Sac State hosted the second International Conference on Genocide last fall, bringing together many of the world’s most respected authorities to explore some of the modern world’s most horrific events. Conference organizers Alexandre Kimenyi, Boatamo Mosupyoe and Annette Reed were among the numerous Sac State professors who made presentations.
The largely unrecognized genocide of the KhoiSan people of South Africa has been a slowmotion one lasting 350 years, says Sac State ethnic studies professor Boatamo Mosupyoe. Unlike many genocides marked by specific shocking events, the KhoiSan experience has been one of constant mistreatment and steady losses.
Mosupyoe compares it to dying of cancer rather than instantly in an accident. Today, there are only about 500,000 KhoiSan living in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. That’s down from about 3 million when the first Europeans arrived in Southern Africa in 1652.
The modern KhoiSan are largely powerless politically and generally relegated to low-paying work. The last person who spoke their language died in the mid-1980s. In Botswana, which has been independent from Britain since 1966, the KhoiSan are still referred to as “perpetual servants” by the government.
“What really makes me angry is that people who were oppressed in Botswana are doing this now. They’re the ones doing the oppressing,” Mosupyoe says.
The KhoiSan have a very distinctive appearance and are much shorter than average. So they’ve been easy to identify and to target, first by colonial governments and then by other Africans. Over hundreds of years, they’ve endured outright violence as well as laws designed to target them culturally and economically. In her native South Africa, Mosupyoe says, the KhoiSan weren’t even regarded as people during Apartheid.
But there is hope for the KhoiSan’s future, Mosupyoe says.
The South African government is developing programs to help, trying to revive the KhoiSan language and preparing a special Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the KhoiSan. The president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, has frequently referred to the KhoiSan genocide, saying in 1996: “I owe my being to the Khoi and the San whose desolate souls haunt the great expanses of the beautiful Cape, they who fell victim to the most merciless genocide …” And in 2000, South Africa adopted an official motto in the KhoiSan language. It is “!ke e:/xarra //ke” (“diverse people unite.”)
By Conference organizers Alexandre Kimenyi, Boatamo Mosupyoe and Annette Reed
Capital University Journal