The earliest people
South Africa is a country rich in ethnic diversity with a fascinating history to match. Her people descend from all four corners of the globe and it is this diversity that makes her one of the most unique countries in the world.
The earliest inhabitants on record are the San and Khoekhoe peoples or Bushmen (Khoikhoi) as they are more colloquially known. Both these tribes were resident on the Southern tip of Africa for centuries before the arrival of the European seafarers and traders.
The San were hunter-gatherers and the Khoikhoi were shepherds in the well watered areas of the southern and western coastal tips of the continent. It therefore greatly disadvantaged these nomadic peoples when the Europeans arrived to steal their grazing land. Unfortunately the Europeans also brought with them diseases such as smallpox for which the Khoisan had no immunity and as such these indigenous people have effectively disappeared as an identifiable group.
Other longer term residents in South Africa’s history are the Bantu-speaking people who moved to Southern Africa from the north and north-eastern regions. They migrated south many hundreds of years before the white setters
By way of an example, The Thulamela site in the Kruger National Park is estimated to have first been occupied in the 13th century. Artefacts from as far away as China have been found at The Ruins of Mapungubwe where there is also evidence of an early trading settlement stretching as far back to the 12th century. The settlers in this area were Agro Pastoralists and they brought with them an Iron Age culture which sophisticated socio-political systems.
Early white Settlers and slaves
In 1652 the Dutch East India Company instructed around 90 men , under the leadership of the famed Jan van Riebeeck to build a fort and vegetable garden at the Cape of Good Hope. This refreshment station was intended for the benefit of the ships which were passing through the Eastern Trade Route.
The early setters, initially bartered with the Khoi- San peoples and their existed a mutually beneficial relationship between the neighbours, however the Khoi San started to lose their land as the white settlers started to acquire land of their own. Some of the employees of the Dutch East India were released from their contracts in 1657 and they were given their own land to farm. These settlers soon started to import their own slaves in the same year and soon it was evident that a large colony was forming and the indigenous people were becoming increasingly under threat.
In the 1700s some of the descendants of the white farmers called Trekboers were encouraged by the governors of the cape to push north and east. As a result the Khoi-San started to lose more of their land and they became enslaved by the Boers.
When the British arrived in the 1800’s they formed colonies at The Cape of Good Hope and The Port of Natal which forced the Trekboers further into the hinterland and this resulted in the formation of the Republics of the Orange Free State and Transvaal respectively.
South Africa remains a melting pot of different cultures and [people] groups, because of its tumultuous past.
By Oliver Bromley
African Insight consultant