The Khoi and San people were the original inhabitants of Southern Africa, living in the country thousands of years before the written history began with the arrival of the first Europeans.
The San People (“San” was the name the Bushmen used when referring to themselves)
The San people were the hunter-gatherers. They probably originated on the north coast of Africa and were driven south by stronger tribes. They have been called by many names: “Bushmen”, “San” or “Sonqua”, “Soaqua”, “Sarwa” or “Basarwa”, and “Twa” all basically meaning, “those without domestic livestock”. They were excellent trackers and lived in caves or shelters made of branches close to waterholes for drinking water and so that animals could be easily hunted.
They are famous for their rock art and paintings that depict their way of life and beliefs, which give us a glimpse of how these tough little people, capable of courage and compassion, could survive on the land for such a long time, without destroying all they touched.
There is a small group of San in the Kalahari Desert today. It is increasingly difficult for them to live their traditional lifestyle, and most have turned to either agriculture or stock-breeding to make a living.
The Khoi People (” Khoi” was the original name used by the Hottentots in reference to themselves)
The Khoikhoi (“men of men”) or Khoi, sometimes spelled KhoeKhoe.
They had practiced extensive pastoral agriculture (a nomadic lifestyle based on herding of cattle) in Southern Africa for about 30,000 years before the European settlers arrived in 1652. Like the San, they had a yellowish complexion but because of their protein diet they were bigger in size.
They slept on reed mats in dome-shaped huts made from stripped branches which could be taken apart. Their huts were erected in a circle surrounded by a fence of thorny branches so that they could protect themselves and their animals.
These two peoples eventually married into each other’s tribes and became one people – the Khoisan.
With the arrival of the black and later the white people, much strife ensued. The San regarded the farmers’ cattle as game that they could hunt, and the Khoi saw the farmers as intruders on their grazing pastures. This strife drove the San people north into Namibia and Botswana. The colounisation of the Cape also forced them to change their lifestyle and the population was severely reduced by wars, epidemics (e.g. smallpox) and they eventually became detribalised. Because of all these changes, the Khoi people ceased to exist as a nation.