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Tribes of Africa

The indigenous people of southern Africa are the San and the KhoiKhoi.
Known to the Europeans as the Bushmen (San) and the Hottentots (KhoiKhoi).
Related non-Negroid peoples of small stature, with light brown or olive skins and features that differed from those of the Bantu tribes in the northern region of Africa.
The San were Stone Age hunter-gatherers while the KhoiKhoi were pastoralists.
As the two groups are closely related they are commonly called the Khoisan.


The first black or dark-skinned Bantu tribes migrated down from their homeland around the area of Nigeria and Cameroon in western Africa through central and southern Africa in small groups and arrived in what is known as South Africa by about AD300. Why they left their homeland in droves is not clear today but it is suggested that existing natural resources could no longer support a growing population.

Most of the Bantu tribes took the easier route of the coastal forests rather than forcing their way through the dense tropical rainforests of central Africa. Nevertheless, in the many hundreds of years it took these people to clear a route through the coastal forests, most of their livestock was lost to tsetse fly.
The Bantu tribes brought with them their skills in metal working and their mixed farming and cattle-herding methods.
Bantu speaking peoples had settlements on the highveld pastureland by 500AD. Linguistic and cultural distinctions developed between the Nguni people, who lived along the coast, and the Sotho-Tswana, who lived on the highveld. The peoples of the highveld often built their houses from stone, and in places lived in towns. Some communities specialised in mining and metal production. However, fresh pastures then became hard to find and at about this time the Difaqane, or forced migration was started, when much of the land became uninhabited as the people fled the onslaught of other marauding tribes.

By 1554 as far south as Zululand was populated by both indigenous tribes and the Bantu tribes, with marriages occurring between the tribes, and interactions that were both peaceful and, at times, in conflict.
A feature of the Bantu culture was its strong social system, based on extended family of clan loyalties and dependencies, and generally centred around the rule of a chief.
Some chiefdoms developed into powerful kingdoms, uniting many former disparate tribes and covering large geographical areas.

One of the earliest Bantu kingdoms to develop was that of the Gokomere, who settled in the uplands of present-day Zimbabwe. The Gokomere are thought to be the first occupants of the Great Zimbabwe site, near present-day Masvingo. Between 500 and 1000AD the Gokomere and subsequent groups developed gold-mining techniques in the region and produced progressively finer-quality ceramics, jewellery, textiles and soapstone carvings.
By the 11th century, the Bantu inhabitants of Great Zimbabwe, generally regarded as the Shona society, had consolidated their powerful position and had also come into contact with the Arab-Swahili traders who had ventured inland from the coast. Great Zimbabwe thereby became the capital of the wealthiest and most powerful society in southern Africa, reaching the zenith of its powers around the 14th century.


In the 16th century, Portuguese traders arrived in the Zimbabwe region on hearing tales that had been passed on by the Swahili traders of marvellous riches and golden cities across the vast empire of Mwene Mutapa (Monomatapa).
Alliances between the Shona states led to the creation of the Rozwi state which covered half of present-day Zimbabwe. Rozwi influence continued until 1834 when Ndebele (also called Matabele) raiders under the command of Mzilikazi invaded from the south and assassinated the Rozwi leader.
 Mzilikazi created an Ndebele state (Matabeleland) and forced the Shona towards the Mozambique border where they created their own state, Mashonaland. Thereafter the two tribes becoming mortal enemies.
In 1889 Cecil John Rhodes, an entrepreneur, gold seeker and ivory hunter, who had amassed fortunes in South Africa from his diamond mines, received a royal charter to move into Mashonaland, and the power of the Matabele was for a time, quashed.

In 1896 however, following a failed attack by Rhodes' army against the Boers in the Transvaal, the Ndebele came back with a vengeance, and joining forces with the Shona declared Chimurenga, a crusade-like war, on the Europeans. The revolt was crushed in 1897 and Zimbabwe came under British rule.
To the north of Zimbabwe, between the 14th and 16th centuries, another Bantu group called the Maravi (of whom the Cheswa became the dominant tribe) came into southern Africa from present-day Zaire and spread all over southern Malawi and parts of present-day Mocambique and Zambia.
At about the same time, the Tumbuka and the Phoka groups migrated into northern Malawi and became established there.
For several centuries before the Portuguese arrived in Zambia in the 1790s overland from Angola, Swahili-Arab slave-traders had penetrated the region from the east coast of Africa. Many people from the area around Zambia were captured and taken across Lake Malawi, through Mozambique or Tanzania to be sold in the slave markets of Zanzibar.
And in the 1820s the effects of the Difaquane rippled through to Zambia with Matabele (Ndebele) migrants entering western Zimbabwe and threatening the Makololo people, who then moved into southern Zambia displacing the Tonga people. The Makololo also took advantage of a period of unrest among the Lozi people on the upper Zambezi and occupied their territory of Barotseland.
In 1850 the celebrated British explorer, David Livingstone, travelled up the Zambezi River with the aim of introducing Christianity and combating the slave trade. His work and writings inspired missionaries, explorers, hunters, and prospectors alike, including Cecil John Rhodes. Again Rhodes' company was given the backing of the British government, partly to help combat slavery and also to prevent further Portuguese expansion in the region.
Meanwhile, in the west of the region (present-day Namibia), during the 16th and 17th centuries, another Bantu group called the Herero migrated from the Zambezi valley and occupied the north and west of the country, coming into conflict with the San, and particularly with the KhoiKhoi, with whom they competed for the best grazing lands and water sources.

Eventually most indigenous groups (including the Damara people, whose origins are unclear) submitted to the aggressive Herero. Only the Nama people, thought to be descended from the early KhoiKhoi groups, held out against the Herero.
At about the same time, another Bantu group, the Owambo, probably descended from people who had migrated from eastern Africa over 500 yearsearlier, settled in the north along the Okavango and Kunene Rivers in present-day Namibia and Botswana.
The power of the Bantu kingdoms started to falter in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when two events occurred which both had a tumultuous effect on the whole of the southern African region.
These being, the rapid increase in the number of permanent settlers from Europe, and the major dispersal of indigenous and Bantu tribes, called the Difaqane (forced migration) by the rising Zulu nation.
The Bantu peoples could more accurately be called 'Bantu-speaking peoples' since the word 'Bantu' actually refers to a language-group rather than a specific race.
However, it has become a conventional term of reference for the Black African peoples of southern, eastern, and western Africa, even though the grouping is as ill-defined as 'American' or 'Oriental'.
In fact, the Bantu 'race' or 'ethnic group' is made up of many sub-groups or 'tribes' each with their own language, customs and cultural traditions.
The term 'migration' when used in this context refers not to a specific 'long march' or sudden upheaval, but to a sporadic and very slow spread of the Bantu peoples over a period of many hundreds of years.
A migration in this sense was made up of numerous short moves (from valley to valley, or from one cultivation area to the next), with the dominant groups slowly absorbing and assimilating other groups in the process.
The movements inevitably had a knock-on effect too, as groups being invaded from one side expanded in the other direction.
Historians believe that there were at least three main routes followed by the migrating Bantu -
Some spread from Zaire to the Tanzanian highlands and the Indian Ocean coast, and then southwards down the coastal plains through present-day Mocambique and into KwaZulu/Natal.
Others kept to the higher ground of the interior and spread through western Tanzania into Zambia.
While others are believed to have come south through Zaire directly into Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and western Mocambique.




Today we know that the world is made up of separate continental plates which originally started off as one conglomerate earth mass known as Pangea.

This continental movement took millions of years to arrive at the geographical state which we know today. Although (modern) man did not 'arrive' on the planet until about 200,000 years ago when the continental shifts had already taken place. Although there is speculation, and not yet sufficient paelentologic evidence to suggest otherwise, it is generally accepted that Africa is the birthing place of humankind and thus belongs to us all.
Certainly, up until the year 1869 when the Suez Canal was built, Africa was joined to the European  landmass in the Egyptian/Arabian desert area thus making one huge country. Egyptian and African intermarriages must have undoubtedly taken place.


Africa north was frequented on many an occasion by the Arab explorers and traders who made their way along the eastern African coastline setting up settlements and trading outlets and many of the people on the eastern African coast claim descendancy from the Arabs.





Somali Girl


Swahili Lady : circa 1890

Although the European peoples seldom ventured south of the areas around the Meditteranean Sea, the continent of Africa was known to both the Greeks and Romans. It is probable that the descendants of northern Africa are made up from European and African intermarriages.
However, since the early 15th century the Europeans sought a better trade route to the eastern European lands of China and India in search of spices, opium, silks, and other goods.
By this time sea-faring ships had been built capable of carrying heavy loads and people, sailors were more willing to undertake long arduous journeys, and their governments were more willing to fund these expeditions.
In 1486, Captain Diego Cao managed to reach a point on the south western African coast, in present-day Namibia, where he erected a stone cross, which was to serve as a navigational aid for subsequent Portuguese explorers, and is still called Cape Cross today.
Other countries heard of the success of Vasco de Gama when he managed to reach India in 1498 and companies, such as the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or VOC) were established to also secure a trade route.
By the end of the 16th century ships from England and the Netherlands were beginning to challenge Portugal on the trade routes between Europe and the East Indies, and the bays around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern most tip of Africa became regular stopover points where the crews could replenish their fresh water supplies and fresh food supplies.
At first the Europeans had little contact with the indigenous African tribes of Africa south, other than to trade goods with them for the fresh produce. The Portuguese found them particularly hostile and vouched instead to procure fresh produce from an island off the coast, called Robben Island.
In 1647 a Dutch ship was wrecked in Table Bay, just north of the Cape, forcing the crew to build a make-shift fort until they were rescued a year later.
The directors of the Dutch East India Company were inspired by the fortitude and resilience of their employees to have survived this long in a land which they considered to be hostile and uninhabitable, and decided to set up a small 'refuelling station' at the Cape.
And so in 1652, an expedition consisting of mainly Dutchand a fewGermans, led by Jan Van Riebeeck, reached Table Bay and took over the little 'fort' establishing gardens and small farms so that they could both survive and supply the passing ships.
In 1688 they were joined by a group of about 150 French fleeing religious persecution, called the Hugenots.




Although there were no plans to establish a European colony in Africa south, the European settler population continued to slowly increase.
After about a century, some of the Europeans began to consider themselves as African by birth and resented being controlled by the governments in their home-lands who had little knowledge of conditions and life-style in Africa or concern for their welfare, and thus they began to leave the settlement at the Cape. These people were the first of the trekboers (pioneer farmers) or Boers, while other people from the colony made frequent trips inland to explore the area venturing each time further and further into the interior.
Inevitably these early trekboers and explorers clashed with the indigenous Khoisan. Petty thieving of cattle constantly occurred, and many Khoisan died from shot-gun wounds, and diseases hitherto unknown to the Khoisan. Many Khoisan fled further into the interior, some worked willingly for the European settlers on the farms, while the most belligerent were captured and forced into labour for their misdemenours.



The first major Bantu group which encountered the trekboers were the Xhosa in the region to the west of the Great Fish River during the 1770s. Peace between the two groups did not last and at least 9 frontier wars between the trekboers and the Xhosa were fought, known as the Kaffir Wars.
In 1795, when Dutch power was fading in Europe during the Revolutionary Wars, British forces were posted to the Cape with the aim of securing the route to India and to prevent it from falling into French hands. In 1802 it was given back, but was again taken over by the British in 1806. In 1814 the Cape was ceded to Britain. By this time the population at the Cape colony had 20,000 European settlers, 15,000 Khoisan and 25,000 slaves of various origins including Indonesians, Malaysians, and Madagascans.

Photo: SA India
In 1820 the British decided to end the Frontier (Kaffir) Wars once and for all and sent out 5,000 British Settlers to the area around the Great Fish River to act as a buffer between the trekboers and the Xhosa. These settlers were duped by the British government into believing they were needed to found a British colony and were promised great tracts of land in which to farm. However, they found in reality that they were wedged between two forces fighting for control and superiority, and that living and farming in Africa was much harder than they imagined. Many moved into the small towns to pick up the trades that they had followed in Britain, and places like Grahamtown began to develop into trading and manufacturing centres.
Over the next 100-150 years the European influence expanded rapidly as more settlers arrived, when minerals such as gold and diamonds were discovered. And Europeans spread further and further into the interior, challenging the supremacy of the Bantu peoples who by this time, through wars of their own, had formed into more cohesive nations.
In 1834 the combination of the abolition of slavery and the Sixth Frontier War heightened disenchantment among many of the Boers living in the eastern Cape. Reports filtered through from further north that it was an ideal place to live, so they mustered their families together into what is known as The Great Trek. By mid 1837 approximately 5,000 Voortrekkers as they came to be known had crossed the Orange River with the intent on founding a new homeland where they could be independent and beyond the British sphere of control, hopefully enjoy access to ports beyond the British control, and live on peaceful terms with the Bantu tribes they would encounter.
Two options were favoured by the Voortrekkers - one was to venture inland towards the open grasslands, and the other was to make for the plains around Port Natal and Delagoa Bay. Under the leadership of Hendrik Potgieter, one column headed toward the Transvaal area, and the other column went with Piet Retief to Port Natal to seek an audience with the newly appointed Zulu King, Dingane, for rights to settle in the area. Dingane had succeeded his half-brother, Shaka, who had been assassinated by Dingane.
Whilst Shaka had been amicable to the British Settlers at Port Natal and generally had respect for the British, Dingane did not. Dingaan viewed the Europeans with suspicion - their ways were alien to Zulu tribal life; they tended to want more land for their individual farms than was necessary; and because they had things like medicine and guns which he could not explain, he called them wizards.

The difaqane


The Difaquane or Mfeqane, or Difacane, (forced migration or 'crushing') was a time of immense upheaval and suffering among the tribes of southern Africa.
Its origins date back to the early 19th century when the Nguni tribes in the KwaZulu/Natal area underwent a dramatic change from loosely organised collection of chiefdoms into a centralised state, based around a highly disciplined and powerful warrior army. This process was not peaceful and many chiefdoms resisted being forced into paying allegiance to the warrior army chief. Wars broke out between the tribes.
The process began under a chief called Dingiswayo, and reached its peak under the military commander Shaka. The powerful new kingdom was called Zulu.

When Dingiswayo began to assert his authority, first over the Mthethwa and then over the region as a whole, he also decided to bring the hundreds of domestic clan feuds to an end, by asserting an overall military control over the area around the coastal lowlands and further inland to the heart of the country around the middle Umfolozi River. This strategy was intended to end the inter-tribal bickering, but was also necessary to provide a counter to the expanding Ndwandwe, Ngwane and Hlube tribes to the north.

The Zulu warriors and their chief were described as being ruthless, and not surprisingly, tribes in the path of the growing armies fled. They in turn became aggressors upon their neighbours. Some travelled great distances, causing waves of disruption and terror throughout southern Africa.
Displaced tribes from Zululand include the Matabele, who settled in Zimbabwe, and the Ngoni who reached Tanzania on their migration, but finally settled in present-day Malawi and Zambia.
Two notable survivors of the destruction were the Swazi and the Basotho peoples, both of whom used the tide of refugees to their advantage and forged the powerful nations that became Swaziland and Lesotho.
Mfecane or Difaqane

- like the epicentre of an earthquake, the creation of the Zulu Kingdom and the militarism upon which it was based sent shock waves throughout southern Africa; its effects and ramifications were felt much farther afield up into central Africa as far as modern Tanzania and lasted for decades.

In other ways, it was like the blasting of a cue ball into a rack of billiard balls which were then sent careening in all directions.

- by the end of the process, the surviving northern Nguni had either been incorporated into the Zulu state or had been driven out.

- refugees and smashed chieftaincies were set in motion; some groups were small and not well organised, although even they were often desperate and starving; other groups were organised and powerful fighting units.

- the southern Nguni along the coast (Transkei) were subjected to successive waves; many of the refugees were taken in by the Xhosa as dependent clients where they became known as Mfengu (Fingos). This almost certainly increased the population pressure in the Transkei and eastern Cape areas which was further increased by the British pushing back the Xhosa during the Wars with the Xhosa (1770s until 1877-78). The British also gathered a force to repel one group of invaders from Natal who made their way through Lesotho.

- later, the British engaged the Mfengu as allies who played a major role in the wars in which the Xhosa were repeatedly defeated. They were rewarded with land and cattle taken from the Xhosa. This produced long term hostilities which are remembered even to this day.

- others fled from Natal up into the high veld area where their raiding and desperate attacks disrupted life and societies there. The Sotho and Tswana peoples were peaceful and totally unprepared for the onslaught of waves of fierce and desperate invaders. Chieftaincies there were disrupted, destroyed or in their turn set in motion attacking others. One of the best known of the latter was led by a woman, MaNtatisi and the group were referred to as 'Manatees'. We know of them because they launched a number of attacks on peoples where missionaries were located in the area from Kimberly northwards. Eventually, the remnants returned to their original area where the north eastern corner of the Cape meets Lesotho.

- in the turmoil, an outstanding man, Moshoeshoe, was able to use two hilltop fortresses to provide an island of refuge and relative safety. There he collected and received refugees of many peoples and welded them into a kingdom known as Basotholand (Lesotho).

- a breakaway group from the Zulu led by Mzilikazi began to establish the Ndebele kingdom in the Orange Free State/Transvaal area. When white trekboers in the Great Trek moved into the area in 1837, defeats in several clashes convinced Mzilikazi to move north of the Limpopo River and establish his kingdom there.

- another manifestation was a group known as the Kololo. It was formed from fragments of Sotho and Tswana peoples in the high veld. They attacked and disrupted peoples in modern Botswana and eventually, pushed by attacks of Mzilikazi's Ndebele, moved north to settle in the upper Zambesi River. There, they helped to form the Rozwi kingdom and became known as the Barotzi.




- other refugee groups fled from Natal north; about 1820, a group led by Soshangane devastated the area around Lourenšo Marques (the Portuguese had to flee to ships and watch as the town was looted and burned). Eventually, they settled down (becoming known as the Shangaan) and created a large chiefdom in Mozambique.

- another band left Zululand in the 1820s led by Zwangandaba. The history of this group shows the amazing durability of a social, military system. After harrying people in Mozambique, the group moved into Zimbabwe where it finished the Shona culture and society that had originally centred on Great Zimbabwe. The group crossed the Zambezi River in 1835. There was some fragmentation in the next decades as some elements attacked and then settled down in a number of places around Lake Nyasa; sometime during this period, they became known as Ngoni. Others, however, continued north and eventually were brought to a halt in southern Tanzania just south of Lake Tanganyika in the late 1860s. When the Germans arrived in the area in the late 1880s, the process was still going on as the Hehe and other peoples in the area were copying and adopting the military formations of the Ngoni as a means of surviving.

Mfecane, a Xhosa
 word known by historians for the large-scale dispersal of northern Nguni peoples during the early 19th century, has a parallel term from Sesotho, Difaqane, which is used almost as frequently.

Difaqane is represented in South Africa with the initial D, but in neighbouring Lesotho with the initial L - both being pronounced as 'd'!
Both words include click sounds - the c in Mfecane representing the dental click( | ) inXhosa(the sound used in English for 'tsk tsk!').
And the q in Difaqane the apical alveolar click (!), reminiscent of a popping cork.

The third click is the lateral click ( || ), represented by x (as in Xhosa), and rather like the English sound used to encourage a horse.
As South African English speakers frequently pronounce the clicks in borrowed words, three new and rather exotic phonemes have had to be added to the OED list.






The Tswana who live in present-day Botswana, are divided into a number of lineages, the three most prominent being decscended from the three sons of the 14th century Tswana chief, Malope' these are the Ngwato, the Kwena, and the Ngwaketse. The Ngwato split into another group, the Tawuna. And there is also another offshoot of the Tswana called the Kgalagadi.
The Kalanga people also live in Botswana and are related to the Shona of Zimbabwe. The Kalanga people are generally considered to be descendants of the people of the Rozwi empire who built the Great Zimbabwe Citadel.
The Mbukushu inhabit the Okavango Delta area of Ngamiland and were originally refugees from the Caprivi in north-eastern Namibia, who were forced to flee in the late 1700s after being dislodged by the Loziempire under Chief Ngombela.
The Mbukushu people subsequently displaced the Yei who occupied north-western Botswana. The Yei were essentially a matrilineal society and never settled in large groups.



The Sotho people mainly live now in Lesotho. Linguistically the Sotho included the Tswana (western Sotho), northern Sotho, and southern Sotho and covered a wide area but with the Difaqane and the pressure for land by the Voortrekkers, huge numbers were displaced. The southern Sotho survived this period through the leadership of King Moshoeshoe when he moved his people and several refugee tribes to a mountainous region in the Drakensberg where he founded Basutholand.



The Northern Sotho now encompasses many unconnected groups, including the Lobedu.

The Lobedu people are unique in that they have a Rain Queen, the Modjadji, who brings rain to the lush Lebowa area. The Modjadji is regarded with awe by her people and her reputation is widespread - even Shaka avoided attacking the Lobedu.

Images from the Realm of a Rain Queen

Most of the Eastern Cape is populated by groups of Nguni peoples who occupied the coastal savanna of Africa south, but those living west of the Great Fish River are relatively recent arrivals.




The history of the original Xhosa clans can be dated back to the early 17th century when small communities of Nguni pastoralists were loosely united in kingdoms. They found that they could not cross the Great Fish River and so began to spread out along its length. They came into contact with the Boers in the 1760s.
Both groups were heavily dependent on cattle, and both coveted the grazing land in the area known as Zuurveld. Skirmishes and brigandage was virtually continuous for the next century. The Xhosa further came under pressure from the tribes fleeing the Difaqane,  the British who moved into to quell the frontier wars, and the missionaries who tried to change their traditional ways and beliefs.

In 1857 the Xhosa were desperate for a solution to the problem - and accepted the advice of Nongqawuse, who saw visions. However, to appease the spirits Nongqawuse said that they were required to sacrifice their cattle and crops - this sacrifice is known as the 'Great Cattle Killing'.
It is estimated that of the 90,000 Xhosa population some 30,000 died of starvation and some 30,000 were forced to emigrate as destitute refugees.

The Xhosa people living east or trans- of the Kei River came under the domination of the Cape colony government from about 1873. But it was not until 20 years later with the defeat of Pondoland, that the whole of the present-day Transkei came under European rule.
In 1976 the Transkei was given Homeland status by the South African Government, but like Bophutatswana, it was not recognised by the international world.
The Transkei is where Nelson Mandela was born. He was born in the village of Mvezo on the Mbashe River and spent most of his childhood at Qunu not far from the 'capital' Umtata.
Europeans settled in the Umtata area in 1871 at the request of the Thembu tribe to act as a buffer against the Pondo raiders. Before this the only Europeans to come to the Transkei were the Portuguese, Dutch and English sailors who were shipwrecked off the notoriously dangerous coast. 

Photo: Haskins (Pondo)


The Ndebele




The Zulu



The VhaVenda people are somewhat of an enigma. No-one is certain of their origin. There are elements of Zimbabwean culture, and signs that one of the subgroups, the Lemba, is of Semitic origin.  What is known is that in the early 18th century, a group of VhaSenzi and VhaLemba, led by Chief Dimbanyika, crossed the Limpopo River and located a tributary which they called the Nzhelele, which means 'The Enterer'. They moved up the Nzhelele and into the Soutpansberg mountain range calling their new land Venda, which means 'the pleasant land'.
When their chief died some of the people moved south back down the Nzhelele River where they established another chiefdom. A period of unrest followed the disappearance of their new chief as his offspring fought for succession. Several invaders then tried to take over the VhaVenda lands - first the Boers under Paul Kruger, then the Swazis, the BaPedi, and the Tsonga. The Venda managed to hold out against these invaders until a Boer army conquered them in 1898.
Traditionally their society is matriarchal, with female priests who supervise the worship of female ancestors.
The VhaVenda, especially the Lemba, mined, smelted and worked iron, copper and gold for centuries. They travelled throughout southern Africa to trade their metal. Most of the lore was lost when cheaper European metal became available but the quality of Venda iron is astonishingly high.
Before the Venda area acquired 'independent Homeland' status, there were about 30 independent chiefdoms, with no overall leader.


The Swazi


The ethnic composition of the white-African tribe, the Afrikaners (Boers), is difficult to quantify, but it is estimated that their origins are comprised of 40% Dutch, 40% German, 7.5% French, 7.5% British, and 5% 'other'. Their unique language, spoken as a mother-tongue by 5.5 million people, has evolved mainly from the Germanic and Dutch languages. It is central to their identity and has also served to reinforce their isolation from the outside world. The Afrikaners are a religious people with the brand of Christian fundamentalism based on 17th century Calvinismis still a powerful influence.

The second white-African tribe, classified as 'European' in origin, comprises an estimated Jewish population of about 130,000; Portuguese refugees from Mozambique and Angola totalling about 36,000; Germans 34,000; Dutch 28,000; Italians 16,000; Greeks 10,000; and roughly 1.5 million British.


Cape Malay

The Batswana, also called the Tswana, in common with the rest of the Bantu-speaking peoples formed clans within a larger tribal grouping. There were a number of dynastic struggles with sons splitting clans and moving away to form their own. This segmentation often occurred peacefully as there was at the time sufficient land available for the people to move on to fresh pastures. And by the 19th century the Batswana tribes dominated much of the present-day Northern Province, North-West Province, and Northern Cape Province of South Africa, and large parts of present-day Botswana.
A large portion of the Batswana also had to fight the Boers who had recently arrived in the area. In 1885 they petitioned the British for protection and the area became Bechuanaland (Botswana).
The British however, created the capital at Mafeking which was in South African territory, and after the Boer War in which the British were defeated, some of the Batswana people found themselves 'cut off'.   After 1948 the area around Mafeking was declared the Homeland of Bophuthatswana but many political activists and leaders refused to accept the area as an independent state until 1977.


Of special mention are the two tribes called the Hottentots and the Griqua both of whom are of mixed race.

The Hottentots are a mixture of San/Khoisan and Bantu. And the Griqua are a mixture of San/Khoisan and European.


The origin of the Hottentots is a question which has given rise to much discussion. Several writers have suggested a North African origin; and Dr. Bleek has detected important points of similarity between the Hottentot language and those of North Africa; but it is too soon to build on these slight indications.

Dr. Theal appears to suggest that the first Hottentots were a mixed race. "The probability seems to be that a party of intruding males of some slight brown or yellow race took to themselves women of Bushman (San/Khoisan) blood, and thus gave origin to the people whom Europeans term Hottentots." This suggestion merely puts this question among the insoluble problems.

For the description of the pure Hottentot we are dependent on ancient writers like Kolben; because the pure Hottentot cannot be said to exist to-day. To-day the so-called Hottentots are of every colour, size, and character, through mixture with other races. Even the language which they principally speak is a patois of the Dutch dialect of the Cape.

The language of the Hottentots is monosyllabic; having four known dialects - the Namaqua, which is still spoken by some of the natives; the Kora and Cape Hottentot, which are practically extinct; and the Eastern Hottentot, which exists only in a few meagre vocabularies, and has been extinct for some time.

The most striking characteristic of the Hottentot language for the European lies in the "clicks". Something similar is thought to be found in the Galla language of Abyssinia, in the Circassian tongue, and in the ancient speech of Guatemala. But three-fourths of the words in the Hottentot dialects begin with a click. Clicks are of four kinds, and are difficult to describe to those who have not heard them. The drawing of a cork, and the gurgling sound of water in the narrow neck of a bottle, the sound made in urging a horse to trot or run, and other sounds have been used to illustrate their nature; but at least one of them, the palatal click, defies description.

The grammatical system of the Hottentots is built almost exclusively on sex-denoting suffixes, and it is the most complete of this small group of languages. The liquid L is entirely wanting, and it has a small variety of clear nasal consonants. The only native literature that exists in these dialects consists of folk-lore tales, such as mark the beginning of all European literature. Translations of parts of the Scriptures have been made by missionaries in Namaqualand.

The religion of the Hottentots is a congeries of superstitious observances, of which travellers and folklorists have never been able to obtain a full explanation from the natives. They appear to believe in a superior being whom they call Tsuikwap; but the antiquity and the meaning of this word are open to some doubt. The most elaborate ceremonies of the Hottentots are in honour of the moon, and they pay great reverence to cairns of stones and wood, where they believe a mythical personage named Heitsi-Eibib to reside.


The Hottentots called themselves Khoikhoin - men of men. The most curious of their customs is that on attaining manhood the Hottentot makes himself a monorchist. Polygamy was not general, but permitted to the wealthy.

They never seem to have made boats of any kind, and abhor the oil of fish, although fond of smearing their skin with oil. Witchcraft was common among them. Their government was carried on by chiefs, who administered a well-defined native law. The doctors were in high esteem, and next to them the priests, who combined the duties of masters of ceremonies and surgeons in the monorchist rites.

Hottentots are now found chiefly in German Southwest Africa (Namibia) and in the Cape Colony. For the former territory there are no official figures as to their number; but they do not exceed thirty thousand. During the rebellion against the Germans, the Hottentots gave more trouble than all the other races together.

In the time of the first Dutch governor (van Riebeeck) the Hottentots at the Cape were estimated at 150,000. But the smallpox epidemic in 1713 reduced their numbers enormously. In 1904 the census put them at 85,892. Their destiny seems to be absorption into the more virile native races.



The Griqua nation was South Africa'a first white/black multi-racial nation.

They were made up of a fiercely independent mixture of peoples whose formation came as a direct result of the first white settlement by Dutch in the Cape. 

The passing sailors found the Hottentot women ( the original natives of the Cape) easy prey. In exchange for cheap liquor they could get "favours". Within a few years many of these women gave birth to the sailor's offspring. 

The highly religious Dutch inhabitants of the Cape objected to the low moral standards of the Hottentots and called the now mixed race people the Basters.

The Basters were evicted from the Cape and, in the late 1700s moved to a large tract of land north of the Orange River where the food was plentiful and they were free of the domination of the white people.

It was in the heart of the Griqua lands, at Hopetown, that the famous "Eureka" and "Star of Africa" diamonds were found - drawing unwanted "white" riff-raff searching for a "quick buck" into their midst. The famous diamond mine at Kimberley resulted - many years later.

The Griquas settled a large tract of land in central South Africa extending far beyond Griquatown, Kimberley and Philippolis and collectively known as Griqualand West. (This area is now known as the Orange Free State). 

The entire Griqua history is dominated by the Kok family. 

Griqualand West, a part of which was called Stellaland, was occupied by the Boers fleeing the British who had taken over the administration of the Cape during the early 1800s.

In 1861/2, the Griquas were forced to sell out to the Boers in the Orange Free State and under Adam Kok, moved to an area largely devoid of people, now in the Natal province. At the time it was an area known as NO MAN'S LAND - following the Chaka Zulu's massacre of the black people who had earlier lived there. 

However, some of the Griquas remained and lived in and around the towns of Griquatown and Campbell under the chief Andries Waterboer.

To reach "no mans land" the Griquas decided to travel through Basutoland (now called Lesotho), over the Drakensberg (Zulu name "barrier of spears") down a small and dangerous mountain track. During the journey they lost nearly all their estimated 30,000 head of cattle. They had to literally rebuild their 360 wagons once they had been lowered in pieces down some parts of the perilous and steep decline into "no mans land". 

By the time they reached the area they were to call Kokstad, in central "no mans land", in 1863 they were but a shadow of their former glory. 

The administration of "no mans land" was handed over to Adam Kok by the British Governors in the Cape and Natal. Kok set about rebuilding his nation with the help of a few local traders. 

Kok asked Donald Strachan, the region's most successful trader, to play a major role in the development of the Griqua nation in the land that he now called Griqualand East.

Donald Strachan soon commanded the respect and affection of the Griquas and Kok asked him to act as their Magistrate in Umzimkulu. 

It was Strachan's advice that stopped Kok issuing some 10,000 one pound notes in the 1868. Their proposed currency had no asset on which to base its circulation and value. Strachan did promise Kok that he would investigate alternative ways of getting around the problems associated with the Griqua's isolation from banks and the resulting dependence on the highly unsatisfactory system of bartering goods. Strachan's answer was to issue his own currency - a project which took a few years to complete with the coins being minted in Germany. 

From about 1874 the Strachan and Co coins became the Griquas currency in the geographically isolated town of Kokstad and throughout a large area surrounding Umzimkulu - the base of the Strachan's trading empire. (It took a horse carriage over 7 days to reach Durban from Umzimkulu) 

During the next few years a high degree of political instability shook Griqualand East. This was further aggravated by Griquas selling their land cheaply to European settlers.

Eventually in 1878 the British decided to take control of the territory. This was a move that led to the Griqua rebellion. In 1879, following their defeat by the British the Griqua nation was disbanded and the territory incorporated into the Cape Colony. 

In 1897 the Griquas, unhappy at their plight, started threatening a revolt against the British. They were rounded up before they could do any damage. The nation and the multiracial peoples that made up this unique community were scattered and are now, sadly, gone forever.

The various Coloured communities in southern Africa developed out by events of the Dutch colonization of South Africa.
In 1652 a small company of employees of the Dutch East India Company were settled on the southern tip of Africa in order to establish a refreshment station for the Company's ships en route to the Far East.
As groups of settlers moved away from the Cape settlement to develop farms, they needed workers. The Dutch government forbade enslaving indigenous people of southern Africa.
They did allow the importation of slaves or indentured servants from the Malay peoples of Indonesia and Malaysia, in the Dutch East Indies. The first Malay slaves arrived in 1657, the first of what became the Cape Malay.


There were some mixed offspring of Malay and Dutch, who were called Coloured.
The settlers or soldiers also had mixed offspring with the indigenous people, the Khoikhoi, the San and later the Xhosa.
An additional contribution to the gene pool were the slaves imported from West Africa.
The various other Coloured peoples also intermarried with the Khoikhoi, the indigenous people of the cape, until they have largely been absorbed into the Coloureds.
The term Coloured came to be applied to all mixed people.

One group of Coloureds escaped to the bush and lived as an African tribe, but became fearsome warriors on horses. These were the Griqua, who are still an Afrikaans-speaking tribe today. (One group of less than 200 Griqua also speak a Khoikhoi language called Xiri.)
After the introduction of Indians into South Africa, they contributed to the mix of Coloureds.

The form of Dutch spoken in the Cape gradually changed significantly from that spoken in Holland.
The Cape dialect came to be called Afrikaans ("the African language"). In the church, the law courts, educational institutions and official government circles, the official language was Dutch. But the common language of the people was increasingly Afrikaans.
The Coloureds share the same language and religion as the "white" Afrikaners, although separated from them by strong social and class distinctions. Today over half of the 7 million Afrikaans-speaking people in South Africa are "Coloured" people.

Namibia is predominantly a desert country with little vegetation, where the fauna and flora has learnt to adapt to the arid climate and seasonal rains.
Its population includes at least 11 ethnic groups with the Owambo being the largest.




Most of the Kavango people live on the level wooded flood plains of the north-east, south of the Okavango River.

The Herero people who are mainly herders occupy several regions of the country and are divided into subgroups.

The distinctive Himba (or Ovahima) of the Kaokoveld are actually descended from a group of Herero herders who were displaced by Namawarriors in the 1800s.

The Damara people share no ethnic kinship with the Nama people, and have historically had major conflicts with each other.



The Herero people originated in eastern or central Africa and migrated into Namibia and Botswana around the 16th century. The Bantu-speaking Herero were nomadic and never practised farming. They displaced the Khoikhoi and also the remaining San and the Damara people whose origin is unclear.






The Damara people present one of Africa's greatest anthropological mysteries in that they are of Bantu origin but arrived speaking with a Khoisan dialect.





It is thought that the Nama people of Namibia today are descended from Khoikhoi groups who held out against the Herero despite violent clashes in the 1870s, and that their origins were in the southern Cape when the Europeans first arrived there.



They were part of the tribes that the Europeans collectively called the Hottentots. Their ancestors were pushed northward and eventually came to rest in Namaqualand where they lived as semi-nomadic pastoralists until the mid-19th century, when their leader, Jan Jonker Afrikaner led them to the area of present-day Windhoek in central Namibia.





The Topnaar (or Aonin) people are technically a branch of the Nama and occupy the western central Namib Desert in and around Walvis Bay. They are called Topnaar because they are fond of the delectable iNaar fruits that they collect.




The Basters are descended mainly from the intermixing between the Nama and the Dutch farmers in the Cape colony. They live around Reho both and either follow an urban lifestyle or raise cattle, sheep, and goats.





The Caprivians, who live in the extreme north-east along the fertile Zambezi and Kwando River banks are comprised of five separate tribal groups - the Lozi, the Mafwe, the Subia, the Yei and the Mbukushu.





The Tswana are Namibia's smallest ethnic group. They are related to the Tswana of South Africa and Botswana and live mainly in the eastern areas of the country, around Gobabis, Aminuis and Epukiro.
A new Bantu group, the Ovambo, settled in the north along the Okavango and Kunene Rivers.

Because Namibia has one of the world's most barren and inhospitable coastlines, it was largely ignored by the European maritime nations. It wasn't until the last-minute Scramble for Africa towards the end of the 19th century that Namibia was annexed by Germany, except for the enclave of Walvis Bay taken in 1878 by the British for the Cape colony.
In 1904 the Herero launched a rebellion with the Nama against the Germans but this was repressed. The Owambo living in the north managed to avoid conquest until after the start of World War 1 in 1914, when they were overrun by Portuguese forces fighting on the side of the Allies. In that same year the German colony abruptly came to an end when its forces surrendered to a South African expeditionary army also fighting on behalf of the Allies.
At the end of World War 1, South Africa was given a mandate to rule the territory, then known as South West Africa, by the League of Nations. The mandate was renewed by the United Nations following World War 2 but the UN refused to sanction the annexation of the country by South Africa. In 1949 the European population was granted parliamentary representation and the bulk of Namibia's farmland came under their ownership.

Namibia's 85,000 Europeans are mostly of German and Afrikaner heritage and are concentrated in urban, central and southern Namibia.
People of mixed European and African descent, sometimes known as coloureds total 52,000 and live mainly in Windhoek.

A lot of the place names in Namibia are German, and the colonial settlers attempted to re-create late 19th century  Germany in its architecture. The modern name Windhoek was corrupted from the original German 'Winterhoek'. During the German colonial occupation the town became the headquarters for the Schutztruppe who were charged with maintaining the peace between the warring Herero and Nama peoples.
Etosha National Park was created when the governor of German South West Africa, Dr. F. von Lindequist, himself a German, became concerned over diminishing animal numbers caused by the inevitable hunters and ivory traders.
In the desert east of Swakopmund sits a lonely and forlorn little steam locomotive -

The 14,000kg machine was imported to Walvis Bay from Halberstadt, Germany in 1896 to replace the ox-wagons which were used to transport freight between Swakopmund and the interior.

However, its inauguration into service was delayed by the outbreak of the Nama-Herero wars, and in the interim, its locomotive engineer returned to Germany without having revealed the secret of its operation.
A prospector eventually got it running, but it consumed enormous quantities of water which weren't available.
It took three months to move it from Walvis Bay to Swakopmund and survived just a couple of short trips before grinding to a halt just east of Swakopmund.
It was abandoned and dubbed the Martin Luther, in reference to the great reformer's words to the Diet of Reichstag in 1521 -

"Here I stand. May God help me, I cannot do otherwise".


The Tribes of Africa



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