Celebrating heritage

The Oasis of Peace dance group from Heideveld, danced to a song called I Know Who I Am.

If you know your history, you know yourself. This was the message shared at an awareness programme held with young people from areas across the greater Athlone area about their Khoi heritage.

Organised by the First Nation of South Africa (FINSA), the event, with the theme “I know who I am”, was about “restoring identity and dignity”.

Elder Marlene Petersen, who arranged the awareness programme at Garlandale High School’s hall on Saturday February 24, said she wanted young people to know who they are.

“I was in a tribal house for 18 years, but it was not ‘moving’. Then the thought came to me to go to schools to create awareness among our young people. If you know your history, you know yourself. You were not born a coloured, you were made a coloured. We host this with small groups, as we do this all out of our own pocket. We don’t get any assistance from the government,” Ms Petersen said.

She said there were also plans to give aspiring artists a platform to hone their talents.

“We have brilliant song writers, singers, poets, and storytellers, among others. We must host workshops to empower our people. I know God will make a way. There will be a breakthrough in the darkness we are in. There are a lot of talented Khoi people out there, but they are hidden. They are not shown on television, for example.”

One of the speakers at the event, Reverend Gregg Fick, said awareness programmes like this were vital, as young people are the future.

“We cannot afford a next generation to continue in ignorance. It is important that they know they are descendants of the first nation people. South Africa is a state that operates within the land of the Khoi and San. They govern by democratic right, and the Khoi and San have a sovereign right. The land legally belongs to the Khoi and San. With awareness, we want more people to apply for first nation citizenship. With that citizenship, we want to build a case for the legal right to claim restitution for the robbery we had to endure,” Reverend Gregg said.

He also believes that gangsterism and drug abuse are among the negative effects of “being robbed of our identity”.

“When they robbed us of our identity, they took away our culture, our ways, and our traditions, and we want to restore our people. The minute any one of us achieve, they refer to us as black, like athlete Wayde van Niekerk. All our accomplishments are taken away from us. The Western Cape is 80% Khoi, but we have no heritage site. Our children don’t know what traditional clothes to wear when it is Heritage Day. No wonder our people are oppressed. There is no pride in our identity. How can we stand together when we were deliberately divided?” Reverend Fick asked.

He denied that their opinions were racist, saying that the “beauty of the Khoi and San people, is that we strive for a non-racial society”.

Another speaker, Ricardo Daames, said he had spent many years in jail after joining a gang, because he had been looking fin all the wrong places for somewhere to belong.

Speaking to the young people, he said: “You become what you believe you are. My identity was taken from me.

“We buy brand name takkies and clothes because the mentality was put into our heads that our identity is in those expensive things.

“We don’t have to be ashamed of who we are. My texture of my hair and the shape of my nose do not matter. It does not matter how we look, it matters who we are. Our nation will be a great nation when we stand as one. I found who I am, and I realised that I don’t need a gang for that.”