Dutch Royals confront their country's colonial legacy in South Africa

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Dutch Royals confront their country's colonial legacy in South Africa
The king has previously apologized for his family’s role in slavery, but some South Africans seek a direct apology and reparations from the Netherlands. (Dave Sanders/The New York Times)

by Lynsey Chutel

NEW YORK, NY.- On their first visit to an African country since ascending the throne a decade ago, the king and queen of the Netherlands made a symbolic visit Friday to the Slave Lodge in Cape Town, South Africa, where Dutch colonists once enslaved thousands of Africans and Asians.

As they entered the two-story building with creaky floors, they were confronted by members of another royal house: a small group of leaders of the Khoi and the San, the Indigenous groups who were first displaced 350 years ago by Dutch colonists in what is today Cape Town.

The Dutch king, Willem-Alexander, formally apologized this year for his country’s role in slavery and colonialism. But South Africa’s Indigenous groups and the descendants of those enslaved by the Dutch want a direct apology — as well as reparations — from the Netherlands for atrocities committed in South Africa during 150 years of colonialism.

The king struck an apologetic tone on his three-day visit to the country but made no apology or restitution, instead stressing that he was there to listen and learn.

The Dutch king, in July, asked for forgiveness on behalf of his ancestors for their role in the slave trade, calling it an “obvious lack of action against this crime against humanity.”

While inside the museum, Dutch royals learned the stories of those kept at the lodge. Group members gathered outside said they felt ignored by the visit. Princess Dondelaya Damons of the Griqua Royal House, a clan of the Khoi and San, implored the Dutch royals to visit the townships on Cape Town’s outskirts, where descendants of the San, Khoi and enslaved still live.

“We wanted them to compensate us with projects, like hospitals, education and especially our mines, which were taken away from us,” she told a television news channel.

The Dutch royals listened to their grievances, in keeping with their pledge to make this an educational tour. It included a trip to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and a visit to Freedom Park, an open-air museum in Pretoria, which traces South Africa’s history of oppression. They mingled with LGBT activists and inspected a green energy project. The couple also met with South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa.

Khoi and San leaders are also fighting for greater recognition from the South African government.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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