10 August 2005
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People is encouraged by South Africa’s commitment to indigenous people.
Briefing the media on Monday after his 12-day visit to South Africa, Rodolfo Stavenhagen said South Africa’s ongoing efforts to formulate and implement legislation and policies to address issues such as land restitution, multilingual and multicultural education was encouraging.
Stavenhagen was in the country to better understand the situation of indigenous people and to learn about the country’s policies to promote and protect indigenous people’s rights.
This is part of preparing a report on the UN Second Decade on Indigenous Issues, which was proclaimed by the 59th session of UN.
He met with government authorities, civil organisations and the donor community on the ways and means to strengthen the nation’s responses to the needs and demands of indigenous communities.
Stavenhagen visited a number of places such as the township of Platfontein in the Northern Cape where he met with the chiefs and members of the !Xu and Khwe communities who had been resettled in the area after returning from forced displacement in Angola and Namibia.
His interaction focused on the communities’ challenges and successes in the field of housing, social services, health, education and other human rights issues.
He also met with members of the National Khoi-San Council in Upington who explained to him their major concerns regarding the statutory non-recognition of the Khoi and San people.
They also told him about their difficulties in enjoying land rights, full access to social services, their cultural and ethnic identities.
He was impressed that the South African government had also made the representation of traditional authorities in public life and has made enormous efforts in delivering basic services.
“Government authorities are aware of the urgency to focus on the accumulated backlog of unsatisfied needs of indigenous communities, and the Khoi-San in turn are dissatisfied by the delays in the provision of services and demand that such efforts be speeded up.
“More coordination between the various governments that deal with indigenous people is required,” he said.
He explained that all indigenous people in the country were brutally oppressed by the colonial system and the former apartheid regime up to 1994. The Khoi-San were dispossessed of their lands and territories and their communities and cultures were destroyed.
“Through my conversation with government authorities and Khoi-San people, I am aware of the challenges faced by these communities and their longstanding demands for land rights, official statutory recognition, respect of their cultural identities and full and equal access to social services,” he said.
He said he would elaborate in his report to the Commission on Human Rights next year on recommendations and proposals intended to strengthen human rights for indigenous people.