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Khoisan group defies lockdown to camp at Union Buildings

2020-04-06 22:02

It might be unimaginable to some that anyone would feel safer and less exposed to the risk of Covid-19 coronavirus infection living in a tent overlooked by a 9-metre statue of Nelson Mandela.

But a group of seven Khoisan activists from the Eastern Cape say no hunger or coronavirus will deter them from camping on the Union Buildings lawns.

This action supports their bid to have government recognise Khoisan people as the “first nation”, not classify them as “coloureds” and include their language as one of the official languages of South Africa.

They have been there for a total of 15 months, since their return in December 2018.

The group, then comprising only four men, first arrived at the Union Buildings in Pretoria late in November 2017, having walked barefoot for 18 days from their homes in Port Elizabeth.

They returned in 2018, after receiving no satisfactory response to their memorandum of demands, and they have been there ever since.

In a telephonic interview, their leader, who identified himself as King Khoisan SA, said they had survived bad times during their camp at the Union Buildings, including bitingly cold weather and heavy rains, but would not abandon their cause – even now, during the lockdown.

The group, then comprising only four men, first arrived at the Union Buildings in Pretoria late in November 2017, having walked barefoot for 18 days from their homes in Port Elizabeth.

“Sometimes camping here at the Union Buildings has been terrible. We’ve been through tough times, like seven to eight days of non-stop rain, when we would wake up in wet blankets.

“Then came the virus. But we’ve resolved to stay on, as we feel much safer here,” he said.

“Police came to us on the evening of the lockdown. They asked if we were aware of the outbreak and said we could move into a shelter, but we chose to stay here. We’re determined [to stick to] our cause and we’re not going to leave until government has not only listened to us, but implemented our requests.”

Khoisan SA said they’re better off at the Union Buildings than anywhere else.

“It doesn’t mean we’re not worried about the virus; we are. That’s why we follow the good advice of washing our hands regularly, and not leaving the camp and exposing ourselves to risk by interacting with other people,” he added.

The traditional leader said that, for the past year, they had survived on donations from passing tourists at the Union Building grounds, most of whom came there to pose for pictures next to the Mandela statue that is close to the group’s camp.

“They’ve been Good Samaritans who helped us with food and other essentials, but now things have changed since the virus outbreak and the lockdown because people don’t come to the Union Buildings park any more.

Sometimes camping here at the Union Buildings has been terrible. We’ve been through tough times, like seven to eight days of non-stop rain, when we would wake up in wet blankets. Then came the virus. But we’ve resolved to stay on ... we feel safer here

“However, we’re ready for anything. If corona doesn’t kill us, then hunger will, but we’re going nowhere, despite all the hard times we’re faced with,” said Khoisan SA.

He said he was still clad in his traditional animal-skin garment, which only partially covered his body.

“The only time I would change is if President Cyril Ramaphosa implemented our demands. Until then, we’re here at his doorstep, demanding not only attention, but action by government,” he said.


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May 31 2020