The Indigenous Traditional Rooibos Farming Communities of the Cederberg Belt say they need land so that they can harvest and commercialise their produce on their own.

Barend Salomo, a representative from the structure says the need for land for the Khoisan people is of outmost importance because they have the resources and stand tall as Traditional Knowledge Holders.

“We don’t have land to cultivate and develop the resource in such a way that we can grow and increase
our production and use our traditional knowledge for job creation in rural areas,” he said.

Speaking to Mukurukuru Media after the signing of the Benefit Sharing Agreement (BSA) for traditional knowledge associated with Rooibos at! Kwa Ttu, Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, Salomo reckons that access to land will not only boost the Khoi and San communities’ economy but give them pride again.

“We sit on private and church land which our forefathers used to roam on freely. But we don’t have that land and that is totally unfair,” said Salomo.
A descendant of a community that lived on the land in the 1820s when the Rhenish Missionaries arrived in SA, Salomo says the name of the village then known as Rietmond was renamed to Wuppertal.

This was done by a missionary leader named Johann Gottlieb Leipoldt who felt that the village’s original name and the Tra Tra river that runs through it reminded him of the Wupper River in Germany where he originated from.

Now, a Moravian church which was transferred from a Rhenish mission station in 1966, allegedly sits on a 36 000 ha which previously belonged to the Khoisan clan.

“Because of the past policies, the church had to register the land in their name as a condition to allow the mission work to go on. But it was also a means to protect the land against the ill treatment of our people
by the then government. We could not make any land claims because it happened before 1913 which is totally unfair,” he says.

According to the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act (No.22 of 1994), only people who lost land as a result of racially discriminatory practices after 1913 and before 1994 can lodge a claim.

During his tenure former president Jacob Zuma stated that the Restitution Act would be amended to allow people dispossessed before 1913 to lodge a claim, but the amendments never took place.

The UN Special Rapporteur Radolfo Stevenhagen best describes the current problem of Khoisan community development and land in his 2005 report that “the most pressing concern of all the Khoi-San communities is securing their land base and where possible, re-establishing access to natural resources necessary for pastoralism, hunting-gathering or new land-based ventures such as farming”.

Under apartheid, the Khoisan were socially and politically invisible, being forced into the racial category of “Coloured”.
The government enforced a policy whereby all Khoisan people who had not already been assimilated into other populations to be forcibly registered as Coloured, as failure to do so was illegal and unavoidable.

This resulted in the Khoisan not being able to maintain their identity as an indigenous community with a distinct ethnic composition. Subsequently, South Africa’s 2011 Census recorded that the country’s 51 million people are comprised of 79.2% Black Africans, 8.9% Whites, 8.9% Coloureds, 2.5% Indians and 0.5% Other.

The report formally recommended that needs-assessment research in Khoisan community should be undertaken by the competent government authorities that might define the magnitude of the problem and suggest practical remedial measures.

However, the Khoisan continues to experience serious challenges around land in terms of access, ownership and post settlement support. Currently, the Khoi and San Rooibos tea farmers harvest only 2% of the tea on a less than 7% land of the 36 000 ha.

“Less than 7% of the land is suitable for cultivation of rooibos. The rest contain rocks and mountains,”
said Salomo.

“We lease land from the church and it wants 10% of the bruto income which the farmers receive for their products. The amount escalates with 10% each year. Now the farmers are resisting the high lease and are
now in negotiations terms for a lease of R100.00 per ha,” he added.

Salomo maintains that though only less than 7% of the land is suitable for Rooibos farming, the rest of the land has a huge potential to develop for eco-tourism and wildlife parks which will complement the tea.

“As a community, we will then be able to our own identity which we lost during the colonial and apartheid regimes. We will also become economically independent through job opportunities,” he said.

Once described as a “poor man’s drink” – A reference to how the white settlers saw the Khoisan people, Salomo is quite happy that the Khoi and San communities have now been recognised for their traditional
knowledge in Rooibos tea.

“Being acknowledged as the holders of traditional knowledge of this beloved “rich man’s tea” (rich in our culture, tradition and knowledge) was remarkable,” Salomo told Mukurukuru Media.

“At least one wrong of the past was corrected and has restored our dignity as human beings,” he concluded.

The agreement was signed by Minister of environment, forestry and fisheries Barbara Creecy, joined by relevant parties such as the National Khoi-san Council, the San Council of South Africa and the South African Rooibos Council.

The passing of the agreement comes just nearly a decade after the lengthy battle of negotiations process between the department and representatives from the Khoi and San organisations were initiated.

The Khoi and San had been demanding that the 100-year-old rooibos industry recognise the role that their traditional knowledge played in its development after the industry had refuted claims that there is no
sufficient evidence that they hold traditional knowledge of Rooibos tea and that it will not be entering into a benefit-sharing agreement.

The negotiations have thus far produced a one-year pilot through which the Khoi and San communities will receive 1.5% of the farm gate price from the processors of rooibos in the form of annual levy, highlighted Minister Creecy during the ceremony.

“The farm gate price which does not include VAT is the price that is paid by the processors of the product to the farmers who grow, harvest or ferment and dry Rooibos. This money is being paid for the use of the traditional knowledge associated with Rooibos,” she said.’

“At the present, the overall value of the 1.5% benefit is around R12mn per year. To reach the amount, we calculated that if 15 million kilograms of rooibos is harvested and sold at R60 per kilogram it would come to around R12mn – all to be paid by the Rooibos industry to the Khoi and San communities,” said Creecy.

A Khoisan chief under the leadership of Paramount Chief Willie Human in the Eastern Cape also alludes that access to land is still one of the biggest challenges his people face.

Chief Brendon Billings who also formed part of the Khoisan representatives in 2017 by walking more than 1,200km from the Eastern Cape to Pretoria’s Union Buildings to deliver a memorandum of grievances including an attempt to have his nation recognised as the first nation of South Africa says Khoisans are the inhabitants of land.

“We were born in this land,” he said.

Nevertheless Billings says the Benefit Sharing Agreement will open doors for the future generations.

“We are grateful that it was a peaceful agreement and that no blood was shed,” Billings said. –
Mukurukuru Media

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