remained were forced into poorly paid manual
    Not even their name would remain; rather they were dubbed "Hottentots" by
    the Dutch -- a pejorative term loaded with the derision with which they were
    As a people, the Khoekhoen were ridiculed as a collection of backward
    curiosities. Many were even brought to Europe during the 19th century to be paraded
    naked for the entertainment of the London and Paris elites.
    They have suffered 350 years of shame and degradation, but, at last, the
    descendants of the first people to meet southern Africa's white settlers may be
    able to return to the land that was once theirs.
    Later this month, the South African government is set to announce a
    multi-billion rand compensation deal and the return of land the South African courts
    have deemed was stolen under racist mineral-rights laws in the 1920s.
    About 4,000 members of the Richtersveld community in the north-west corner
    of South Africa sued for 2.5 billion rand (about $400 million Cdn) in damages
    last year after the Constitutional Court ruled in 2003 that state diamond
    group Alexkor was mining on their land.
    The victory ends an eight-year legal battle. But it still leaves much of the
    land that once belonged to the pastoralist Khoekhoen out of reach. For tens
    of thousands of years, the Khoekhoen, also known as the Khoi Khoi, lived a
    nomadic existence in the Cape region of what is now South Africa.
    Meaning "men of men" or "people people", the Khoekhoen were part of a larger
    group spread across southern Africa, called the Khoisan. While the Khoekheon
    were herders, the San branch were hunter gatherers.
    Roaming the Cape with their herds of cattle, the Khoekhoen lifestyle rarely
    came under threat. Whenever they came across other tribes, the only conflict
    arose from stealing the other group's cattle and protecting their own.
    They lived relatively peacefully until the mid-17th century and the arrival
    of the first white Dutch colonialists in 1652, who set to work building a
    more permanent base on the Cape, establishing the Dutch East India Company.
    The Khoekhoen needed a large amount of land on which to graze their cattle,
    but the Dutch refused to recognize their rights. Jan van Riebeck, the
    explorer who led the first Dutch settlement, is quoted in Kevin Shillington's
    History of Africa, describing how the Khoekhoen objected to the colonialists'
    desire for land.
    According to van Riebeck, they said: "You get many cattle, you come and
    occupy our pasture with them, and then say the land is not wide enough for us
    both. Who then, with the greatest degree of justice, should give way? The
    natural owners or the foreign invaders?"
    But the natural owners were forced to give way. In 1659, both sides fought
    over grazing land and the Khoekhoen lost.
    As the Dutch expanded throughout southern Africa, many of the Khoekhoen
    ended up as slaves, working on farms or in the Cape Colony. Gradually, they lost
    more and more of their grazing lands.
    Droughts combined with cattle disease caused further problems, and when a
    smallpox epidemic broke out in 1713, decimating their numbers, their way of
    life came to an end.
    The word "Hottentot" is derived from the Dutch word for stutterer. It
    swiftly became simply a disparaging term for anyone who was black and living in the
    According to Professor Nicholas Hudson, a historian at the University of
    British Columbia, the Khoekhoen became the "most vilified people on Earth".
    "They were seen as the least civilized and brutish example of the human
    species, indeed barely human," said Professor Hudson. "I think that's because
    they stirred fears in Westerners. From the first encounter, the 'Hottentot'
    embodied a kind of society so different from Western patterns that they
    threatened the West's conception of its own status as the very embodiment of a
    universal 'humanness'."
    Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.sigpic

  • #2

    To the eyes of the white settlers, the Khoekhoen were like no human beings
    they had ever encountered, a mystique that was compounded by the vast array of
    gods and monsters that formed part of their beliefs.
    Their most powerful deity, Gaunab, the god of the sky, is thought to kill
    people by shooting arrows from his seat in the stars. Monsters include the
    Aigamuxa, a man-eating creature with blazing eyes on the instep of its feet.
    But it was the appearance of the Khoekhoen themselves which most intrigued
    colonialists. The women, in particular, were deemed to have an almost
    animalistic sexual appeal. Colonial records show that at least two Khoekhoen women,
    including most famously Saartjie Baartman, were taken to Europe in the early
    19th century and displayed as part of a bizarre and demeaning exhibition
    called "The Hottentot Venus".
    Ms Baartman was told she was travelling to Europe to find fame and fortune,
    but it soon became clear that she was taking part in nothing more than a
    human freak show for the entertainment of Europe's chattering classes.
    After her death in 1815, Baartman's body was put on display in a Paris
    museum and only removed in 1976. It was not until the end of apartheid that steps
    were taken to return her remains to South Africa. Eventually, the French
    assembly acquiesced and Baartman was finally buried four years ago in the Gatmoos
    Valley, where she was born.
    Even for those Khoekhoen who remained in southern Africa, life did not
    improve during the 18th and 19th centuries. Attempts to resist colonialization
    failed and the cultural identity maintained solidly by the tribe for centuries
    began to disappear.
    But the dawn of the 20th century brought an even more destructive force to
    the lives of the Khoekhoen in the form of the glittering deposits lying
    hitherto undiscovered along the west coast of southern Africa.
    The first diamonds were mined in 1908, setting off a rush to find more.
    In 1926 deposits were discovered at Alexander Bay in the Richtersveld
    region, which runs along the Orange river that now forms the border between South
    Africa and Namibia. Under mineral-rights legislation drawn up by the then
    government, the land at Alexander Bay -- though lived on by the Richtersveld
    Khoekhoen -- was deemed to belong to the state. The Khoekhoen were moved off and
    a diamond mine was opened.
    Professor Andrew Smith, an archaeologist at University of Cape Town,
    explained: "The Khoekhoen were seen as not being able to administer their own land
    because they were nomads, and did not have any government. They thus became
    wards of the state. It is an old story of colonial expansion at the expense of
    aboriginal people."
    After the fall of the apartheid government in 1994, the ANC introduced a
    Land Claims Court to help restore ownership to millions of people forcibly
    removed from their homes under racist laws. The 4,000-strong former residents of
    the Richtersveld -- who currently live in four villages set aside for them --
    went to court in 1998 in an attempt to get their land back.
    Members of the community demanded the return of 85,000 hectares ( about
    200,000 acres) of land and said they wanted 1.5 billion rand (about $250 million
    Cdn) in compensation for the diamonds extracted from the rich coastal
    minefields. They also wanted one billion rand for damage done to the environment and
    10 million rand for their "pain and suffering".
    In 2003, South Africa's highest court said the Richtersveld community had
    been removed under racist laws and was entitled to have land and mineral rights
    returned. And now, finally, after years of negotiations and decades of
    struggle, a deal has been struck between the government and the rest of the
    Khoekhoen community.
    It is expected to award the indigenous population compensation in the region
    of two to three billion rand. The final settlement will be announced later
    this month.
    The Khoekhoen tribe's fight for land is not unusual. There are parallels in
    other countries, most pertinently in Botswana. There, just across the border
    with South Africa and Namibia, the Kalahari bushmen have been driven off the
    Central Kalahari Game Reserve -- an area specially created for them in the
    first place.
    As the Dutch expanded throughout southern Africa, many of the Khoekhoen
    ended up as slaves, working on farms or in the Cape Colony.
    The Botswanan government is currently attempting to change the constitution
    to bar the bushmen permanently, and the country's constitutional court is
    currently deliberating.
    Jonathan Mazower, research co-ordinator at Survival International, a charity
    campaigning on behalf of the bushmen, said the Khoekhoen case could set a
    significant precedent.
    "The case has huge implications for other indigenous people of southern
    Africa like the bushmen in Botswana because it shows that they do actually have
    rights to their land, even if the government says they do not," he said.
    "Governments can no longer just do what they want with vulnerable minorities.
    There are evolving standards under international law which are increasingly
    Hudson added: "There is great historical significance in the reassertion of
    Khoi identity and the settlement concerning their land. A people that once
    almost symbolized Western contempt for non-Western people is now insisting on
    their human rights. This juncture in turn symbolizes a new era, one would
    hope, in attitudes toward the human species in all its varieties."
    When the compensation bill is finally handed over to the descendants of the
    Richtersveld Khoekhoen, the tricky question will arise of how to spend the
    money awarded. It is likely to be used communally rather than shared out
    between individuals. A representative committee is expected to be formed and it has
    already been suggested that better schools, health clinics, new housing and
    improved roads for the Khoekhoen will be top of the agenda.
    "The Richtersveld community seems quite together on this," said Smith,
    "unlike other groups who have been offered land restitution and who are fractured
    But while the money may be spent wisely, the battle for recognition
    continues. The Khoekhoen were the first inhabitants of what is now South Africa but
    they have never been officially recognized as such by the government. Nor has
    their language been designated an official South African language. Tribal
    leaders are hopeful that they will eventually be recognized, in the same way
    that aborigines in Australia are identified as that nation's first inhabitants.
    In the meantime, work will get under way on rehabilitating a coastal area
    battered by 80 years of diamond mining.
    More than 350 years after they became the first African tribes to meet white
    settlers, the Khoekhoen may finally be able to leave their villages behind
    and continue the way of life they began all those years ago.
    Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.sigpic


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