The following statement was issued today in Pretoria by the Special Rapporteur of the UN on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People:

At the invitation of the Government of South Africa, the Special Rapporteur of the UN on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People, Mr. Rodolfo Stavenhagen, visited South Africa between 28 July and 8 August 2005.

The purpose of the visit was to better understand the situation of indigenous peoples in South Africa and to learn about the Government’s policies to promote and protect indigenous peoples’ rights. The Special Raporteur had conversations with the Government authorities at the national and provincial level, organizations of civil society, the United Nations country team and members of the donor community on the ways and means to strengthen the nation’s responses to the needs and demands of indigenous communities.

The Special Rapporteur met with, among others, Ms. B. Mabandla, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs; Ms. A.T. Didiza, Minister for Agriculture and Land Affairs; Mr. Pallo Jordan, Minister for Arts and Culture; Ms. S. Van der Merwe, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs; Ms. N Hangana, Deputy Minister of Provincial and Local Government; Ms. Dipuo Peters, Premier of the Nothern Cape; Mr. Wallace Amos Mgoqui, City Manager of Cape Town and the Regional Land Claims Commissioners of Western Cape, Free State and Northern Cape respectively. He also met with the Chairpersons of a number of Parliamentary Committees, members of the South African Human Rights Commission, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities and the Pan South African Language Board.

In his tour of various provinces, Mr. Stavenhagen visited the township of Platfontein, in the Northern Cape, where he met with the chiefs and members of the !Xu and Khwe communities who had been resettled in the area after returning from forced displacement in Angola and Namibia. The conversations focused on the communities’ challenges and successes in the field of housing, social services, health, education and other human rights issues. Mr. Stavenhagen also visited the San rock art site in Wildebeestkuil.

In Upington, he met with members of the National Khoi-San Council who explained to him their major concerns regarding, among others, the statutory non-recognition of the Khoi and San peoples, their difficulties in enjoying land rights, problems regarding full access to social services, their total participation as indigenous communities in the political process and the survival of their cultural and ethnic identities in the wider society. In Andriesvale, in the Kalahari, the Special Rapporteur had the opportunity to learn about the living conditions, traditions and cultures of the Khomani San. He was informed of the settlement of the Khomani San’s land claim in 1999 and the problems and challenges they are now facing in order to make this land productive and a source of income for the whole community. The Special Rapporteur also met with a delegation of the Nama communities from the Orange River area and with other leaders and representatives of San communities in the region.

In the Western Cape, the Griqua community of Kranshoek hosted the Special Rapporteur. Here he met with their Paramount Chief and the Chairman of the Griqua National Conference as well as other members of the community. They expressed to the Special Rapporteur their concerns regarding land rights and cultural identity. Towards the end of the mission, Mr. Stavenhagen attended a workshop on the human rights of the San, Koranna, Nama, Griqua and Cape Khoi communities at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein with the participation of a number of non-governmental organizations and indigenous chiefs and representatives. During the mission, the Special Rapporteur participated in a lecture panel at the University of South Africa (UNISA), and gave a talk on indigenous peoples and the United Nations at the University of Free State.

All indigenous peoples of South Africa were brutally oppressed by the colonial system and the apartheid regime up to 1994. The Khoi-San were dispossessed of their lands and territories and their communities and cultures were destroyed. The tragic consequences of apartheid cannot be overcome in a few years, and the Special Rapporteur is fully conscious of the tremendous efforts that have been made by the democratic government of South Africa to redress the many injustices inherited from the old regime. Through his conversations with Government authorities and Khoi-San people, he is also aware of the challenges faced by these communities and their longstanding demands for land rights, official statutory recognition, respect of their cultural identities and full and equal access to social services.

The Special Rapporteur is encouraged by the government’s declared commitment to meet the demands of the indigenous groups in the country and by the ongoing efforts to formulate and implement appropriate legislation and policies to address issues such as land restitution, multilingual and multicultural education, the representation of traditional authorities in public life and the delivery of health and other services. Government authorities are aware of the urgency to focus on the accumulated backlog of unsatisfied needs of indigenous communities, and the Khoi-San, in turn, are dissatisfied by the delays in the provision of services and demand that such efforts be speeded up. More coordination between the various government departments that deal with indigenous peoples is required.

The Special Rapporteur will elaborate upon the findings of his mission in a report to the Commission on Human Rights in April 2006, that will also include recommendations and proposals intended to strengthen the full enjoyment of all their human rights by the indigenous peoples of South Africa. He will also share the findings of his mission with the major human rights, humanitarian and development organizations of the United Nations system. Mr. Stavenhagen has been the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people since the position was created by the Commission on Human Rights in 2001. This was the first official visit of the Special Rapporteur to South Africa.

For further information, contact Pablo Espiniella, at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva: tel. +41 22 917 94 13.