First People

The KhoiSan, Basarwa or San people are the original inhabitants of Southern Africa and have a tradition of hunting and gathering. They have no warrior tradition. Their distinctive languages contain at least six vocal clicks, giving their speech a rapid-fire effect.

They often refer to themselves as the “First People”. Cave paintings dating back 20 000 to 30 000 years have been found throughout the sub-continent, leading a growing number of archaeologists and palaeontologists to believe that the San have occupied Southern Africa for at least 100 000 years. Some argue that the Kalahari fringe may therefore be the true “cradle of humankind”. This thinking is supported by genetic research indicating that all human beings share DNA which can be traced back to a !Kung woman who lived in the Kalahari region around 50 000 years ago. Black African (Bantu-speaking) peoples did not reach Southern Africa until around the beginning of the 1st century AD and Europeans arrived in the mid-17th century.

Early Settlers

This country was a tough place marked by droughts, violent robberies and armed conflict between the new pioneers and the Bushmen of the region. The first farmers endured lonely, hard lives fighting for survival in this harsh environment of extreme temperatures and undeveloped territory.

Explorers like Thunberg, Von Meyer and Lichtenstein all wrote about the uncomfortable small houses that farmers lived in due to the lack of timber for building. Simple, two-roomed dwellings were the norm. The kitchen served as the living and dining area while the only bedroom would double as a storage room. Meals often consisted of fatty goat’s meat, milk and, if grain was available, rough bread. 

But their struggle and endurance bore fruit, so much so that when the German explorer, Dr Henry Lichtenstein, visited the district in 1803 he was deeply impressed. By then there were already about 80 000 sheep in the district. Hunting wild game also played a large part in survival in the early days. Old records tell of an eland shoot on the farm Hartebeesfontein, where 17 antelope were shot, smoked and dried in the chimney for biltong. With a history like this, it’s little surprise that meat is still the staple diet of Sutherlander’s. 

Lichtenstein respected the hardworking, devout character of the people he found in the region as well as their tremendous endurance. He admired their simple way of life and healthy habits and was impressed by their culture and language, referring to “...their concise, yet expressive African Dutch language”. He explained in his journal, “...the result of their living so extremely secluded from the world (is) a circumstance which preserves them from temptation to many vices…”  All this went into the making of a tough yet endearing community.