The Khoisan Question: Interview with Kobus Faasen

Kobus Faasen is the man at the centre of a storm surrounding Media24 insistance that “Bushmen” is a collective term for the Khoisan, and that it’s use of the word does not constitute hate speech. I interviewed Faasen via email and his answers to my questions are reproduced below. DRL 

Q.    How would you describe yourself. Is Khoisan a better term to describe your heritage? Ironically, before the tussle with Die Burger started, I was not aware that I am a descendant of Krotoa van Meerhoff. Fortunately I worked in the archives and found it very intriguing that people could be so interested in their ancestry. Through synchronicity / Divine assistance I was able to:

a.     Trace all my paternal ancestors back to Krotoa van Meerhoff. My maternal ancestors were given to me by a Mr Happy Engela, an amazing genealogist.

b.    Find the exact etymology of the term ‘bushman’ in the Archive’s library.

c.     Find the required historical evidence via original documents and travellers’ accounts to support my argument. 

Identity is flexible and one can assume any identity you wish, i.e. you do not need any genealogical evidence or specific political convictions to be who you would like to be. I was just extremely fortunate to be working in the archives at the time of the court case. Without being aware of my connections with Krotoa, I already started developing an interest in the Khoisan history in 1987.  Having acquainted myself with my ancestors, I am reasonably comfortable with referring to myself as an Euro-Indo-Khoisan. 

 Q.    Your relationship to the Khoisan Nation, are you an elected representative or simply a descendant? 

I find it problematic that people can be elected if they did not campaign to proclaim their specific manifesto to their constituency. The government’s refusal to acknowledge First Nation status makes matters even more problematic.  

Q. What is your opinion of those who refer to themselves as “Bushmen”? Media24 have been making quite a big deal of the San Council’s decision to approve the use of the term? 

Nine out of ten who identify themselves as ‘bushies’, are either deliberately ignorant or did not have proper access to formal education. The San Council’s chair, Mr Steenkamp and secretary,Mr Louw, did not have a mandate from the Council to speak on behalf of their elected body and/or their constituency. They were paid an extravagant amount to distance themselves from the majority opinion in their constituencies.  

Q. Your view on the Australian apology and how it effects your case. 

The new premier was under a lot of pressure. Their government, just like ours, should still acknowledge the genocide and inhuman atrocities of the early colonial period. As far as I understand, the Aussie apology does not cover abovementioned. 

Q. What are your views on the progress of the case? Are you optimistic of a favourable outcome, bearing in mind Media24 own a sizeable chunk of the media? 

In the event of an unfavourable verdict, I would have to appeal to be heard by the Constitutional Court. Media24 is the biggest media company in Africa (and might even be major contributors to the Party’s purse), but they will have to provide an alternative etymology, which is impossible. 

Q. How far do you think freedom of speech should be limited with regards to the use of language that is considered hurtful to you as an individual and your people as a collective? 

COSATU advocates the motto: ‘An injury to one is an injury to all. I regard all the following terms as hate speech: ‘Kaffir’, ‘Hotnot’, ‘Boesman’, ‘Kwerekwere’, ‘Bhulu’, ‘Coolly’ and ‘iLawu’. We could have a long discussion on how structural violence impacts on the freedom of speech. Ironically, victims of structural violence try to exorcise it by targeting a weaker, more vulnerable group. The slaves actually imported, transferred and popularised the term ‘Boschman’, which the 17th century Dutch applied in Sumatra and Borneo re the orangutan. 

Q. Your views on the use of obscenity as opposed to hate speech, are you in accordance with those who believe the only restraints on speech are those already outlined by the constitution? 

The criteria would be whether anyone’s dignity, psychological or emotional well-being is negatively/detrimentally affected or not. 


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