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The History of South Africa Part II

Updated on August 5, 2017

The Hottentots/Khoi/KhoiKhoi

  • The Hottentots originally call themselves KhoiKhoithat is “Men of Men” meaning real people / people people, the term used to show their pride in themselves. Europeans called them Hottentots and their language Hottentot.
  • –The Hottentots are taller than the Bushmen, but like the Bushmen, they are yellow skinned and their language is full of clicks.
  • The Hottentots are also another indigenous people in South Africa who came from Botswana. They moved from Botswana to occupy South Africa around 500 BC.
  • – Archaeological evidence shows that the Khoikhoi entered South Africa through two distinct routes:

• travelling west, dodging the Kalahari to the west coast, then later, down to the Cape, and

• travelling south-east out into the Highveld and then southwards to the south coast

  • – When the Portuguese arrived in Southern Africa in 1487, they found the Hottentots living at Table bay(west coast)and Mossel bay(east coast). By the mid of the 17th century they were living around the Cape, along the banks of the Orange river and Natal.


  • The Hottentots kept large herds of cattle and flock of sheep, which formed the basis of their life and economy.
  • Since they were cattle keepers, the Hottentots had to move from place to place with their herds of cattle and flock of sheep in search of fresh pasture and water.
  • Although they kept numerous animals, the Hottentots rarely killed them for food, except when there was an important function such as a ceremony.
  • The Hottentots also fed on honey, wild fruits and roots and fish. Thus, like the Bushmen, the Hottentots were hunters and gatherers. They did not grow any food crops.

Social and political organization

  • The Hottentots had a large and more efficient social and political organization than the Bushmen.
  • They lived in large groups or camps, each of which consisted of several related clans.
  • Each camp was therefore a large village. The camp also enclosed all the herds of its inhabitants.
  • The Khoi society was the earliest unequal society in South Africa. This means that some people managed to accumulate wealth as they owned large herds of cattle than others.
  • As a result, they developed a social hierarchy, for example chieftaincy, that is some people became rulers because of their wealth, hence leadership was based on wealth and seniority.
  • It was in this ground that each camp had a chief who ruled with the help of the head of clans comprising his territory, that is a camp village.
  • Since they were animal keepers who moved from one place to another, they sometimes became competitors with the San.
  • The Khoikhoi were more centralized and lived in large communities than the San. At a later stage, the San were in cooperated by the Khoikhoi through intermarriage.
  • The Khoikhoi were religious people. They had few religious ceremonies as such, but they believed in the existence of a supreme God. This supreme God was responsible for bringing thunderstorms which refreshed the pasture.
  • The Khoi also believed that the spirits of their ancestors inhabited natural features of the landscape such as valleys, rivers, and mountains.

The Bantu

  • Until at least the 1960s, South African historians and white politicians had a very distorted view of South African early history:
  • –They believed that black Bantu- speaking, iron working farmers were fairly recent immigrants into South Africa.
  • –Furthermore it was claimed that, these Bantu migrations first crossed the Limpopo between 1500 and 1600AD, and certainly not earlier than 1000AD.
  • –The Blacks were said to have swept into South Africa from the North in large successive, and conquering waves of migration.
  • However, since the 1970s, archaeological research, linguistics evidence and the use of carbon 14 dating have totally overturned this distorted and biasedversion of Southern Africa history.

The new evidence suggest that:

  1. The first Bantu speaking people seem to have crossed the Limpopo into Southern Africa by about 200AD. Therefore, the Bantu were not recent immigrants of South Africa as suggested by colonial historians and politicians.
  2. By 300 AD they had pushed Southwards into the present day Natal and by 400AD their settlement were evident in the Transvaal. However, there is no evidence of large scale migrations as suggested by colonial historians. The Bantu travelled and settled in small, and fairly sized groups.
  • What does the above arguments imply? –The Bantu entered in South Africa earlier than the period suggested by Europeans / colonial scholars (1500-1600AD) –The Bantu did notenter in South Africa in large successive and conquering wave of migrations as suggested by these scholars, but rather in small and fairly sized groups

3. Archaeological evidence recovered very few skeletal remains of the early Bantu in South Africa. This little evidence shows that the Bantu were larger than the Khoikhoi and the San.

4. This archaeological evidence further suggests that, these early Bantu were of a definite Negroid racial type though with signs of intermixing with the local Khoikhoi and San population.

5. Linguistic evidence further suggests that, the earliest iron age immigrants (who are believed to be the Bantu) into Southern Africa were probably speakers of early forms of the Bantu family language. There are today more than 300 Bantu languages between Cameroon in West Africa and the Southern coast of South Africa.

  • –By studying similarities and differences between them, linguists have concluded that probably all stem from an original parent language somewhere in the region of modern Cameroon.
  • –The iron age farmers, therefore, were almost certainly the earliest ancestors of the Black Bantu speaking people who forms the vast majority of the population of Central and Southern Africa today.


  • The Bantu were mixed farmers; their economy was more advanced, combining agriculture with pastoralism and their standard of living was a great deal higher than that of their predecessors ( the San and the Khoi).
  • They grew millets, sorghum, melons, and beans.
  • They kept sheep, goat, and cattle.
  • They also hunted a wide range of animals of all sizes and gathered wild plants especially fruits.
  • From rivers they obtained fish and those near the coast collected shell fish.
  • The Bantu managed to do all these because:
  • –They knew and introduced the art of iron working. With their efficient tools, they could clear the forests and bushes and cultivate the soil on a large scale. Thus , their growing population could be sustained by food from the soil and cattle products
  • –They kept many herds of cattle. Cattle were greatly valued as a source and form of wealth. Cattle were used for important functions such as payment of bride wealth and they valued for their milk , meat and skin.
  • Because the Bantu kept cattle and also grew food crops, their population increased fast. The mixed economy of cattle keeping and agriculture supported a fairly high population by contemporary standards. People had enough to eat, more important they had rich and balanced diet.
  • The arrival of the Bantu had a negative impact on the Bushmen and the Hottentots economic, social, and political life ways. They were conquered and dispossessed of their favorite hunting grounds by the Bantu.As a result:
  • –They were pushed into the remote areas of the country where game and food were scarce and life difficulty, and many of them even had to flee to the Kalahari desert for refuge
  • –Some were absorbed by the Bantu, living among them as people without their own independence, identity and intermarrying with them.
  • –A few other had a worse fate/destiny. They were either killed in clashes with the Bantu or died as a result of social and economic hardship following their defeat and dispossession.
  • The third major group of the Bantu is represented by the Herero and Avambo. These live in Namibia and are generally called the South Western Bantu.

    Particularly, all these Bantu groups have been influenced by the Bushmen and Hottentots with whom they came into contact. This is why the Nguni languages have clicks, just like the languages of the Bushmen and the Hottentots.

    Each tribe had its own territory, central clan, central family and a chief. The chief always came the central family and clan.
  • –In addition the chief was the head of the tribe in all matters relating to religion, administration of justice, government and welfare. –Appeals could be made from small courts to his court served as the country’s supreme court and was the only competent to try murder cases.
  • –In both tribes the chief was very powerful, but an autocratic and unpopular chief could not last longer, his people could desert him and join a friendly and just ruler. –The chief was highly respected as the symbol of tribal unity and the focus of loyalty in the tribe.


  • To enable the chief do his duties properly:
  • –The whole territory was divided into several subdivisions. The most important of these were the provinces and below them, were the districts.
  • –The system of administration was strengthened through the appointment of Indunas. These were special state officials in various fields, both military and civil. They were permanent and assisted the chief in his duties.
  • The most important was the chief Induna:
  • He could deputize for the chief in his absence
  • He could give orders and instructions in the chief’s name.
  • He had the responsibility of keeping the chief well informed about public opinions and about any dangerous developments such as rebellion.
  • No wonder the chief Induna came to be regarded as the eyes of the chief. –Head of districts took the title of Izikhulu. These had the responsibility of trying cases at lower levels, and they also received tributes and fines from the inhabitants of the districts they administered within the kingdom. Thus the king ruled in conjunction with this men.
  • –Both the king and the Izikhulu formed the council of state. This was called the Ibandia, that is the highest administrative organ in the kingdom.
  • –Among the Nguni speakers there was a rigid age group system and sexual division of labor. One of the results of such social organization was that, the king was able to have control over the institution of marriage.
  • No youth would get married until he/she had gone through all the tasks demanded of his or her age group.
  • For example, boys were called upon to herd the king’s cattle. Politically, this was referred to as “drinking the King’s milk”

    Thus, this meant that one could enter into marriage in an advanced stage of adulthood(when they were already adult).

    –The restriction of marriage: •Allowed the king to divert labor power from individual homesteads to his own service (this process allowed the king to get enough labor power for his own use) •This also allowed the king to have control over the process of reproduction ( birth rate) in his kingdom. By delaying marriage in this manner, the king was able to control the rate of population growth.


Social formation

  • Among the Bantu, Crop production and livestock keeping were the major economic activities.
  • Trade or exchange transactions involved bulls while cows were retained for the purpose of maintaining and increasing wealth.
  • The basic unit of production was the homestead.
  • The homestead was made up of small segments or units and a homestead head.
  • Each segment comprised of the wife and her children
  • Each segment was supposed to provide for its own means of subsistence and to be self sufficient
  • Majority of the homestead were made up of the homestead head, two or three wives and children
  • The essential goods that could not be produced by the home stead were obtained through barter.
  • Land on which the society depended for its production and reproduction belonged to the king. Individuals gained rights over land on the condition that they remained loyal (trustworthy) to the king.
  • –Occasionally individuals would be called upon to render services to the king or his officials. These services would be in the form agricultural labor, herding the king’s cattle or direct military service.
  • Thus theoretically, all adult men were members of the state army, although in practice the standing army was composed of youth. –The army was used to forcibly appropriate and accumulate wealth for the king.
  • Internally this took the form of tribute and fines for offences (the army was used in the collection of fines and tributes). Thus irrespective of the nature of the offence, part of the fine imposed had to remain in the king’s court.
  • Externally, all the wealth plundered and brought to the state as a result of raiding or war fare, belonged to the state. This practically meant that such wealth was at the disposal or under the control of the king.

The Newcomers

  • Towards the end of the 17th century, South Africa received newcomers from outside the continent. These were:


  • This group is divided into two sections:
  • The Afrikaners, that is, the people of Dutch origin who first settled in the Cape in 1652. Another name used to describe the Afrikaners is “Boers”, which should be used more strictly to refer to an “Afrikaner farmer”.
  • The other major European group is English speaking group and has been associated with South Africa since the beginning of the 19th century (1806)

The people of mixed racial origin.

  • These are called the “Coloreds”. Nearly all of them occupied the Cape province. They were of a mixed race, being the result of the union between the Boers and the slaves (imported from outside i.e. Indonesia and Madagascar), Hottentots, Bushmen, and Xhosa


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