People of South Africa – Indigenous

By Laurence Marks

There are archeological site and artifacts to prove that there were small clans of tall black people living in the northern regions of South Africa. One of the most interesting early finds that dates back to 490 AD, was discovered near Lydenburg, it consists of seven terracotta heads known as the Lydenburg Heads. Six of the heads have human faces and the seventh head is that of an animal. Two of the heads might have been worn as masks, the rest are much smaller and may be associated with rituals. These original heads are displayed in the SA Museum in Cape Town. Other exciting archaeological “Iron age” discoveries that are defiantly worth visiting if on a South Africa safari are Mapungubwe meaning “the hill of the jackal” and Thulamela meaning “the birth of the high place”. Tests revealed that Mapungubwe and Thulamela were the forerunners of the Great Zimbabwe. Mapungubwe was occupied between 900 – 1200 AD and according to the experts, this was the earliest site where gold working took place and appears to have heralded the era of gold mining and trade with the east African coast. The most famous objects found on this site were a gold rhinoceros and a gold bowl dating from around 1200 AD. Thulamela is situated high up on a hilltop in the north eastern corner of the Kruger National Park near what is presently, the boarder between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Not many other communities of tall black people lived in South Africa, until a huge migration took place in the mid 1600’s. Nguni speaking people, whom today is made up of the Zulu, Xhosa, Shangaan, Swazi & Ndebele tribes, moved south along the east coast from Central East Africa or the area known today as Kenya and these people settled in the region in South Africa, which is today know as KwaZulu Natal, KwaZulu meaning the “place of heaven”. The Sotho speaking people of South Africa, whom today is made up of the Pedi, Tswana and South Sotho tribes, moved from Central West Africa, this region is today known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Venda people, who are the smallest group of the tall black people that migrated south, moved to South Africa from the region today known as Zimbabwe.

When all these black farming communities with their iron technology arrived in South Africa, they interacted peacefully with the hunter-gatherers (Bushmen) and also set up an active trade with them. But, as these black farming communities expanded into the grassland areas, less and less space remained for the hunter-gatherer way of life along the Drakensberg escarpment and other mountain ranges along the east and south western areas of South Africa. At the same time you had European farming communities migrating in a north easterly direction from the Cape, creating even more pressure on the availability of farm land. A bitter struggle developed between the Bushman (Khoisan) and the settlers ending in the extinction of the last hunter-gatherer groups in Natal, Eastern Cape and parts of the Western Cape. These Khiosan people where driven further and further east towards the drier regions of South Africa. If today, you wish to meet these interesting little people on a Southern Africa safari, then you would need to visit the Northern Cape Province of South Africa or Botswana or Namibia. However, if you are touring South Africa, you could still get a glimpse of this long-lost way of life of these Khoisan people, by visiting one of the caves with well-preserved drawings and paintings that extend back as far as 27000 years. These caves are found along the Drakensberg escarpment and other mountain ranges in the east and south western areas of South Africa.

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