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First Nations, First Traders, First Diplomats

Tegan Brink, Australian High Commissioner to South Africa and John !Kung Van Rooyen

16 May 2023

Anisha Pemjee - TDS

First Nations refer to the Indigenous peoples who are the earliest known inhabitants of an area. In many parts of the world the First Nations were disregarded, considered uncivilized and primitive, their populations were decimated by colonizers and occupiers and with them the valuable indigenous knowledge they held. The world now acknowledges the value of the First Nations peoples, apologising for the harm they caused and are trying to make amends for the loss and its impact on the world today.

In South Africa the the University of Stellenbosch has renamed the building on campus which houses the departments of History and Psychology, the Division of Research Development, SU International, the SU Archives, as well as the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology, the Krotoa Building. Krotoa is a woman of the Ammaqua and the Gorinqhaiqua people that lived in the Cape in the 1600s. She served as an interpreter and interlocutor between her people and the Dutch East India Company having learned Dutch and Portuguese in her teen years working for Jan van Riebeeck.

The High Commission of Australia in South Africa together with the University of Johannesburg hosted an evening of performances and an exhibition titled ‘!Nau for Now: Crossing Oceans Inside’. The performance was a collaboration between the Garage Ensemble from Namaqualand and the Wulgurukaba Walkabouts Aboriginal artists from Australia. The exhibition showcased Krotoa’s story as well as a collection of art highlighting the experiences of First Nations people.

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Tegan Brink, Australian High Commissioner to South Africa and John !Kung Van Rooyen, supreme leader of the !Kung first nations people of South Africa spoke about how the First Nations people were dispossessed of their land and of their culture and the importance of creating awareness and restoring a sense of belonging and identity.

The reason for renaming the building is explained on the University of Stellenbosch’s website by Dr Ronel Retief, Registrar and chair of the Naming Committee.

“The Rectorate also considered it important that the name, although linked to a historical figure, has symbolic value and, as such, represents more than simply a person. The name Krotoa is not only linked to a woman, but also to an entire underrepresented group of people indigenous to Southern Africa and the area now known as the Western Cape. As such, it acknowledges the heritage of the First Nation people of our region, and we also acknowledge something of our shared and complex history.

“In addition, Krotoa's role as interpreter between different cultural and language groups is a demonstration of bridge building, which is particularly relevant to conversations on multilingualism, inclusivity and creating a mutual understanding between different groups of people," Retief concludes.

The beautiful performances by the very talented Wulgurukaba Walkabouts and Garage Dance Ensemble showcased the culture of First Nations Peoples from Australia and South Africa. They will also perform in Bloemfontein, Cape Town and end their tour in Stellenbosch.

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