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Old Wynberg

Old Wynberg Village

Cape Town - South Africa

Khoisan Map
The Cape by the time Europeans started exploring the area

It is recorded that Jan van Riebeeck, "father" of South Africa, found the first extensive forest "behind Table Mountain", in the areas now known as Rondebosch & Newlands, and extended to beyond the present-day Kirstenbosch
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Click the map to see a larger map of the Cape Colony in 1660.

The San People

The San people were hunter-gatherers evolving over thousands of years in relative isolation in the southern part of the sub-continent. They had extensive knowledge of their immediate environment, which they systematically exploited for their survival. They lived in small, loosely knit bands, based on the family unit, which facilitated nomadic behaviour. They were also accomplished fishermen, as indicated by the large number of fish bones found in coastal caves.

For tens of thousands of years, the lifestyle of the San in southern Africa remained undisturbed. Then, about 2000 thousand years ago, nomadic groups started moving in from the north, in search for grazing for their domesticated animals.

The Khoikhoi arrive

By AD 500, Khoikhoi groups were settled along the western, southern and eastern Cape coasts. They were hunters and most probably acquired livestock, mostly sheep, through contact with early Iron Age peoples moving south.

The Khoikhoi, meaning men of men, were generally taller than the San and practised a semi-nomadic lifestyle, the needs of their livestock took precedence as it was their major source of wealth.

The Europeans arrive

Jan van Riebeeck, an official of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), who in 1652 established the refreshment station at the Cape of Good Hope to supply ships of the company trading between Holland and the East.

He served as first commander of the Cape from 1652 until 1662.

First farms

On March 1, 1657, land along the Liesbeeck River, in the region of the Cape Town suburb of Rondebosch, was distributed by Jan van Riebeeck to the first nine "citizens" of South Africa, then called Free "Burghers". These farmers were to supply produce to the VOC company at fixed prices.


The Khoikhoi was basically self sufficient for all the essentials of life. Items that were not available in the Cape, like metals and dagga (Cannabis sativa), were traded for sheep and cattle. The source of some of the iron was the Xhosa in the east and copper from Little Namaqua, Damara and the Tswana to the north.

With the arrival of European seafarers at the Cape during the 16th and 17th centuries, new commodities like tobacco, beads, knives, salt and alcohol were introduced.

New diseases, like small pox, to which the indigenous people had very little resistance, and the random killing by the new farmers eventually brought this era to an end.

Today the San community is about 5000 strong and the Khoikhoi 10 000, not counting the Griqua.

The term Khoisan was first used by anthropologist Isaac Schapera in his book "The Khoisan peoples of South Africa" (1930), a term used for the Khoikhoi and San together.

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