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
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.
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.