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
The Cape by the time Europeans started exploring the area.
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
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.
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
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.
Click the map to see a larger map of the Cape Colony in 1660.