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Southern Africa's Indigenous San People Push for greater rights

In this five part series on indigenous peoples in Africa, a look at the San of southern Africa. William Langeveldt is a member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which meets each year at UN Headquarters in New York. He himself is a member of an indigenous group, the Koranna.

He told Voice of America reporter William Eagle that the oldest inhabitants of South Africa called themselves the “Khoe-Khoen,” meaning “humane human being.”

Langeveldt says indigenous peoples have managed the land and its resources in a sustainable way: “Land and water belonged to everyone."

He says the peoples of southern Africa include the San, Koranna, Nama, Griqua and Cape Khoe. He says the San were the most independent, resisting colonization and slavery for centuries by moving deep into the interior of southern Africa. They’re scattered throughout Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. Langeveldt says about 20 to 30 thousand San exist today.

A report on the condition of the San has been issued by UN Special Rapporteur Rodolfo Stavenhagen and presented to a meeting of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Langeveldt says the report recommends the recognition of indigenous peoples in general and that the Khoe-San in particular be recognized by the South African Constitution, which was adopted 10 years ago. He says it also recommends official recognition of the San language. Other subjects include “mother-tongue education, access to ancestral lands, and participation in all levels of the country’s government.”

Langeveldt says he would like to call on the South African government to host an African summit on the rights of indigenous peoples and the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, “so that the entire society can become aware of this issue so that we can move forward on the struggle.”

Langeveldt says, “There is very little recognition in South Africa for the contribution of the Khoe-San people in our freedom struggle, and…this is an ideal opportunity for our government and for the society to move ahead with implementing the recommendations of the special rapporteur.”