South Africa: Outcry Continues After Torture of San Elder

The torture of a Khomani San elder in South Africa has seen Indigenous Peoples rights activists vent their anger and disbelief that such an incident could take place in a modern democracy.

Buks Kruiper, 71, was recently accused of stealing a packet of crisps - or chips - at a local supermarket in Upington in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. He was apparently taken to a back room of the store and handcuffed by the store's security guard. Kruiper says he was then strung up while the guard allegedly punched and kicked him several times. He was then photographed bleeding and hanging from the door railing.

Patricia Glyn, a well known South African writer, was with Buks Kruiper at the time he was accused of stealing. It was Glyn who had bought him the crisps which Kruiper had put in his pocket. Glyn and Kruiper lost track of each other while shopping and after a search by Glyn, staff had told her he had been accused of shoplifting. Glyn said that she didn't see Kruiper being tortured; "he was brought out to me when I insisted that the manager do so," she said.

The incident made headlines due to Kruiper's elder status in the Khomani San community and the fact that he is the brother of the late Khomani San leader, Dawid Kruiper, who passed away last year. Kruiper has since pressed charges of assault with the police who are investigating the allegations of torture at the urging of Glyn. "I was relieved that I was with him because he was going to do what so many [indigenous people] do, which is to walk away," Glyn said.

Kruiper's brutalisation and the subsequent assistance provided to him by sympathisers echoes the story of the badly burnt Namibian San tracker Cgunta Khao//Khao, who was helped, in part, to receive specialised medical treatment by an Australian tourist to Namibia, Jane Bean.

Bean, four San hunters and one San guide were caught in a runaway bush fire in Namibia while out hiking in Bushmanland. The hunters encircled Bean in a bid to protect her from the blaze. Bean explained what happened: "The four San hunters who tried to save my life suffered burns to more than 70 percent of their bodies as they were attired only in loin cloths and sandals. The San guide was dressed in western clothing and boots like me, and we suffered second degree burns to our arms, hands, face, knees and thighs."

Three San hunters perished as a result of the injuries, leaving only Cgunta Khao//Khao alive. He has since made a full recovery and returned to his family recently. However, Bean has complained to the Namibian health authority over the treatment the injured San received at the state hospital.

She recalls visiting the injured men one day: "I found the two bushmen in a piteous state: their sheets were stained and dirty, they had no pillows, the wounds were not being dressed, they were not on drips, their pain management consisted of six hour panadol and ibuprofen, no attempt was made to help them drink or eat. In short they were left on their own. I asked the nurses why they were not properly looked after and I was told that it was the 'fault' of the Bushmen as they did not want to eat or drink and would not accept a drip. I asked the nurses where the pillows were and they said they had none then later told me that the pillows were in the laundry."

Bean has also followed up with a sworn statement to the police of the events on the day of the bush fire because she wants the owners of the safari camp, where she stayed and left with the San hunters for the hike, to be investigated for the incident.

The event captured the hearts of Namibians and a massive fundraising effort coordinated by the N/a'an ku sê! foundation helped pay for the medical treatment of Cgunta Khao//Khao. The foundation helps to protect and conserve Namibia's wildlife and improve the lives of the San Bushman community.

Cgunta Khao//Khao's treatment in the hospital and Buks Kruiper's torture registered a sigh of frustration by the Indigenous People's Rights Programme Manager at the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA), Delme Cupido. "That's the kind of thing that happens all the time. It's a kind of racism and abuse that these people [face] all the time. It's quite shocking. You are dealing with institutionalised racism. It is racism at all levels of society," Cupido said.

He added that OSISA was in the beginning phase of putting together a legal defence fund for the marginalised Indigenous Peoples to use in cases of human rights abuses that they may be subjected to. "There has to be some way that communities are empowered at a local level. There's a need for that," he said.

Cupido pointed out that Kruiper's case made headlines because he is well known, but he said that there were countless other cases of abuse experienced by Indigenous Peoples "that get swept under the carpet."

Meanwhile, the publicity of Kruiper's torture has not died down. The owners of the local store where Kruiper was tortured visited the community where Kruiper lives to personally apologize for the incident at their store. Their apology was warmly received by the Khomani San community. The owners have also agreed to pay for Kruiper's medical treatment. Glyn said that Kruiper needs specialist medical treatment and that is something that she is currently helping him with.

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