VISUAL ESSAY

Khoisan protesters outside Union Buildings hunt pigeons to stay alive

By Shiraaz Mohamed 29 June 2020

King Khoisan stands in front of a statue of Madiba. He is prepared to remain where he is, fighting for his cause until death. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

The struggle for recognition that King Khoisan and his group embarked on in 2017 continues with greater hardship under the coronavirus lockdown.

King Khoisan and his group arrived at the Union Buildings in 2017 to hand over a memorandum to the then-deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa. They stayed for 24 days and went on a hunger strike for 17 days.  They were promised that a task team would be set up to deal with their matter.

King Khoisan makes tea on an open fire. Since the lockdown began there has been a decrease in food donations. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Their memorandum contained four demands:

  • To be recognised as the First Nation of South Africa;
  •  For their language and all their dialects to be made official;
  •  For land to be returned to them; and
  • For the term “coloured” to be abolished.

 

King Khoisan with his wife Cynthia Triegard as they cook their dinner. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)
King Khoisan prepares dinner. He has started growing vegetables, but the cold has killed most of the crop. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

They returned to the Eastern Cape, but in November 2018 King Khoisan, together with six others made their way back to Pretoria. They set out on foot, walking from town to town, city to city. The journey took them two weeks. Walking 10 to 12 hours a day, the weather conditions posed a challenge. With no money, they carried only their backpacks and their tents. People often stopped to give them a ride, but they only accepted when it was raining. Others offered them a place to stay in their homes or booked them into lodges. They used the opportunity as an awareness campaign as they moved from town to town making their way back to the Union Buildings.

King Khoisan performs a ritual for protection before heading out into the city. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Several days after reaching the Union Buildings, they were met by government officials. Unhappy with the response they received, they asked to see Ramaphosa.

Today they still wait. “We will be here, for 10 years, 15 years. We are prepared to die here for our cause,” said King Khoisan.

The Khoisan now face a new struggle. The struggle to survive. Food and other basic necessities have become a challenge.

The Khoisan as they walk the streets of the Pretoria CBD to buy food with money received as a donation. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

King Khoisan said: “Prior to the lockdown, we were okay. People visiting the Mandela statue would often engage with us and ask us about our plight. Their hearts melted and they would assist us with a little bit of money or groceries. But the lockdown has changed all of that. No one comes in and no one goes out. This means no visitors, no food. Even though we are on Level 3 [of the lockdown], the Union Buildings remain empty.”

King Khoisan sits by a fire while preparing his pipe to smoke. The illuminated Union Buildings can be seen in the background. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

The resilient King Khoisan had to resort to other means of surviving. They started hunting pigeons to stay alive. They also started growing vegetables but the cold killed their vegetation. Their cellphone was stolen while it was charging at a plug point in the gardens. This meant that they lost communication with the outside world.

Shane Plaatjies. left, and Autshumoa Triegard, right, wear face masks as they make their way into the city. Plaatjies, who worked as a painter and plasterer in the Eastern Cape, now relies on donations to survive. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Cynthia Triegard, wife of King Khoisan, talks of her sacrifices made in support of her husband and their plight.

King Khoisan, left, and Autshumoa Triegardt, right, shop for food in a supermarket. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)
King Khoisan sits by a fire while preparing his pipe. The illuminated Union Buildings can be seen in the background. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“My mother suffered a stroke not so long ago. I was unable to go. I wanted to go but could not. I spend the night crying, wondering what I would do if I lost my mother. I miss my children and grandchildren. I miss my family. Here we have no running water. We bath out of a big dish in the garden. We have to go up to the offices to use the public toilets.  We sleep on a used mattress that someone threw away. There is no electricity. Life is different here, but we need to make these sacrifices in order to fight for our cause.” DM

For more information on the King Khoisan initiative, visit their Facebook page

Footnote:

Photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed shares his experience from his Facebook account on what he endured in producing this piece.

“What an amazing incredible story to work on. I feel so blessed that I get to highlight the struggle of the Khoisan. What was supposed to take me 1 day to shoot has taken me three days. Had to get my deadline extended because I was not happy with my first take. Was almost arrested at the Union Buildings on Friday night when I went to get some night images. Walked for several kilometres yesterday in the Pretoria CBD following these cool dudes around. But as I sit here I say Oh Yeah! Driving more than 450km to cover this story and everything that came with it is so worth it. I would do it again! My mom asked me why I am so drawn into this story. For some reason, I could not answer her. The story itself is sad, their struggle. No food. Lockdown making it worse and them having to resort to hunting birds to stay alive.”

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