IN-DEPTH

 

San, the aboriginal people of southern Africa, consisting of several groups and numbering over 85,000 in all. They are generally short in stature; their skin is yellowish brown in color; and they feature prominent cheekbones. The San have been called Bushmen by whites in South Africa, but the term is now considered derogatory. Although many now work for white settlers, about half are still nomadic hunters and gatherers of wild food in desolate areas like the Kalahari semi-desert, which streches between todays Nation States of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Their social unit is the small hunting band; larger organizations are loose and temporary. Grashuts, caves and rock shelters are used as dwellings. They possess only what they can carry, using poisoned arrowheads to fell game and transporting water in ostrich-egg shells. The San have a rich folklore, are skilled in drawing, and have a remarkably complex language characterized by the use of click sounds, related  to  that  of  the Khoikhoi . For thousands of years the San lived in southern and central Africa, but by the time of the Portuguese arrival in the 15th cent., they had already been forced into the interior of southern Africa. In the 18th and 19th cent., they resisted the encroachment on their lands of Dutch settlers, but by 1862 that resistance had been crushed.

Perhaps the finest of all prehistoric artists, were gentle folk who enjoyed the great open spaces in Africa. Long ago before the coming of the more territorial and aggressive Bantu speaking migrants from the north, the San bushmen's range was very wide. The bushmen were dominant in an immense area stretching from East Africa to the Southern Cape shores and across the continent from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.

The San, left alone with limitless room to move, developed a free spirit and harmonious relationship with the world around them. The San Bushmen was a sharing society, where competition and greed were unknown. The San Bushmen had no chiefs and all decisions were made communally within the group. The size of the group varied from small family units to bands of eighty members or more. Each Bushmen group had clearly defined hunting and gathering territory and men and women enjoyed equal status.

The San women gathered fruits, bulbs and seeds froom the surrounding countryside. Men hunted with bows and poison-tipped arrows and were superb trackers of game. The hunt was a crucial part of San culture and an event which held profound, mystical significance. The hunt was conducted sparingly and always with the assumption that the prey had as much right to live as the hunter. When a kill had been made the entire bushmne group joined in a night-long feast to sing and dance in a trance-like ritual around the fire.

Sadly, today these San Bushmen folk live in settlements where poverty and alcohol are rampant and the ancient ways are a mere memory. For the San Bushmen, the world has crumbled and he can see no guiding star before him. However their magnificent cave paintings still remain around Kwazulu Natal, a legacy of those ancient, yet paradoxically, advanced people.

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Section: Khoisan
Related: Language


The Khoisan, or Click, linguistic family is made up of three branches: the Khoisan languages of the San (Bushmen) and Khoikhoi, spoken in various parts of sub-Saharan Africa; Sandawe, a language found in E Africa; and Hatsa (Hadzane or Hadzapi), also spoken in E Africa. Although all the Khoisan languages use click sounds, Sandawe and Hatsa are unlike the other Khoisan tongues and are not related to each other. All of the Khoisan languages appear to use tones to distinguish meanings, and the Khoikhoi languages and some of the San languages inflect the noun to show case, number, and gender. The outstanding characteristic of the Khoisan tongues, however, is their extensive use of click sounds. (Examples of click sounds familiar to speakers of English are the interjection /tsk-tsk/ and the click used to signal to a horse.) Click sounds, which are found only in Africa as parts of words, involve a sucking action by the tongue, but the position of the tongue and the way in which air is released into the mouth vary, just as in the formation of other sounds; thus clicks may be dental, palatal, alveolar, lateral, labial, or retroflex; voiced, voiceless, or nasal; aspirated or glottal. Six types of clicks are known for the San languages as a whole, although no single tongue has all of them. The Khoikhoi languages have dental, palatal, retroflex, and lateral clicks. Some Bantu languages, notably Zulu and Xhosa, which are spoken near the Khoisan area, have borrowed click sounds from the Khoisan languages.

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Mitochondrial DNA polymorphisms in Khoisan populations from southern Africa.

Ann Hum Genet. 1992 Oct;56 ( Pt 4):315-24. 

Soodyall H, Jenkins T.

Department of Human Genetics, School of Pathology, South African Institute for Medical Research, Johannesburg. 

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs) were investigated in 95 individuals, consisting of 49 San ('Bushmen') and 46 Nama ('Hottentot') individuals from Namibia, 
using the restriction enzymes HpaI, BamHI, HaeII, MspI, AvaII and HincII.

Six of the eleven types found in the pooled Khoisan sample are shared, albeit at varying frequencies, suggesting that both the San and Nama have evolved from a recent common ancestor. However, 
San and Nama groups differ appreciably, in particular, type 3-2 (3-1-1-2-2-2) was found in 7/49 Sekele and 25/46 Nama (chi 2 [1] = 15.3, P = 9.17 x 10(-5)). In addition, type 4 makes up 42.8% of the 
types found in the San, and is not found in the Nama group. This suggests that the San and Nama have evolved along separate lineages, with little gene flow between them, following their proposed 
separation from a common Khoisan ancestor. Type 7-2 (3-1-1-1-1-2), most common in Negroid populations, is found at a higher frequency in the San (20.4%) than the Nama (6.5%), suggesting that 
miscegenation involving Negroid females and San males is more common than that between Negroid females and Nama men. The higher frequency of type 21-2 (2-1-1-1-2-2) in the Nama (13%) than in the San (4.1%), may be attributable to gene flow from the Dama into the Nama, consistent with the consequences of enslavement of the Dama by the Nama.

Link : http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/#Menu1362872 

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The San (Bushmen) Chronology

1883-4: South West Africa (later Namibia) was colonized by Germany. It was annexed as a protectorate in 1884.
1904-1907: German wars against the Herero people resulted in the killing of 75% of the San population.
July 1915: South African forces invaded South West Africa and annexed it.
May 1919: South West Africa was allocated to South Africa by the Allied and Associated Powers.
1925: Limited autonomy for South West Africa was granted by the South African parliament.
1936: Last permit to "hunt" and kill San (Bushmen) in Namibia and South-Africa was issued by the government of South Africa.
December 1946: U.N. General Assembly Resolution 65(I) rejected South Africa's proposal to incorporate South West Africa into South Africa, but requested South Africa to conclude a trusteeship agreement for the territory. South Africa rejected this.
1957: The Ovamboland Peoples Congress, the forerunner of SWAPO (South West Africa Peoples Organization), is formed in Cape Town.
1960: SWAPO is formed. The government began to remove Ju'hoan San from their land and forcibly trucked them to a single administrative center called Tsumkwe. They were given a school, clinic, church and jail. Tsumkwe became a rural slum and the Bushmen turned to heavy drinking with the establishment of a government-subsidized liquor store.
May 1964: The South African government's Odendall Commission recommended the establishment of "homelands" in South West Africa and proposed a five-year economic and social plan for the territory.
1966: SWAPO's militant wing began an armed independence struggle against South Africa.
In October 1966, the U.N. General Assembly adopted resolution 2145(XXI) revoking South Africa's mandate over South West Africa.
1968-9: South Africa established "homelands" in South West Africa, including "Bushmanland" in the Northeast. The U.N. renamed the country Namibia in 1968.
March 1969: The U.N. Security Council recognized the General Assembly's revocation of South Africa's mandate by adopting resolution number 264 of 1969.
1970: Bushmanland was established as a "homeland" for the San. It contains about 12,000 square miles of land. Soon after its establishment, the Kaudom game reserve in northern Bushman land was expropriated from the Ju'hoan people.
June 1971: The International Court of Justice ruled that South Africa's continued presence in Namibia is illegal. South Africa rejected this opinion.
1974: The Portuguese empire in Southern Africa collapsed allowing SWAPO to re-base in Angola and guerrilla attacks to intensify. In December 1974, the U.N. Security Council called for compliance by South Africa with previous U.N. resolutions and the 1971 ICJ ruling.
January 1976: The U.N. Security Council adopted resolution 385 of 1976 calling for South Africa to transfer power to the Namibian people and to allow free and fair elections under U.N. supervision.
1977: DTA (Democratic Turnhallen Alliance), a coalition of ethnic groups, was founded.
1977-79: Five Western countries got talks started and South Africa agreed in principle to Namibian independence. The U.N. adopted resolution 435 providing for internationally supervised elections. Ten days later, more than 600 Namibian exiles in Angola were killed by South African troops.
1982: San leaders applied officially for the establishment of a representative for their population. They met with members of the government, but no specific answer was given to their request.
1988: Talks between Angola, Cuba, South Africa and supervised by the U.S. set a timetable for the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola and Namibian independence.
1 April 1989: As the U.N. independence plan began, SWAPO invaded Namibia from Angola. South African forces attacked and killed several hundred guerrillas.
June 1989: The San defeated a government plan to turn most of their territory into a game park. The San have no political control over Bushmanland, and none of the 10 alliances of political parties competing in the upcoming elections did put forward a policy of any kind on or to help the San.
November 1989: SWAPO won 41 of 72 seats in the constituent assembly but did not secure the two-thirds majority necessary to form and implement a new constitution without consulting other parties. The San in Bushmanland supported the DTA in the elections. Elections were declared free and fair by so-called independent U.N. observers. But the San had no say in all of that.
February 1990: The president-elect of Namibia, Sam Nujoma accused South Africa of ulterior motives by resettling San in South Africa. He suggested the South African military was aiming to train the San to carry out subversive activities in Namibia.
21 March 1990: Namibia achieved independence from South Africa. At independence, 60% of Namibia is white-owned or commercial land; 15% is set aside for nature conservation; 25% is black-owned. Blacks make up 80% of the population of Namibia and the San have no access to their land.
3 May 1990: The Namibian government claims that South Africa did not pay the San as promised and they are now in need of government assistance. About 500 San soldiers and their families followed South African soldiers into South Africa after the war because they feared reprisals from SWAPO. Three hundred San soldiers and their dependents remained in Namibia in Omega in the Caprivi Strip. They survived, but were close to starvation.
November 1990: The Namibian government was expected to begin the resettlement of about 2000 San in the Caprivi Strip. They are family members of San who served in South Africa's military during the war.
21 June 1992: San representatives gathered in the Namibian capital of Windhoek to hold a conference bringing the plight of the San to the attention of the government and the world.
1993: The first meeting of Southern Africa's indigenous San took place. The Namibian government endorsed the San's right to land and to traditional land use.
6 March 1993: The San band of the South African army (Battalion 31) was disbanded.
14 April 1994: Human rights workers spoke out on behalf of the San in Namibia stating that the majority are starving while being paid illegally small wages as farm laborers; the San are unable to attain professional positions higher than social worker; many San feel they are being preserved only "as tourist attractions."
11 June 1994: A decision by the Namibian cabinet to accept the return of former counter insurgents paved the way for 500 Bushmen in South Africa to return to Namibia.
October 1994: By this time, the Bushmanland area has shrunk from 12,000 square miles to 3,500 square miles and 2,000 Ju'hoan people live there. To sustain a stable population as hunter gatherers, the San need 14.5 square miles per person. The Nyae Nyae development foundation established by John Marshall and Claire Ritchie is faltering. The San demanded the resignation of its director and external aid donors froze their donations at reports of grandiose projects and chaos in Bushmanland.
14 December 1995: Namibia's National Society for Human Rights accused the government of ignoring the exploitation and destruction of the culture of 5,000 San. They asserted that San perform slave labor, and in some cases are paid with food rather than money. Namibia's Minister of Health and Social Services rejected the charges. (Reuters World Service - RWS)
January 1997: San were arrested in Etosha National Game Park as they were protesting the refusal of the government for them to return their anscestral lands. They prevented tourists from entering the park. The 20,000 strong Hai//om effort to restore their lands have been ongoing since 1993. (ANS - Africa News Service - 6/19/1997)
May 1997: The powerful chief of a neighboring Bantu-speaking group in the West Caprivi claimed that 4,000 Kxoe San who live inside the Game Reserve there are still his vassals and the land they occupy his. The government seems to be supporting his claim. At the center of the dispute is a small tourist campsite built by the Kxoe, who are not San but distantly related, on the Okavango River's Pop Falls. It was constructed with the help of Western donors and local development agencies and raises money for the Kxoe community, who often pose to outsiders as San. However, the Mbukushu chief Erwin Mbambo condemned the camp because his permission for the venture was not sought. In May 1997, the government announced the camp would have to close because the prison ministry needed the land. The Prison Ministry's Fran Kapofi said the government considered the land in question to be under Mbambo`s authority and that the Kxoe are his subordinates. The Kxoe claimed the government supported Mbambo because he was a former SWAPO member with close ties to the government leaders, and the San feel they are being punished because of they were on the opposite side of SWAPO during the independence struggle. On the other hand, the government has ignored the illegal encroachment by Mbukushu peasants onto the reserve over the past two years. (Christian Science Monitor, 11/27/1997; The Independent, 1/3/1998)
19 June 1997: Charges were dropped against 62 Sai//om San who had protested at the Etosha National Game Park in January. (ANS)
July 1997: The government gave the San and the Kxoe people six months to vacate their two community tourism camps. The move is linked to the government's favoritism of the Mubukushu Bantu people over the Indigenous People - the San. The government claimed it had decided to deproclaim the district as a conservation area.
The Xu San community migrated to Angola from their ancestral lands in West Caprivi after the encroachment by the Mbukushu. The Xu are accused of stealing Mbukushu cattle. They are also employed by the Mbukushu for manual labor and were ill-treated and sometimes went unpaid for their labor. Poverty and lack of government and NGO support, in addition to encroachment on their lands, forced the Xu to leave their stronghold at Mushangara. Elders do not receive government pensions because most do not have birth certificates or other ID. A registration team from the Ministry of Home Affairs sent to register the Xu said they failed in their task because they "ran out of forms." They have not returned. (ANS, 7/23/1997)
12 August 1997: The National Society for Human Rights accused the government of discrimination against some ethnic groups, including Basters and various San groups. The organization highlighted the case of the Kxoe in West Caprivi who the government wants to evict from their community-based tourism sites in favor of the neighboring, not aboriginal Mbukosho people, because their traditional leadership supports SWAPO, while the Kxoe and San do not (African News Service - ANS).
October 1997: The Kxoe, backed by the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa, a regional body, and the non-profit Legal Advice Center of Windhoek, took advantage of a new law on "tribally" held land to register Kipi Goerge as a chief in his own right. If his claim had been granted, the government would have to grant the Kxoe a title to their traditional lands. If the government refuses the grant, the Kxoe said they would sue. (Christian Science Monitor, 11/27/1997; The Independent, 1/3/1998)
6 April 1998: The government completed a list of traditional chiefs to be recognized under the Traditional Authorities Act. The Ministry of Regional, Local Government and Housing did not say how many traditional leaders were recognized or turned down. (ANS)
7 July 1998: Close to 240,000, including 20,000 San, are in heed of resettlement according to the Ministry of Lands, Resettlement, and Rehabilitation (ANS)
September 1998: The SWAPO Omaheke Regional Youth Forum accused the government of favoritism and nepotism in distributing government lands. It said the Lands Ministry shoudl give priority to the marginalized San, unemployed youth, women and other farmers who applied for resettlement in 1992 rather than to rich farmers. (ANS, 9/21/1998)
November 1998: A series of government security sweeps targeting secessionist rebels in the Caprivi Strip has resulted in the flight of hundreds of San to Botswana. Observers said more than 1,000 San may have fled out of fear. Two human rights organizations are also investigating allegations by the Kxoe that members of their community were killed during these sweeps, and that they were threatened and abused by the Namibian Defence Forces. More than 400 Caprivi secessionists have also fled to Botswana. The Kxoe were being housed in a military camp and at Dukwe Refugee Camp. The Kxoe were not working in collusion with the rebels
The Kxoe have been at odds with the Namibian government over the past few years, particularly in relation to their land and chieftancy rights. They have not been granted traditional authority status, their chief has not been recognized, and their bid to create employment through a tourism conservation program ran afoul of the government. (ANS, 11/17/1998)
April 1999: Botswana has so far granted political asylum to 1116 of more than 2400 Namibians who fled in the wake of secessionist troubles in Caprivi. The Namibian government denied that they had persecuted the residents of Caprivi in their search for secessionists. Most who fled to Botswana, including the San, did so out of fear of being caught up in security sweeps in the region. Voluntary repatriation is promoted by the Botswana government, but so far only five Namibians have returned.(ANS, 4/7/1999)
19 May 1999: President Nelson Mandela of South Africa handed over a land title to a group of Namibian San who had once fought against SWAPO in Angola. (ANS)
July 1999: The National Society for Human Rights said civil and political rights were deteriorating in Namibia. It cited ethnic discrimination and lack of tolerance for dissenting views. Government officials were accused of discriminating against the San who face poverty, illiteracy and disease. (ANS, 7/21/1999)
The genocide to exterminate the San, by econimic marginalization, by rape to turn their ethnicity into a mix of "coloured people" and by persistently denying them any of their rights persists.