History of the Khoisans in South Africa

South Africa is a country on the southernmost tip of the African continent. The people of South Africa are as varied and distinctive as a rainbow, earning them the moniker “The Rainbow Nation”. South Africa is unique because it has 11 official languages spoken by individuals from various ethnic origins. Despite the diversity of South Africans, the two tribes appear to have been forgotten through time, which is regrettable because these two tribes were the original inhabitants of South Africa as it is known today.

The San and Khoi-Khoi people lived in the territory now known as South Africa before the Bantu people. Bantu people comprised both the Sotho and Nguni tribes of South Africa. The amalgamation of these two cultures constituted the Khoisan people. The Khoisan were hunter-gatherers who lived in modern-day Botswana, Namibia, and the Western half of South Africa at around 2300 BP (Before Present). They lived a simplistic and nomadic life and relied on nature for sustenance. They kept herds of animals such as goats, cattle and sheep and had to move around according to the season to find enough grazing for their animals. They never stayed in a single place for more than a few weeks. 

A couple of centuries later, the Khoisan began interacting with other tribes that had settled in the region, such as the Xhosa and Batswana tribes. Their distinct cultures eventually began to mix, each tribe adopting a cultural aspect from the other and learning how to coexist.

Colonialism and the integration of the Khoisan into other tribes of the region.

In the mid-17th century (the 1650s), the Khoisan encountered Dutch Settlers at the Cape of Good Hope. The Khoisan population rapidly decreased once the Dutch immigrants arrived. The Khoisan were forced out of their traditional spaces, made slaves on Dutch farms, and exterminated. Those who could avoid slavery and death looked for shelter with nearby tribes; eventually, they were assimilated into those tribes and forgot their way of life. As the centuries passed, the Khoisan became lost to history, only being heard through oral traditions passed down from generation to generation.


The Khoisan people might have been driven to extinction by colonisation. We have seen a slow but steady resurgence of the Khoisan and their cultures. As much as they have become South Africa’s forgotten people, their resurgence could hopefully result in preserving the culture and traditions.

Emma Matjila


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