Skip to main content

The People of South Africa

Martie Coetser is a freelance writer from South Africa. She has a keen interest in a variety of topics.

South Africa - The Rainbow Nation

the-people-of-south-africa

The People of South Africa

South Africa is a multi-racial country composed of eleven language groups. The country's Constitution, which is considered one of the best in the world, protects the diversity of languages and cultures. It also stresses that everyone is equal before the law.

Let me introduce you to the people of South Africa -

South Africa has eleven official languages -

South Africa's eleven official languages

South Africa's eleven official languages

Dominant language groups are to be found in specific regions -

Regions of dominant languages, South Africa

Regions of dominant languages, South Africa

South Africa: 17th Century

Before Europeans (via the Dutch East India Company) established a refreshment station at the Cape of Good Hope for ships traveling between Europe and India in April 1652, the most southern region of Africa was already the homeland of many distinct peoples.

Map of current South Africa with slapdash 17th-century territories

the-people-of-south-africa

The San and Khoi-Khoi People

In April 1652, Dutch settlers arrived in the southwestern corner of southern Africa where the San and Khoi-Khoi were already settled. They named the settlement The Cape of Good Hope, today known as Cape Town. Here they met two distinct indigenous peoples - the San and the Khoi-Khoi.

The San were nomadic groups of hunters and gatherers. Tools used by them, which were found across the entire southern Africa, date back to 44,000 BC.

'San' means 'people different from ourselves'. The name was given to them by the Khoi-Khoi people. The Dutch called this group 'Bushmen' - a name that became highly offensive as racism spread among the descendants of European settlers.

The Khoi-Khoi (pronounced: coo-coo) - settled about 2000 years ago in the region of Cape Town. Although their physical appearance was similar to the San, they had a different culture and a more complex social structure. They were pastoralists, raising and herding sheep, goats and cattle. The Dutch called this group 'The Hottentots' - the only word (series of sounds) they could recognize in the language of the Khoi-Khoi, which is composed of a variety of click consonants. Today also the name 'Hottentots' is considered derogatory.

Khoisan - Historians merged the names 'San' and 'Khoi-Khoi' into Khoisan (coo-san). According to evolutionary geneticist Pontus Skoglund, the Khoisan was the largest population on Earth at some point. The oldest mitochondrial haplogroup (L0d) has been identified at its highest frequencies in this group - a distinction that makes them one of fourteen known extant “ancestral population clusters” from which all known modern humans descended.