By Yusuf Ali
September 2, 2002

Commission on Restitution of Land RightsIt was songs and dance. It was joyful as the Indigenous community of Ikhomani in the North West of South Africa celebrated the return of their ancestral land.

More than 6000 members of the Mier and San communities, who jointly make up the Ikhomani group, danced and praised their God as the South African Minister for Agriculture and Lands, Ms Thoko Didiza handed the Lands Title Certificate to them at a colorful ceremony held at the Kalahari Transfrontier Park on the border of South Africa and Botswana.

The restoration of the more than 5000 hectares of land to the community, which came as delegates gathered in Johannesburg for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, was a major gain for the Indigenous Peoples Caucus who in their Kimberley Declaration called for the restoration of land to the Indigenous Peoples in South Africa.

A number of delegates from the Indigenous Caucus: Victoria Tauli Corpuz, Pauline Tangiora and Kenneth Deer, who joined the locals in the celebrations, commended the South African government for their recognition of the Indigenous Peoples.

"These is quite commendable, and we hope the leaders in the rest of the countries across the world would see this and follow suit" said Vicky Tauli, a member of the Philippine's Tebtebba Foundation.

Members of the Mier Community, popularly known as Bushmen, braved the heat of Kalahari Desert, bare-chested and clad only in pieces of skin covering their lower body, danced in celebrations.

"Today we have the distinct pleasure of being in a position to honour the promise of our Constitution and fulfill the commitment of the democratic government by officially handing over land to the San and Mier Communities,' the South African Minister for Agriculture and Lands, said.

"We also celebrate the dawn of an exciting partnership that brings together the ancient wisdom of the Indigenous Peoples who lived in harmony with their environment, and contemporary science which is constantly battling to understand and come to terms with nature" Ms Didiza added.

Negotiations between the San, the Mier and San Parks, although protracted, had been peaceful. Through this land transfer, the communities are allowed to jointly manage the Park with the Management Board, perform their ancestral rites on the new land and continue their traditional practices. .

"The new partnership will blend biodiversity management with the preservation of a culture that has survived many attempts at its distinction. Effective management of the area should result in a better understanding not only of the ecological, but also the social dynamics of the semi-arid Kalahari sand-Veld areas" noted the Minister.

The San and Mier Communities have for thousands of years, inhabited most of the current South Africa, but were driven from their traditional land with violence over the last centuries. Their forefathers and their descendants were forced to scatter all over South Africa in search of refuge. They endured the stigma of being classified as coloured, and were forced to lived in small reserves known as coloured reserves.

This displacement also resulted in the gradual disintegration of one of the oldest cultures, language and their way of life.

"The birth of this agreement heals a lot of pain that was endured by my people,'" said the community's traditional leader, David Kruiper, as he thanked the government for the land.

The Lands Claims Commission established by the government was not only restoring land to the rightful Indigenous owners but is also exploring possibilities of developing the land for agricultural production within the Land Redistribution Program.

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