8 March 2005
The South African Human Rights Commission has released a damning report on human rights violations among the Khomani San people in the Northern Cape, along with a number of recommendations to protect the San community’s rights.
The commission launched an investigation after receiving complaints from the community about the murder of community member Optel Rooi in January 2004.
The community alleged that the police were responsible for the murder, that the police were victimising and harassing them, and that their children were being sexually abused at the local school.
The commission conducted formal and formal meetings, including pubic hearings, with the community and various stakeholders.
Briefing the media at the release of the report in Johannesburg last week, commission chairperson Jody Kollapen siad the remote location of the Khomani San community and the nature of its predicament “should not make the realisation of human rights seem unattainable.
Taking the Constitution to the Kalahari
“This should rather be seen as a challenge … to secure constitutional rights for the marginalised.”
The commission recommended that the state departments and officials involved recognise the Khomani San as a group with a unique composition and status, and consistently aim to see to the needs of the community as part of a structured developmental plan.
The commission also called for the prosecution of the police officers involved in the shooting of Mr Rooi, and the appointment of two external managers – a farm manager and an executive manager – to help the community to manage and cultivate their land.
The commission also called on the district office of the education department to embark on education and monitoring programmes on child abuse.
The commission lso recommended that the agreements accompanying the Khomani San land claim process be reconsidered to identify all outstanding commitments.
In 1999 the Khomani San community successfully reclaimed large areas of land in the Andriesvale-Askam area of the Kalahari, in terms of the land reform programme provided for by the Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994.
Kollapen warned that the commission would consider other options if the parties involved did not adhere to its recommendations.
History of persecution, dispossession
The Khomani San (a collective term for the group of San identified as the dominant San group in the southern Kalahari since the 1920s) are part of a group of distinct San tribes inhabiting the southern area of the vast Kalahari ecosystem. (“San” is the general term for the aboriginal hunting and gathering peoples of Southern Africa.)
According to the commission’s report, the Khomani San were dispossessed from the then National Kalahari Gemsbok Park in the 1970s and dispersed through South Africa, living in small groups as a de facto underclass.
“In common with other displaced indigenous people, the San became to a large degree assimilated into, or dominated by, local communities”, the report continues. “The ancient San cultural practices, mainly nomadic in nature, were sporadically maintained in isolated groups.
Democracy and disappointment
“The transition to democracy in South Africa and the formal protection of human rights in the country led to the Restitution of Land Rights Act 22 of 1994.
“These changes brought some parts of the San community together, in the effort to claim back their land in the southern Kalahari, in what was seen as part of the journey towards the restoration of not only their land rights, but also their lost dignity and sense of belonging.”
Following a history of persecution and dispossession, the Khomani San regained ownership of their land in the southern Kalahari – but according the commission, “they continue to live in poverty and neglect.
“It is difficult for the outsider to imagine the sadness and disappointment of the community.”
“No doubt exists that the situation in the Andriesvale-Askham area needs the drastic attention of all spheres of government and all stakeholders. We hope this inquiry will be the start of the journey towards the realisation of human rights and sustainable development in the Khomani San community.