Stop calling us ‘coloured’ and denying us our diverse African identities
A colonial and apartheid past of policies and laws based on ‘define and rule’ is expressing itself in the current tensions playing out between ‘coloured’, Indian and black people
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples of South Africa recognises that the San, the Nama, the Korana, the Griqua and the revivalist Cape Khoi are those indigenous Africans, among others in South Africa, who face discrimination and marginalisation.
This goes all the way back to 1911, when 86 000 people previously registered as Nama, Griqua, Korana, Damara and Cape Khoi were, without any consultation, de-Africanised and called “coloured” in the census of that year.
Then about 300 000 integrated descendants of African (68%) and Asian slaves (32%), plus indentured African labourers and a range of other migrants of colour from about 30 tributaries, together with a small element of Peninsula Khoi and nonconformist Europeans who assimilated with these people, were also called “coloured” without any consultation or agreement by the British-South African authorities, as per an agreement on forming the Union of South Africa.
Eight years later, when it changing its name from the South African Native National Congress to the African National Congress and adopted its first constitution, the ANC defined an African as any person who had at least one forebear who was indigenous to Africa.
In the 1960s it reneged on this and started to refer to “coloured” people as a non-African minority. After liberation, although it abolished apartheid legislation, the ANC government again betrayed the trust of “coloured” people by keeping the apartheid practice of defining them according to the now abolished apartheid legislation, thus continuing their de-Africanisation.
This is regardless of the fact that they are crying out to be fully recognised as an African people with dignified heritage and subidentities of diversity such as Zulu, Xhosa and Pedi. A significant part of the population carrying the apartheid label want to be known as Africans of Cape Khoi, Nama, Korana, Griqua, Damara and San heritage.
These make up about one million South Africans today, if we go back to the 1904 census figures. They are not calling to become “nations” as Verwoerdian-style ethnonationalists; they simply want their African heritage and rights to be respected.
The other four million categorised as coloured and non-African also want their African and cultural heritage as a people who rose above the adversity of slavery and the brutality of colonialism and apartheid to be recognised. Many of us call this our Camissa heritage. And we want to say we are proudly African, proud to be part of the South African family of peoples and proud to be Camissa.
We have a rich cultural heritage and legacy that is marginalised and this is why such bizarre behaviour and frightening levels of racism are raising their ugly heads. Camissa is not an ethnic, racial or colour term; it simply addresses the cultural heritage of an unrecognised African people.
Revived memory in terms of the UN recommendations and declarations thus has a legitimate place in South Africa. There are genuine entities of Cape Khoi who strive for authenticity. They are aware that they are not the actual groups destroyed by colonists but rather are revived entities, and thus have a respect for history and heritage and do not rely on fabrications of history or dynasty.
There are, however, lunatic fringe groups, often imbued with racism and hatred, which are not authentic — nor do they attempt to be. Genuine Khoi revivalists are now beginning to say very clearly to these groups: “not in our name”.
Cape Khoi revivalists do not subscribe to racism and the othering of any of South Africa’s African people.
There are usages of the term Khoisan that people have become accustomed to and they mean no harm.
But there is a shadow side to this term that has been hidden for too long. There are San people and there are Khoi people, and even though we use these academic terms, they are not the actual names of groups. The use of these has come to be broadly acceptable. But the term “Khoisan” is different because of its history and because it is erroneous.
Many San and Khoi people in South Africa and Namibia do not accept the term Khoisan for good reason. This is because the academic origin of the term has a negative history and carries insult and injury for indigenous peoples.
Under apartheid, people presumed to be only of European descent were privileged above all other South Africans. Other people, such as the Khoi, San, Nama, Griqua, Damara, descendants of slaves (African and Asian) and various migrants were, without consultation, all lumped under the label ‘coloured’. (Gallo & Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)
There never was a people called Khoisan, which is a term created, together with erroneous meaning, by zoologist Leonard Schultz in 1928. He and anthropologist Wilhelm Waldeyer received Herero and Nama body parts from concentration camps and the genocide slaughter fields in Namibia for their racist studies in Berlin.
Schultze had complained of the difficulty of collecting animal specimens in the wild because of the fighting in Namibia. But he did note that the fighting presented opportunities for “physical anthropology”. He said: “I could make use of the victims of the war and take parts from fresh native corpses, which made a welcome addition to the study of the living body. Imprisoned Hottentots were often available to me.”
This was the academic school of thought headed by Eugen Fischer, who became the senior geneticist of the Nazi regime. He used the heads of 778 dead Herero and Nama prisoners of war to “prove” that the race is inferior to the Germanic-Aryan race. It therefore follows that if there were no Khoisan people there can be no Khoisan kingdom.
There is much confusion in the Cape Khoi revivalist arena about the issue of “self-determination” being integral to their struggle, and few understand the connection to apartheid of this misinterpreted concept. The extreme view of white nationalists finds common ground with Khoi ethnonationalism. There is also a softer element that still also pushes for a fully federal state, which ultimately paves the way for legal secession.
On the fringe of the Khoi revivalists, and with fringe political organisations such as Gatvol Capetonians and the Cape Party, there is huge racist sentiment and belief in Hendrik Verwoerd’s ideology of those called “blacks” being aliens to South Africa. The buy-in to the old apartheid ideological indoctrination is frequently denied but immediately contradicted in statements. Verwoerd’s ideology of apartheid was essentially based on his concept that South Africa was made up of many nations, each entitled to separate development and self-determination.
These so-called nations, according to Verwoerd, co-related to races. Linked to this is now the call for secession. The UN and the Rome Statutes of the International Criminal Court have ruled that this ideology of apartheid and its practices are a “crime against humanity”.
The right-wing Afrikaner groups are forming soft alliances, as advisers and financiers, with sections in the Cape Khoi revivalist movement, who have adopted the Verwoerdian notion that the San and Khoi and others calling themselves Khoisan are nations that should develop separately in terms of “self-determination”.
They erroneously project that they are the only indigenous Africans of South Africa and again erroneously argue that the Khoi or Khoisan are the First People of South Africa.
Fundamental to these ideas is the erroneous notion that South Africa had a relatively recent mass invasion from the north by so-called Bantu or Nguni aliens and that, prior to this, South Africa was an empty land with just a few Khoi and San groups.
This is a false history. Social historians, archaeologists, geneticists, anthropologists, palaeontologists, sociologists and oral historians, who increasingly work together today, concur that the “peopling of South Africa” is far more complex and nuanced and can be traced back to events that occurred between 200BCE and 350CE, when hunters, hunter herders, herders, herder farmers and farmers were in southern Zimbabwe, northern Botswana and the Limpopo region of South Africa.
Apartheid and colonial history ignored 1 700 years of South African social history. In this context the Khoi, who spread all over South Africa, had migrated to the western part of the Cape by 1050CE and co-operated with the /Xam (Cape San), who were the first inhabitants of the area.
Slowly the Cape Khoi revivalists are coming to appreciate that apartheid brainwashing has affected everyone, and they are also beginning to appreciate the complexities of the past.
In the Southern African context the San alone are the direct descendants of Homo sapiens, who evolved at various sites in Africa. The Khoi and Kalanga (who are mainly in Zimbabwe and Botswana) can be called the “Foundation People” in the “Peopling of South Africa”.
Not all revivalist Cape Khoi believe the nonsense of “black invaders” and refuse to embrace notions that constitute a “crime against humanity”. But the revivalist arena is splintered in many ways and no common formulation of distancing itself from apartheid “separate development” ideology and racism has been forthcoming. Of late there are signs that they are now being challenged to clarify their positions — and they are taking up the challenge.
There is a place for Cape Khoi revivalism, but it has to stand with all in South Africa in condemning charlatans and racists. Cape Khoi and Camissa should stand together and make one simple call on government to stop de-Africanising “coloured” people and give us our rightful place in our African family of peoples.
In so doing, stop calling people “coloured” and recognise our diverse subcultural heritage along with all other Africans of diverse heritage. Just as we talk of Sotho, Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi et al, so too should we talk of Cape Khoi, Camissa, Nama, Korana, Griqua, Damara and San. This would go a long way towards restoring confidence that there is a dignified place in South Africa for all. Os is nie “coloured” … Os is African … Os is Khoi … Os is Camissa … is ja! Os is!
Patric Tariq Mellet is a heritage activist, storyteller and educator specialising in Cape slavery studies