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All South Africans walk in the footsteps of the Khoi and San (Khoi-San) people who were the original inhabitants at the tip of the African continent. Their paintings that date back thousands of years can be seen in many caves in South Africa. It is therefore fitting that one of their descendants, Chantal Revell, played an instrumental role in the recent decision of the Constitutional Court to allow independent candidates to stand for national and provincial elections. It has not only opened the door for independents to stand for elections – it has open the door for the Khoi and San people slapped with the label of ‘coloured’ in the apartheid era to receive the recognition of being the first nation of southern Africa. Revell, who has been labelled by some members of the Khoi and San community as unfit to be one of them as she does not speak the language or look the part, told BizNews of her journey and the importance of being recognised as the oldest inhabitants of South Africa. – Linda van Tilburg
Khoi-San princess Chantal Revell paved the way for independent politicians
I grew up in Bishop Lavis and I think at the age of eight, I started noticing there’s something about our people. A lot of things happened that made me aware; I realised that there’s more to us than the so-called Coloured identity. Going into high school, I became part of the SRC (student representative council) and I became an activist at that young age and still not knowing, you know, our parents never spoke of where we came from. It was like a big ‘no’; you don’t speak of where you come from. My great granny was 96 at that time and even the stories in the house, little words, everything referring back to our roots was a ‘no’, you’re not allowed.
Eventually, after high school in 1994 when we voted, we thought, oh, yes, there will be a better and a new South Africa and we all be this one big South African family. And guess what? It didn’t happen. I was still the so-called Coloured people, still not fitting in. Now there was another issue, we were not dark enough or black enough, while we were not white enough before and this identity was very confusing.
I think it was in the late 90s that I eventually started digging deeper and it was actually a prophecy about my Khoi San heritage. I went to my families and my grandmothers and said; listen, what are you not telling us?
Why are you not speaking of the Khoi and the San. One event led to another; I started meeting people, you can almost say supernaturally because it happened in the space of a year. I got introduced to some people that represented a small party, a political party, and they said they did present the Khoi and the San and meanwhile I searched with my family going back in the history, going back into the stories. I said, tell me Grandma, what is going on with this Khoi and San and I just had this pull to it.
During that time, I think even in the early 2000s, you couldn’t find anything openly. There was nothing that referred to our history, where I could go to. No books, nothing, not even in schools. What I found was that the Khoi and San were extinct. I couldn’t believe it because I started meeting leaders all over South Africa; it happened eventually in 2012 when I got elected on the National Khoi and San council where I represented the Khoi and the San in the Western Cape, the CBD where I’m residing still. So, I meet all of these cultural leaders and through that I got to my kingly roots.
King Josiah Katz, he is in Kimberly and I met up through these leaders linked to my family from all over. King Katz is my king, I am a daughter in his house.
Eventually he then said, listen, you need to take up your royal position and represent the royal family. This is where I started coming into my Princess Chantal identity and you must remember this was new.
We in Africa are not used to royalty and the Khoi and San people said, “you don’t look the part, you can’t be that”. How can you be royalty and Khoi San? This whole thing with identity is kind of interlinked, intertwined with what you look like.
All that was very confusing for me to have to work through all of that. But now, today I know so much more of the history; I have represented the history. I’ve represented our people on different levels. I’ve led the president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa in 2019 into Parliament where I was playing the drums with the first Khoisan praise singer to be allowed in that role.
You are trying to get recognition for the Khoi-San people – to be regarded as the first nations of South Africa?
Yes, we do, based on our history but then Africa in itself and all the African people are regarded as indigenous to Africa. But there’s a difference when it comes to southern Africa and the most southern tip, which is where we are at and where the Khoi and San heritage is rich.
I’ve spent some days admiring the wildlife in #Etosha and then the rock engravings in Kamanjab by the Khoisan people. A time travel that is possible thanks to the preservation of #Namibias‘s natural & cultural heritage. I hope that future generations can contemplate it as well. pic.twitter.com/zDlrOgAmEN
— José del Palacio (@Jose_delpalacio) June 30, 2020
You can go into any cave and find the Bushman drawings and there’s much that can prove that we are the people that were here first and it is not because we want to say others don’t belong. It is because we’ve been given identities by other people throughout the centuries without asking, without recognising us.
You can imagine what it could be like. You know, these things and the stories that your great grandparents tell you; where you come from and then you come in to any place like government sectors and you are being told: you are not this, you are that. It’s always been a case for our people of not fitting in, off not being a people, of not having a heritage. It’s like the pride of your family, core was being ripped away.
via @PerilOfAfrica #SouthAfrica OP-ED: Constitutional Court ruling heralds changes to South Africa’s electoral system: Ultimately, it took Chantal Revell, a descendant of the Khoi and San royalty, to initiate a change in South Africa’s electoral system.… https://t.co/MzRLkadTvt pic.twitter.com/CTfYOdGMVX
— Martha Leah Nangalama (@mlnangalama) June 19, 2020
So, for the past twenty four years, I’m serving on the National Khoisan Council; we’ve been negotiating with governments for full constitutional recognition for the Khoi and the San.
We’ve been through that process and they did now pass the bill. It’s law that the Khoi and the San will be recognised. But here is the point; it’s only the leadership that gets recognised and when you apply, then you need to verify. Now, it is also very discriminating towards us because it never happened with the other African groups when they were recognised constitutionally; they did not have to apply and prove where they come from. We need to do that when it comes to land restitution.
Are you of the opinion that the Khoi and the San should stand first in the queue when it comes to land restitution?
I am of the opinion, yes. Keeping in mind that we did lose our natural heritage but we do understand that you can’t just take land and don’t know what to do with it. But I do think we need to be taken into account. Remember, there were many land debates where issues of land were discussed and we were not even included, not even the national Khoi and San council have been included in any debate.
I think it was Nelson Mandela – he appointed the National Khoi and San Council after 1994 after some of the older leaders. I wasn’t part of the council yet at that time. They went to Nelson Mandela and saying, listen, why are we not in the Constitution. We are the first people of South Africa and yes, the Khoi and the San should be part of it. Like I said, we are the first nation. We are connected to this land and this a big issue for us, being connected to the land.
We see ourselves as the stewards, original stewards of the land. It’s a term, a spiritual term, you must remember, we are also a very spiritual people and it’s all connected to the land.
We can’t even do our customary spiritual rituals that our forefathers did. We can’t do that because we don’t have land. It’s also a part of a lost identity that was taken away from our people, besides the language.
So, if you look at our communities today, we’re thrown into townships on top of each other where the gangsterism is rife with all sorts of evils and poverty. And you look at these people who look lost and part of it is because of land. Inherently you are connected to your land as an African to understand where you come from; it’s there inside of you. How do you practice who you are if the foundation of you are, is not there?
Where are you asking for land or are you asking for compensation?
That’s the problem. There’s nothing in our name. We don’t have any papers in our hand at the moment that says this farm or that farm. You know, there were farmers who actually ground Bushmen paintings off the rocks because they are scared that people are going to come and claim the farms. There is one farmer that I actually admire, his farm’s name was Solms Delta, Mark Solms and he inherited this farm and he inherited 19 Khoi families with it as farm workers. And they told him, this is actually our land and we can’t prove it through a title deed, but this land is our land.
He couldn’t understand and he did research and today there’s actually a museum of all the things they dug up of Khoi, the pots, all that is in a museum. He said: how can he now give the land back to the people because he’s been part of that land for six generations himself? So, it was very tough for him. He worked out a deal with the people and bought the farm next to him and he gave it to the people and helped them to run the farm. It’s a success. So, I admire him for the fact that he admitted that before his people there were people and the people working on the farms are the descendants of those people that were there before him.
If we can move on to the Constitutional Court ruling that the Electoral Act should be amended to allow independent candidates to become members of parliament and of the provincial legislatures. You played a role in that; you were the second applicant in this case. Tell us about that.
Ja, like I said, we believed we should be constitutionally recognised. So, years ago, we did say, we need to go to the Constitutional Court and we need to fight this thing because there’s no way that we could even form a political party. Politics is just not for us. The money’s a problem; the finances; if you want to be registered it is R250 000 and we just couldn’t get there.
The person that came to me was Advocate Alan Nelson. The first application by Dr Michael Louis wasn’t successful. I think that was 2016. Then they wanted to re-apply; so I became the applicant.
And then I think, the New Nation Movement then came on board and became the first applicant because they were a group now representing different people. And we went to court and it took, I think, three years, we were there twice and I think Alan argued a lot on the First Nations stance in not being recognised and needing a chance; that it was unconstitutional because there’s a group of people in South Africa who did not have a voice at all.
When the Constitution was drafted, why were these people not included? You know, he based most of his arguments in court on my affidavit. We have the best constitution in the world. Why leave a group of people, an entire group of people out of the Constitution that was given that identity by the apartheid regime? It is not constitutional. So, it was a very interesting journey with great people. I am thankful to Dr Michael Louis and Advocate Alan Nelson.
Are you happy with the outcome and are we going to see you in Parliament in future?
Definitely, because I knew the only way we’re going to make changes in South Africa is if we get a seat where you can represent your people directly and also make your voice heard. I’m happy with the outcome. Apostle Linda Gebodo who is also part of the New Nation Movement who started the process with Michael Louis, she didn’t like the fact that we have to wait for twenty-four months and I agree with her. Anything can happen in 24 months. They can make changes. I would rather prefer if it will take much quicker. There is a policy document and bill already written. I think it can go quicker. I think we’ve wasted centuries enough for our peoples, specifically the Khoi and San people.
And I don’t even think that it has to go through a voting system. If it was up to me, I would have given a seat to the Khoi people after all the years of waiting and not being part of the African nation. I don’t feel like we still need to go through politicians. But ja, there’s a way; there’s a door and I’m working hard at it, to get to where I need to be, to be a real voice where it matters. It’s actually where the laws are being made, in parliament where things are being passed. How could we just not be part of that? It is s kind of like the foundation has been left out of the whole system.
Good luck with learning that beautiful language with all the clicks in it. How are your clicks?
It’s not very good. I got two false teeth in front and when you click, it falls out. It’s really difficult when you grow up and you need to learn. Some of the clicks are at the back. But I do get some right. Bradley van Sitters is now giving language classes at UCT (University of Cape Town); he’s helping me. It sounds so beautiful. My children do much better and my husband who has all his own teeth. They do it much better than I can do it. The language is something that I want back in our schools.
Cyril Ramaphosa: The Audio Biography
Listen to the story of Cyril Ramaphosa's rise to presidential power, narrated by our very own Alec Hogg.