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Airbrushing the boesman

Just what does a coloured have to do these days — short of knocking out the rest of his teeth or picking up the banjo — to get noticed in South African national debates?

One really wishes the government would make up its mind. First they were saying there’s historically been an ‘over-concentration’ of bruin-ous in the Western Cape, then they’re saying they’ve never really been there — ‘historically speaking.’

As we now well know, a cabinet minister a few weeks ago told Parliament that there simply haven’t been ‘Africans in particular’ in the southernmost tip of Africa until fairly recently.

The outrage that greeted this non-controversy (for it’s been the subject of debate among real historians since the Seventies) was to be expected. Truth is it’s a stale debate — a kind of political non sequitir.

Pieter Mulder’s assertions about there being no ‘Bantu-speaking’ tribes in the region when the Europeans came is a long-discredited theory that’s been around since Vasco da Gama’s ship dropped anchor.

The little yellow people running around the Cape of Good Hope in the old days didn’t even warrant a mention. No disclaimer or caveat: Niks. Just like that.

What pretty much everyone took issue with was the bit about the ‘Bantu-speaking tribes’.

Whether by design or omission, the Khoi and San received scant mention beyond a few comments on the letters pages.

Either because they’re not ‘African’ by the Freedom Front Plus’ definition or, tellingly, they didn’t (and don’t) matter in the debate anyway.

This has pretty much determined the way in which land rights of the Khoi and San people have been addressed in post-apartheid South Africa: either met with ridicule, or ignored.

In a headline dripping with sarcasm, a local newspaper reported on a claim made in 2001 by a group of Khoisan descendants for land in the Western Cape, saying the group ‘demanded valuable Cape land’, including the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Then, like now, such claims will be dismissed and ignored.

A startling omission that would invite charges of ‘genocide denialism’ in another context. The cause of First Nation people — as aboriginal people are now called — isn’t sexy enough.

Unless, like the Aboriginals of Australia they’re dik gesuip on the reserve, or streaking across the Amazon in full war paint.

Despite land dispossession, plunder, rape, pillage and the pox, there aren’t many aboriginals around the world who’ve managed to get their land back, because of the myths peddled by revisionist historians like the ones Mulder claims to have on speed-dial.

A group of Khoisan protested in Pretoria last week demanding recognition of their status as First Nation people — an undeniable fact to anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of South African history. The UN recognised their First Nation status back in 1998 — but it’s likely this petition, like those before it, will fade into obscurity.

Despite his cuteness on The Gods Must be Crazy, the “Happy Hottentot” hasn’t become a cause célèbre in South Africa yet.

The enthusiasm with which certain causes are adopted by the world, and even the South African activist community — from Palestinian rights, to the emancipation of the Western Sahara: sadly doesn’t extend to this community that remains on South Africa’s margins.

Such was the importance the new South African government attached to the aboriginal South Africans that our national coat of arms includes words and symbols in the /Xam language. Now we have Pieter Mulder, effectively dismissing their right to be even counted as Africans — in our democratic parliament.

Descriptions by the early Dutch settlers of the Khoi and San people as mendacious, murderous ‘vermin’ — now translated into the latter-day ‘boesman’ — a term seldom used in a postive context; but more one that conjures up a phuza face and a loincloth.

Or of course, as it applies to many of their decendants, the so-called coloureds — an image of a toothless gangster with a knife in his Jack Purcells.

The aboriginal people of South Africa have over the years been reduced to the status of depressed drunks or simpletons — in no large part due to state neglect, both under apartheid and after its demise.

There have been claims lodged by various Khoi and San communities to have land reinstituted to them; but they’ve been claims fraught with technical difficulties. Part of the problem is because land claims in South Africa have a 1913 cut-off date; whereas many of these communities were shuffled off ancestral and hunting land way before then. Then there’s the reality that the San, in particular, were migrants and nomads.

Even with a hut or some gravestones to prove a historical right to a piece of land, it’s pretty hard enough to negotiate the bureaucracy of the Land Claims Commission. But try proving if your people didn’t plant vineyards, or ‘leave traces.’ Your very existence on that land will always be in dispute.

And with the exception of the stories being kept alive by historians and artists — including a new exhibition at the Origins Centre — the only type of “bushman” we seem to talk about in South Africa today is not a person who really exists — and is a part of South African society like anybody else: but the bow and arrow man of rock art fame: a relic belonging in a museum.

If Pieter Mulder and his party owe anyone an apology — it’s them.



  1. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 3 March 2012

    This is a quote of a story told to Megan Biesele by !Kun/obe, a !Kung Bushman, as quoted in the book “Blood on the Path” by Harvey Tyson:

    “We who were made first, have come to be last. And they who were created last, have come to be first.”

  2. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 3 March 2012

    baobab booi

    Surprising that in both the Anglo Boer War, and the border war against the Communist ANC, the Bushmen trackers worked for the Afrikaner boers is it not?

  3. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 3 March 2012

    Remember that the war between the black and the brown was poisoned arrows against assegaais. Those poisoned arrows were lethal, an agonising death, and well within assegaai range. It was kill or be killed.

    The war between white and brown was poisoned arrow against guns, which had a range exceeding the range of the arrows, so whites could afford to hold their fire if Bushmen showed signs of capitulating and being prepared to negotiate.

    I think it a great pity that Thabo Mbeki was “educated” at Sussex University and not at Oxford or Cambridge, where he wanted to go.

    Lucky for Botswana the Khamas have been educated at Oxbridge for 3 or 4 generations now (I don’t know where Ian Khama’s children were educated).

  4. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 3 March 2012

    And, by the way, Ian Khama, Paramount chief of the Tswana, is also coloured, like the Paramount Chief (King) of the Pondo, and for that matter like Barack Obama.

    His mother was a white nurse, Ruth, whom his father, Seretse Khama, fell in love with when studying in Britain.

  5. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 3 March 2012

    @Beddy,this discussion about who was here first is alright to have in a history class but, one shouldn’t try to correct history. Below is a list of the following problems one would have correcting history.

    For example:
    Japan, the original people were white not Asians
    Russia, if the land is given back to the original people there wouldn’t be no Russia.
    Norway,Sweden and Finland the Lapps were the original people.
    Italy, the Romans were not the original people but, Tuscany people.
    North America and South America the original people were native tribes.
    North Africa, the original people were Berber people.
    England, the original people are not the people one sees in England today.
    Thailand, the original people were black like African people.

  6. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 4 March 2012


    I agree with you – unfortunately the whole “land re-distribution” programme of the ANC is based on myth not history.

  7. Dave Harris Dave Harris 4 March 2012

    “how much he hates white people. I don’t think Dave even believes this”
    Hey, watch it now, some of my best friends are white! LOL

    “and you can be sure that Dave is no pure black person”
    Wow! A “pure black” person? Now, now…you’re showing off your true colors hey? What a convenient smokescreen, to use “Anti-racism as your pseudonym ;-)

    @baobab booi
    “you are simply unable to accept that people of colour must have actually voted the DA into power”
    I think we are in violent agreement! However, don’t you find it strange that the white minority party still governs in a province where blacks (Coloureds, Africans, Indians) constitute over 80% – overwhelming majority!!!
    I do accept that the Coloured majority have strangely voted the DA into power. The DA have artfully used the politics of fear, window dressing (De Lille and Mazibuko) etc. to cling to power in WCape. This slave mentality commonly occurs after centuries of colonialism and oppression where majority buy into fear and the myth of white supremacy, and actually desire to be ruled by the white minority. Its an old tactic that works well in the short term with DISASTROUS long term consequences.

    @Lyndall Beddy
    Your perspective of history is so outlandish, I actually sometimes find it entertaining. Thank you ;-)

  8. Baobab booi Baobab booi 4 March 2012

    These are interesting points, Lyndall, and warrant real dialogue.

    Some neo-nationalists (Harris et al) insist on “whitewashing” the debate by applying selective history (or myths as you call them) in order to advance their own agendas. It is simply not possible to subscribe to the “we were here first” principle of land ownership without falling into the traps which Khadija, yourself and Sterling outline above.

    These neo-nationalists are unable to frame their arguments outside the evil-whitey/ good-black paradigm ( the Kwanzaa Cult as you refer to it), which is obviously utterly racist: this is why they struggle so much with the situation ion the Western Cape, where the incompetent ruling party has been given a firm rebuff and a nice flat klap by the heterogeneous populace.Iam not saying the DA are angels or that I agree with all of their policies, but clearly they are more organized and far more governors.

    This inability to accept that someone of colour might not actually subscribe to your racist doctrine and vote for the enemy is the ultimate in arrogance. As one of the posters succinctly put it, “racism makes you stupid”. You can add Jimmy Manji to that nefarious list.
    Harris has shown his true colours in his post on Brent Meersman’s piece “apartheid beneficiary’s guide to the budget”, where he calls for punitive dismantling of constitutional property rights and forced relocation of population groups based on race.
    Makes me gag.

  9. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 5 March 2012

    @Beddy, in the USA the people are called multi-racial and not colored like backward SA. It’s sad in the 21st century most of South Africans are living in the 19Th century. In the days of the jet age and high speed Internet people are falling in love with each other from all over the world so stop it calling people colored.

  10. Baobab booi Baobab booi 5 March 2012

    @ Harris,

    “However, don’t you find it strange that the white minority party still governs in a province where blacks (Coloureds, Africans, Indians) constitute over 80% – overwhelming majority!!!

    No I don’t think it’s strange at all, but only if you are able to look beyond race. Which by your own admission, you cannot.

    The DA has not “clung” to power in the WC; on the contrary, they have thrashed the ANC by ever widening margins in both the most recent general and municipal elections. So in spite of your incredulity, the DA must somehow resonate with the WC populace, as they persist in firmly rejecting the alternative.

    Instead, your only explanation is that the coloured people are not able to think for themselves, having been brainwashed and vote according to a “slave mentality”.

    I cannot even begin to express how racist and insulting that comment is.
    We are not children, sir.

    What a patronising and condescending fellow you are.

  11. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 5 March 2012


    NOW the USA might call them multi racial, BEFORE they called them colored, and they called themselves colored before they renamed themselves Africans and later (in the 1960s) blacks.

    The first liberation movement in the USA,started at about the same time as our ANC, called THEMSEVES the COLORED Liberation Movement.

    If you listen to old SAFM radio reports on apartheid violence in the 1950s, played on the History slot “This Day In History”, you will hear that the Americans still call the ANC “the colored people of South Africa”.

  12. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 5 March 2012

    I have just finished reading the book “The Forgotten Frontier” by Nigel Penn. It is meticulously researched with all the references, and is a comprehensive history of the San and the Khoi from 1700 – 1800.

    It is a story about the San fighting against the Khoi.

    And the Khoi and San fighting against the Afrikaner.

    And the Afrikaner and Khoi fighting against the San.

    And both Dutch and British trying to enforce law and peace and borders.

    But mainly, eventually, all the pastoralists, both the Afrikaner and the Khoi (Griqua/Hottentots), started killing off the San (Bushmen) hunter gatherers.

    The San were totally opposed to being “civilised” or farming. Their whole identity was not with the land which writers get wrong, but with nature and wild live and game and plants. There were however significant spiritual sites for them – some natural springs and mountains (similar to Ayers Rock to the Australian Aborigines).

    Neither the Khoi nor the Afrikaner could make them in to servants – they would run away, usually with a stolen gun, and return with the clan, having learned the whole household routine, to drive off the livestock and kill the herders.

    Then they would drive the livestock into waterless areas or the mountains, where the horses and Afrikaner could not follow them. Their interest was in eating their livestock, not farming them, so they did not need to water them.

  13. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 5 March 2012

    The only tribe/nation that the San (Bushmen) would work for was the Tswana, which is probably why they are still Bushmen left in Botswana.

    Very likely the Twana, then like now, let them “go walkabout” in the Kalahari with their bows and arrows, since it was land that could not be farmed.

    Their spiritual beliefs, rock paintings, and “walkabouts” are so similar to the Australian Aborigines that they really should be DNA compared.

    At least then we would know which was “the one African tribe” that migrated out of Africa to become the Europeans.

  14. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 5 March 2012

    baobab booi

    There are millions of followers of the Kwnza Cult in the Black diaspora, and hundreds, if not thousands, of Kwanza Cult books. They even give degrees at universities in Kwanza – usually called “Egyptology”, or “African Studies” or “African Renaissance Studies”.

    Do you watch “Two and a Half Men”? In one of the episodes the half a man, at the end of year school concert, has to sing “Happy Kwanza to You” not “Happy Christmas to You”.

  15. Tofolux Tofolux 5 March 2012

    @Anti-rc, Berri, et al. I wonder if any of your enlightened brains actually comprehend what this blogger says and Dave’s response to it. I also wonder at what point do you accept that he practises what this constitution preaches, the FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION. You and yours constantly preach how much you will defend this constitution, how you will not allow the ruling party to change it and how good this constitution is. AND YET, the reality is that you do not respect this very constitution and others who live in this constitutional state. Furthermore, why are you peeps always discussing side issues? Is it because your cognitive ability to engage, critically, on an issue is weak? The type of nonsensical side-issues you put on the table is just a wierd mind-wrap albeit that the past masters programmed us into thinking that some amongst us, have superior mental abilities. Personally, I do not think that you value the rules of engagement and clearly seek to minimise good points by resorting to insults and name-calling. I fail to see how it serves your purpose other than expose that the cognitive and strategic thinking ability is virtually non-existent.

  16. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 5 March 2012

    The last thing the Bushmen want is to be turned into subsidised miserable city dwellers like the Australians did to the Aborigines.

    They want to be free to roam the land, and they are the best trackers in Africa – they tracked for the Afrikaner in both the Anglo Boer and Border Wars.

    What I would do with them is to train them as game rangers for the Kruger National Park – they would do a much better job than the useless bunch we have now, who are allegedly in with the poachers.

    They would be especially good working for the Army again.

    And why only the Kruger? Why not the other 2 adjoining parks as well?

    That is if you really want to save the Rhino!

  17. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 5 March 2012

    @Beddy, the term Kwanzaa was started in SC LA, California, there are not no whole lot of followers in the USA following this religion. Dr. Ron Karenga was the person that introduced Kwanzaa into the US and it has not replaced the black churches in the US. As a matter of facts, Kwanzaa is practiced in Kenya but, differently than in the US.

    Speaking of Liberation movement in the US, this movement was started in the mid 19Th century and this was not the same time in SA. A man name Frederick Douglas started a paper called the Liberator to fight slavery in the US. You should read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and this book will enlighten you about slavery. As a matter of facts, the blacks in the US had a different problem than the blacks in SA because they had to remove the chains off of their legs.

  18. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 6 March 2012

    @Beddy, you should see the picture of the boat the son of the president of E. Guinea has bought from Germany while ninety percent of the people don’t have clean drinking water.

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