Term 3: Colonisation of the Cape in the 17th and 18th centuries

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The word ‘San’ means ‘people different from ourselves’. The San, who were hunter-gatherers, were the first people to live at the Cape. They got their food by hunting wild animals and gathering plant foods like fruits, nuts, berries, mushrooms and roots.

Hunter-gatherers lived in small groups. They were nomadic which means that they did not settle in one place. They moved around to find different plant foods at different times of the year, as well as good water resources. They believed that all the land belonged to the community.

They hunted using arrows coated in poisons obtained from snakes, plants, beetles and scorpions. They made tools and musical instruments from wood and stone and clothing from animal skins.

For thousands of years, hunter-gatherers lived all over southern Africa. We know this because of the San’s rock paintings and engravings which show us how they lived. When the Dutch colonised the Cape in the 17th century there were San hunter-gatherers living at the Cape and in the rest of southern Africa. The San were called Bushmen by the Dutch, because they made their homes in the bush.

Last updated : 17-Nov-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 27-May-2011