A brief history of the black Peoples of South Africa
Historical evidence indicates that the San peoples (ǀXam, ǂKhomani, ||Xegwi) were the first to migrate to Southern Africa after divergence from earlier populations in East Africa, generally believed to be the Sandawe peoples of Tanzania who bear cultural and linguistic similarities to the San. The San have inhabited South Africa for at least 30 000 years, proof of this habitation can be found in the wealth of rock art that can be found in numerous locations throughout South Africa.
The second native group to migrate to Southern Africa were the Khoekhoen (Nama, Kora, Hessequa) who reached present day South Africa in 100 BC, they were followed by the Nguni, Sotho, Tswana, Tsonga and Venda peoples in 300 AD.
San obtained a livelihood from often difficult environments by gathering edible plants, berries, and shellfish; by hunting game; and by fishing while the Khoekhoen engaged in extensive trade with other peoples in southern Africa. In exchange for their sheep and cattle, they acquired copper from the north and iron from other native tribes in the east and fashioned these metals into tools, weapons, and ornaments.
The Nguni, Sotho, Tswana, Tsonga and Venda also practiced husbandry but chose to minimize risks rather than to maximize production in their use of the environment. They kept large herds of cattle and invested these animals with great material and symbolic value. They also cultivated a range of indigenous crops, including millet, sorghum, beans, and melons along with other grains and vegetables. Those close to the sea collected shellfish and fished. By utilizing such a great range of food sources, the farmers spread their risks in a difficult ecological system constantly subject to drought, disease, and crop failure.
The notion that San are a distinct ‘race” of people has now been discredited and replaced by arguments that all the black inhabitants of South Africa are closely related, sharing a common gene pool, and that any physical differences among them can be attributed to geographical distribution and extent of contact rather than to race.
Khoekhoen, Nguni, Sotho, Tswana, Tsonga and Venda established a range of relationships with the San people from conflict to ritual interaction and intermarriage prior to encroachment by European colonists in the early 17th century, which led to the dispossession of the native population with loss of land, livestock and in some instances, languages and traditional way of life.
The San were especially hit the hardest because from the 1600s-1800s, Trekboer commandos (mobile paramilitary units) were ordered to hunt San tribes and by 1873, the San of the Cape were hunted into near extinction. The last permit to hunt San was issued in Namibia by the South African government in 1936.