Introduction to south African History

Introduction to south African History

Introduction to south African History

  • The Introduction to south African History covers the republic of South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and part of Angola.
  • However, reference is even made on part of central Africa and South Africa.
  • In South Africa, relief determined S much the settlement of people in the area.
  • On assertion to climate, land and soil, this was full of materials, like diamond and gold. 
  • That’s why people who started in South Africa were cultivators.
  • Inhabitants were pastorals who lived a semi nomadic life e.g. the Bantu who were later taken by the Europeans, occupied Transvaal and Orange Free states. 
  • It was as a result of conducive condition that big towns like Johannesburg grew up. 
  • South Africa has had three major races these are Africans, Europeans and Arabs (Asians).
  • The Europeans include French, Dutch, British and Portuguese.
  • The Asians mainly were found in natal since were brought in South Africa as workers in an attempt to construct roads, railway and to work in plantations.
  • The Africans were the Khoikhoi, san and Bantu.

The Earliest Inhabitants in South Africa

The earliest inhabitants in South Africa were the san followed by the khoi khoi and later the Bantu joined them.


Explain the migration and settlement of the san or  Who were the sans?

  • The sans were people who were also called the hunters, bushmen, Twa or Roa.
  • They were short, yellow or brown skinned people
  • They are known to be the first inhabitants of South Africa.
  • They had a click sound in the language with limited vocabulary
  • The sans were believed to have migrated from east and central Africa.
  • Their migration is believed to have started at around AD 1000
  • This is due to the evidence got from rock paintings, which were found in South Africa similar to those found in Tanganyika.
  • In reaching South Africa they settled around dammar land and Batlapin.
  • In south Africa they lived a hunting life in and around Kalahari Namibia deserts
  • They also occupied highland areas or Brakenstein, Camdembo, Winterberg and Drankensberg.
  • They also settled around rivers e.g. river orange, Vaal, Kei and Tugela.
  • By the end of the 19th century, the sans were living in summerset of Cradock.
  • Today the sans are living in the drier areas of Botswana, Namibia, Angola and the republic of south Africa even though their population is too small.

Reasons for their migration and settlement in South Africa

Describe the migration and settlement of the san  Why did they move from their cradle land?

How were they organized before the 18th century in South Africa?

  • Over population in their cradle land caused their migration 
  • Out break of diseases like malaria in their cradle land. 
  • Hostile neighbors in their cradle land.
  • Shortage of hunting grounds
  • Misunderstandings among the san in their cradle land 
  • They needed to know beyond their homeland.
  • Lack of enough food
  • Some moved because their friends moved e.t.c

The Organisation Of The San

The sans were organized politically, economically and socially as below;

Social organization of the san

  • The sans were peace loving and friendly people.
  • The sans could only fight and became fierce when their hunting grounds are interfered.
  • They lived in caves temporally sheltered wall decorated with beautiful painting.
  • They enjoyed early marriages where by girls of 7-8 years marry boys of 14 – 15 years.
  • After marriage, boys were to join the girl’s family and work for them until birth of the first born.
  • Polygamy was highly practiced irrespective of the difference in age.
  • Even though they practiced polygamy, they did not believe in having so many children because of tiresome or tedious way of life.
  • Dancing was very common especially in initiation and after catching the game.
  • They lived in small groups of about 25 – 70 people.
  • They lived a nomadic way of life whereby they moved from one plane to another.
  • They boys under the san under went initiation at puberty level were their hunting skills were tested experience in natural herbal.
  • They celebrated important days like birthdays, wedding and death.
  • They were grate artists and used to paint their rocks, stones and ostrich egg shells  
  • They were story tellers.
  • They used to wear ornaments made out of shells and ostrich eggs.
  • During ceremonies `they used to drink fermented juice.
  • They used to celebrate new as well as old moon.
  • They used traditional healing herbs as medicine.
  • They believed in their creator god called kaggen whom they prayed at through mantis.
  • The san offered prayers to heavenly body including the moon.
  • They never cared about the sick people and old ones.
  • They had division of labour e.g. men hunted while ladies fished. ➢ They believed in their ancestors.

Economic organization                                                                                            

  • They were hunters as well as food gatherers 
  • They used poisoned arrows for defense
  • They dug pits for trapping bigger animals
  • They gathered wild roots, fruits, and insects like caterpillars, locusts e.t.c
  • They kept dogs as domestic animals for hunting
  • They were fisher men who used to fish from rivers e.g. vaal, kei, tugera e.t.c.
  • They were cattle raiders from neighbors like the Bantu
  • They lived a nomadic way of life and they couldn’t practice agriculture.
  • The hunting grounds were guided seriously because it was a key for their economic survival.
  • They carried out pottery and they made pots for cooking
  • They used arrows, bows and poison and dogs to trap animals for their survival.
  • They used to dig ditches were big animals could be trapped.

Political organization

  • They lived in small settlement each inhabitant like tribes.
  • Each settlement was independent from each other.
  • The sans were divided into three major groups i.e. southern san, central san, and northern san.
  • Each settlement among the san was had a leader called the headman.
  • A headman was helped by a council of elders to settle disputes amongst the tribes.
  • Regular council meetings were held to handle important matters Membership to the council meeting was to open to all adult males.
  • The youth were responsible for the security of their settlement from their neighbors.
  • They kept dogs as domestic animals for defense.

The Khoi Khoi

Qn. Who were the khoi khoi?

Qn. Describe the origin, migration and settlement of the khoi khoi into south Africa

  • Like the san these were also brown skinned people but taller than the san.
  • The khoi khoi were also called the hottentoes or the herders.
  • They had a click sound in their language, which was even richer in vocabulary than that of the san.
  • They were also called men of men because they felt stronger than the other men.
  • They were also divided into groups e.g. the western Khoikhoi.
  • By the time the Portuguese arrived in South Africa the khoi khoi were living in the surrounding bays.
  • Like the san the khoi khoi are also believed to have been in east or central Africa before they had migrated in South Africa.
  • Because of various factors they were forced to head/ face south wards up to South Africa were they reached at around 13th and 14th…
  • They occupied in South African areas around Atlantic Ocean coast up to buffalo coast on Indian Ocean.
  • However, some khoi khoi settled far away from the coast in an attempt to search for fresh water.
  • At around 14487 during the Portuguese invasion in South Africa, the khoi khoi were living at saladanh bay, Table Bay mossel bay.  
  • By 1650 some khoi khoi were living at the cape along the banks of river orange, the coast of natal, Zulu land and coast of Namibia.
  • Today the khoi khoi are living in present day republic of South Africa and Namibia.

The Organisation Of The Khoi Khoi

  • The khoi khoi were also organized socially, politically and economically.
  • However, politically the khoi khoi were much stronger than the san as below.

They lived in lager groups of about 500 and above people.

Each group were the khoi khoi consisted so many clans.

  • Each group made up a village which operated independently as a political unity.
  • The elders in each clan were responsible to settle the group disputes.
  • In settling disputes, political meetings were held in publics and all people were free to make suggestions.
  • During meetings a chief was to take over the control.
  • The chiefs were also responsible for the safeness of their groups.
  • After the meetings, common suggestions were implemented.

Economic Organization

  • They had sheep of long and big tails.
  • They were herders and kept cattle of long horns.
  • The dogs were also kept as domestic animals.
  • They were fishermen and carried out fishing especially in seasons of famine.
  • They slaughtered their animals during important days e.g. for celebration.
  • They practiced iron working and pottery.
  • The khoi khoi had a lot of minerals than the sans.
  • Milk constituted and dominated their diet.
  • Their was division of labour between the khoi khoi e.g. men were hunters and women were food gatherers. 
  • They hunted using oxen and used them as mode of transport. ➢ They carried out trade especially with the Bantu. Socially
  • The khoi khoi lived in simple homesteads each consisting of bee hives shaped like huts made out of reed mats.
  • Initiation ceremonies were held done on boys as a preparatory stage to child hood.
  • Marriage was done after initiation. ➢ It was a taboo to marry from the same clan or tribe.
  • The bride and groom were required to stay with the boy’s family till the birth of the first born.
  • After the first born, they were set free to establish their own families.
  • They practiced polygamy.
  • They encouraged many children.
  • Several important ceremonies were practiced like birth, puberty, marriage and death.
  • Cerebrating people were sprinkled with blood of sacrificed animals and wore animal intestine.
  • Magicians were highly valued for their advice in times of crisis e.g. wars, death, earth quakes e.t.c. 
  • They believed in power of ancestral e.g. ghosts.
  • Ghosts would create danger in case they were annoyed.
  • They used healing herbs as medicine and they taught them to young ones.
  • The boys were circumcised.
  • They sacrificed for rain because they lived in dry areas.

Similarities and differences between the san and

The khoi khoi

Qn.  Compare and contrast between the khoi khoi and the san.


  • The khoi khoi were taller than the san.
  • The khoi khoi spoke a language full of cliques and wider vocabulary compared to the san.
  • The khoi khoi lived in camps while the san lived in caves.
  • Marrying from the same clan between the khoi khoi was a taboo that was not the case among the san.
  • The khoi khoi never had clan leaders while the san had a clan leader.
  • The khoi khoi reared sheep and cows as domestic animals while the san reared dogs as domestic animals.
  • The khoi khoi had strong family ties as compared to the san.
  • The khoi khoi believed in magic powers while the san never believed in magic power.
  • The san prayed to the god kaggen while the khoi khoi prayed to tsuigoab.


  • They both practiced polygamy
  • They had cliques in the language 
  • They never cared for the sick and old people. They were both hunters and food gatherers 
  • They carried out fishing to supplement their diet.
  • They both stayed to the women’s family until the birth of their first born.
  • They both cerebrated important days like new moon.
  • They both used bows and poison to kill big animals. They both lived a nomadic way of life.

Bantu speakers

Causes of their migration

  • Bantu is a linguistic word of black people who have a common word NTU or NDU in their language.
  • These people originated from the west sudanic area (West Africa) i.e. Niger Congo basin.
  • When they reached in South Africa, they were considered a largest group of people in South Africa.
  • They were composed of 4 major groups i.e. the, Shon, Sotho – Tswana, the Nguni- Tsonga and Aherero Ambo Ovambo Herero. 
  • Their arrival in South Africa is not certain but it is sayed they reached in South Africa in the 10th century.
  • The different groups of Bantu reached south Africa in different places at different times.
  • Increase in population in their homeland made them look for vacant areas.
  • They were searching for water of their animals.
  • They wanted fertile land where they could practice agriculture.
  • They had internal conflicts among the various Bantu groups.
  • The development of iron working which created a need to be exported beyond their homeland.
  • They were looking for food because famine had hit them.
  • Much of the grass had withered therefore they were looking for pasture for their animals.
  • They faced external attacks from luo pygmies’ people, which made them to migrate.
  • Diseases like nagana, sleeping sickness that attacked made them to look free disease and pest areas attacked them.
  • Bandwagon influence. Some migrated because they saw others doing so.
  • They wanted to adventure beyond their homeland.
  • They wanted to trade their produced iron equipment including knives, spears and arrows.
  • Natural calamities like flood, locusts, earthquakes which hit them made them to live the homeland.
  • Development in their political administration necessitated them to go and rule others.
  • They were nomadic in nature that practiced shifting cultivation there fore without drought they had to migrate from their home land.
  • Oppressive leadership in their societies.  

Origin migration and settlement of the Bantu in South Africa

  • Little is known about their migration 
  • What is known is that they migrated in four major groups i.e. 
  • These groups were named according to the areas were they migrated to were they settled.
  • These groups were Shone, Sotho –Tswana the Nguni and Aherero Ambo


  • They moved in south Africa in the 19th century 
  • They are part of the Bantu people who started moving in 2000 years ago.
  • They started moving from West Africa and Katanga areas.
  • They moved southwards from the central Africa.
  • They later reached the present day Zimbabwe and formed the Zimbabwe culture.

The Soth -Tswana

  • This is the second wave of the bantu migration
  • They were the central wave of the bantu migrating people
  • They entered south Africa through lake Tanganyika and Nyasa (Malawi)  
  • They settled in the present day Lethoso and rivers Orange And Vaal
  • By the 17th century they had given birth to group of Sotho, Tswana among others
  • The Tswana settled in the present day Botswana
  • Kalahari desert hindered their westward expansion
  • in the 18th century, the Sotho had expanded and settled in the present day Zulu land and Swaziland
  • They were in the areas where they are now by the 13th century

The Nguni – Tsonga

  • These moved eastwards from great lakes region
  • They moved through low veld until natal region and Eastern Cape. ➢ They settled along the natal coastal plain by the 16th century.
  • By the 18th century, they had separated and formed groups of people like Xhosa, thembu, pondo Zulu, mthetwa, ngwane, and Swazi Ndebele etc.
  • They separated and developed groups that spoke language of the same dilate.
  • They settled in central Zulu land
  • Because of development in pottery,  Xhosa expanded up to river Umtata and umuzimbuvu
  • The Xhosa expanded in the 17th century.
  • In the next 200 years, they expanded up to Fish River.
  • The Tsonga remained in the present Mozambique area.
  • Due to such separation different languages developed between the major and lesser Bantu groups.
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