I missed the first part of the shoot. Cameraman extraordinaire Peter Rudden was sent video of a group of people engaged in a two-week protest walk from Hankey in the Eastern Cape to the Cape Town Castle to raise the profile of South Africa’s indigenous people. He rushed out there while I was wrapping up other work. After two days of filming skin-clad Khoisan Revivalists and others walking along the dusty highways and byways of the Cape, he returned home and gave me visuals and two interviews. The rest I had to find to build a coherent story. It took some weeks to finish.
There definitely is a story here about the consciousness carried by people who are descended from and identify with South Africa’s First Nations, nominally called the Khoi and the San, the Griquas and the Namas. But the story is complex and fragmented, largely drip-fed into popular consciousness on an ad-hoc basis. An article here, a write-up there, a protest march, camping out in front of the Union Buildings - the story has yet to develop a unified narrative to assist in its telling. So there is a great deal of frustration among the activists, and a distrust of the media. Yet they will need more coverage to make an impact in contemporary times. Pressure groups have begun to raise their voices in public spaces to stress the importance of the lost languages and leaders of the earliest people in South Africa. The response by government has been sluggish and resulted in slow-moving draft legislation. This article about a public hearing on the law they have drafted gives a taste of the conflicts that it has triggered. https://www.customcontested.co.za/khoi-san-leaders-challenge-premise-tklb-public-hearings-demand-land/
By far the most coherent story comes from the Griqua people thanks to the fact that so much of their history was recorded. The delegations which took the issue of Griqua status in post-apartheid South Africa to the United Nations had to present a case for their collective identity. They were able to harness their history to tell the story of the people and their plight. One of the most clear descriptions of the effects of colonialism came from the Chair of the Khoi-san Council, Cecil Le Fleur, a descendant of Griqua leaders. He quit his job as a teacher to fight for his people. Twenty years later, he is still an activist. He described the situation of his people as he saw it.
“In the case of the South African so-called Coloured and Khoi Khoi communities, the master plan of the colonial regime at that time was to alienate these people from their sense of belonging and from their identity, which includes their language and traditions. And they drove the dispossessed from the land, they drove them into locations, and stripped them of their self esteem. So slowly, but surely, they transformed them psychologically into people who stopped dreaming because there was nothing to dream about. Because they know that they were captured, they could not move away. They have no rights outside, they, they are just thought of as Hotnot or Bushman.”
Unlike Mr Le Fleur, who was able to hold a book about his ancestors in his hands, the other activists I met in the making of this documentary had only a vague sense of how their ancestry was intertwined in the landscape of South African history. Many had not grown up in a culturally indigenous setting and were learning what are described as traditional customs and ancient dialects as adults. There seems to be no higher authority to prove the authenticity of rituals. They are carried to some extent by their emotions, their politics and their lifestyle choices. They are people who want answers to their post-apartheid identity within the communities from which they came and in which they operate. They would have been labelled Coloured under apartheid - who are they now? And what makes them who they are?
This is a question that animates a Canadian, who left Cape Town as a child with her family. Classified Coloured under apartheid, they had emigrated to be treated as equals in another country. Gillian Von Langsdorff works with First Nation Peoples in Canada but felt a need to reach homewards. After a DNA ancestry test, confirming her Khoisan roots, among other nationalities, she decided to embark on the Indigenous People’s Liberation Walk. The experience, now done two years in a row, has informed her ongoing research.
“I noticed that there was an identity resilience within this larger group of Coloured South Africans, which includes mixed race people, indigenous nationalities, and what is considered all others who could not easily fit into the black or white binary,” she said.
The question of post-apartheid identity is fraught and political. Apartheid’s obsession with classifying people according to perceived race has inflicted deep wounds. Yet the soothing nature of the walking which dominates this insert, the beauty of the environment, and the commitment of those involved assists in reaching backwards and forwards in time to create a sense of hope for the people who embarked on this journey. I certainly developed in my understanding of the call to revive a neglected culture to restore, for some, a sense of self.
Here is the link to the programme broadcast in June 2019:https://f.io/42Pi7E5w