PATRIC TARIQ MELLET
WHITE MISCHIEF – Our past (again) filtered through the lens of coloniality: Andrew Smith’s First People – The lost history of the Khoisan
Andrew Smith, a Scottish professor emeritus in the Department of Archaeology at UCT, has squandered a great opportunity to end the legacy of expatriate European academic assault on African social history and, instead, has chosen to continue in the same vein of white mischief of the last two centuries. His book, First People – the lost history of the Khoisan, unfortunately has more accent on throwing the bones than actually studying the bones.
I make this critique as someone who is not a professional academic, rather a heritage activist who is reasonably well-read on diverse research in the field, and who has completed relevant studies at master’s level. Drawn to the subject of the book, I have taken the time and effort to fashion a critique from a decoloniality perspective, of this highly politicized and white-dominated arena of the social history of indigenous Africans in Southern Africa. In presenting a decolonial perspective on this book I certainly will not spar above my weight when it comes to the archaeology element of my critique. I will rather point to Smith’s peers in that regard.
My critique, however, will not deal with everything that can be questioned in the book (there are just too many questionable elements), but will focus on the five key distortions that Smith already puts up in the floodlights on the cover of his book:
These distortions are linked to the proposition that people labelled “Coloured” are the true descendants of this so-called “Khoisan Race”. My five points of critique are:
– the notion of “First People”
– the idea of a “lost history”
– the fiction of “Khoisan”
– the assertion that early foundation people belong in silos of “hunters and/or herders”
– the false narrative of “Coloured People being true descendants of San and Khoe”.
If we had thought that the age of colonial mischief was over: with its attendant skewed framing of African social history via a European worldview peddled through the social sciences – anthropology, ethnography, archaeology, paleontology, linguistics, philology, and history departments in South African universities; this book gives us a wake-up call to think again about how coloniality still dominates in the academic arena.
Many of our universities are yet to transition from European colonial mono-versities to pluri-versities looking at universal knowledge. Black perspectives and African perspectives are yet to make a mark on our university landscape in a meaningful manner. It is high time that South African institutions of higher learning employ senior black faculty in key areas of the humanities if we are to remedy the Euro-ideological filters imposed in the learning arena. In this sense I support the disruptive mustfall# movement.
From the early pages of his book, with its pandering to modern day ethno-nationalism, the projection of “Black” as the oppressor colonialist against “Khoisan” and “Coloured”, and the spurious and opportunistic suggestion that people classified “Coloured” are the descendants of a people called “Khoisan”, Smith goes rogue.
Smith uses the term “Khoisan” throughout his book and continuously asserts that “Coloured” people are the “descendants” of those he calls “Khoisan” stating that these (“Coloured”) “Khoisan have been pushed aside by “black” aspirations (Smith, p. 2 & 3). Smith goes on to conflate “Coloured” and “Khoisan” and in charging black and white colonialism he draws an analogy, such that the “Aborigines of Australia and Native Americans of North America and the isolated peoples of the Amazon also feel the heavy hand of historical colonial exploitation and neglect” (Smith, p. 3).
Elsewhere I argue in depth that contrary to his argument that the term “Khoisan is in common use by descendants today” (Smith, page 6) it is not accepted as a protocol by most organised groups, the UN studies and recommendations, and by legislation passed by the state recognizing San, Nama, Korana, Griqua and Cape Khoe. The San have been explicit in their critique of the term (Voices of the San p.10, 224). Only on issues of common concern is the protocol Khoe – San now used. It is more accurate to refer to Foundation Peoples than “First Peoples” – namely San, Khoe and the proto-Kalanga formations and the formations born out of their coming together in the first millennium, than arguing claim to primacySmith’s book title – FIRST PEOPLE, and throughout argues “First People” as per page 2, 5, in continuum – alternatively First Nations..
Smith contradictorily goes back and forth on the Cape being free of Bantu-speaking peoples until post-colonial times. As an example in once place he clearly states “This was one reason that Bantu-speaking people only came to the Cape after the colony was set up” (Smith p.73). Yet he, in different places, contradicts himself by saying that “In the southeastern parts of South Africa early Iron Age Farmers arrived 1600 years ago bringing herds of cattle with them (Smith 71).” In fact I show that early archaeology sites evidence these proto-Xhosa living side by side with proto-Khoe, suggesting that it is foolish to make primacy claims about “First People” and distinguishing brown people having “first right” claims vs black people. Throughout the book there are contradictions concerning dates regarding the Early Iron Age migratory drifts.
In other places Smith contradicts himself again by briefly, without any further information, stating (incorrectly) that Huffman shows the beginnings of a southward movement (from East, Central and West Africa) 1600 years ago, of Kalundu, Nkope and Kwale cultures (Smith, p.89). What Huffman actually shows in his Handbook to the Iron Age is a presence in South Africa of Kulundu culture in 200 CE, and Nkope culture by 270 CE and Kwale culture by 390 CE. While at one place in his book Smith distances himself from the ‘empty land’ theory it becomes quite clear that all that he is doing is using the same debunked thinking paradigm about black colonisation, but simply shifting the date to an earlier (and still non-factual) time.
In Smith’s formulation, “they “Khoisan” are still pushed aside by black (beginning 5th century) and white (beginning 17th century)” (Smith p. xi). There is a thread running through Smith’s work which pushes the concept of “race”, “human-types” and invasion with consistency, by taking a line which can be read as “Bantu” being colonisers of a different type – “The difference between the settlement of Bantu-speaking farmers and European colonists in Southern Africa was one of race” (Smith p.184).
The term “black” is used by Smith in the Apartheid ethnic or race usage and these “black people” are distinguished from “Khoisan First People” which Smith describes stereotypically as “small brown-skinned people who were quite distinct from black Africans” (Smith p.5). What was a slow migratory drift over 2000 years is still projected in the manner of white propagation of an “expansion of Bantu-Speaking Iron Age farmers” (Smith p.xi). It is actually quite shocking that Smith propagates two streams of long-debunked nonsense of “black and brown” and of black and white both being colonialists that lies at the heart of othering, racism and colonial mischief. This framing of the archaeology of the San and Khoe in the socio-political language of coloniality sullies much of his more interesting archaeological findings. He further spends much text space showing that his foundations of thinking about the San and Khoe in history is built on highly questionable early colonial writings as well as 20th century thinkers on San and Khoe matters, considered to be part of the liberal Anglophile academics, who were instrumental in laying the foundations during the Union of South Africa Smuts-Hertzog era for what would become known as Apartheid after 1948 eg: Radcliffe-Brown, Isaac Schapera and others.Schmidt B; “Creating order · culture as politics in 19th and 20th century South Africa – Nijmegen – Third World Centre, University of Nijmegen – Proefschrift Katholieke Universiteit ijmegen; (1996).
Schapera at a crucial time worked from within the UCT School of African Life and Languages heavily funded by Smuts’ Union government which had expected outcomes, and which according the UCT official history by Howard Phillips – “The University of Cape Town 1918 – 1948 (UCT Press 1993), says
“it contributed in some degree to the development of the ideology of segregation which became the direction “native policy” took before the wars. In ways both academic and non-academic therefore, the School pioneered new methods of addressing what the 1919 government committee of enquiry had called “problems whose solution is necessary for the future safe development of a country in which white and black are to live side by side”.
Let me peel back the five identified layers of my focus, one by one. Thereafter I will provide some further general comment and a conclusion.
1. The notion of “First People”
Generally, across the world, there are only two ways in which this term “First People” is used, but in South Africa a third, 19th century way of using the term, is presently being resurrected, as an extension of the racist notion of “black colonizers” and the promotion of the politics of racial “primacy” as an antidote to “Coloured” marginalization. These are notions punted by Andrew Smith right up front in the beginning of his book.
The first manner of use: Initially the global usage of the term “First People” described the early homo sapiens – our species, as the earliest forms of organised communities between 50 000 years ago and 15 000 years ago when micro proto-civilizations first appeared. Others however would argue that the first homo sapiens species which emerged over 300 000 years ago were the “First People”, and not just our species that is trackable by genetic science over the last 195 000 years. Yet others argue that archaic humans too, particularly Neanderthals, were the true “First People”… ever since homo-erectus made an appearance.
Most however refer to the ‘first people’ in Southern Africa as those pre-San modern humans (homo sapiens sapiens) from 50 000 years ago who track back to migrations from northeast Africa in 5 L-root branches of haplogroups to the rest of Africa in different directions.
In human mitochondrial genetics, L is the macro-haplogroup that is at the root of the anatomically modern human mtDNA tree. The mtdna lineage of all currently living modern humans without exception goes back to L which has two sub-clades which are L1-6 and L0. The first clade L1-6 is estimated to have formed around 170 000 years ago, while the second clade L0 was formed 150 000 years ago. (The formation of L1 dates around 150 kya, L2 around 90 kya, L3 around 70 kya, L4 around 80 kya, L5 around 120 kya, and L6 around 90 kya. The L0 which is associated with the peopling of Southern Africa (South and East) dates around 140 kya. All of these have many variants and they all originate from L in northeast Africa. The first-level of sub-clades of L0 are L0a in the south of Tanzania and in Mozambique, L0b in Ethiopia, L0d in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, L0f in Sandawe in Tanzania (the oldest) and L0k in Mozambique. All of these L lineages are inter-related in Africa but they also appear worldwide. One has to be careful not to jump to identity conclusions based on these haplogroups nor to politicize, colourize or racialize people on the basis of genetic markers.Mlambo S & Parsons N; pp 1 – 17; “A history of Southern Africa”; Macmillan International / Red Globe Press; (2019) / read with – Soares, Pedro; Ermini et al; 84 (6): 740–759; “Correcting for Purifying Selection: An Improved Human Mitochondrial Molecular Clock“; The American Journal of Human Genetics; (2009) / read with – Rito, Richards, Fernandes, et al; “The First Modern Human Dispersals across Africa”; PLoS ONE 8(11): e80031; (2013) / read with – Gonder, Mortensen, et al; 24 (3): 757–68; “Whole-mtDNA genome sequence analysis of ancient African lineages”; Molecular Biology and Evolution; (2007) / read with – Pereira, Luisa, et al; vol. 77 no. 2 p. 213-229; “African Female Heritage in Iberia: A Reassessment of mtDNA Lineage Distribution in Present Times“; Human Biology, , (2005) / read with – Behar, Villems, Soodyall, Blue-Smith, et al; Genographic, Consortium; 82 (5): 1130–1140; “The Dawn of Human Matrilineal Diversity”; The American Journal of Human Genetics. (2008) / read with – Tishkoff, Gonder, Henn, Mortensen, et al; 24 (10): 2180–2195;“History of Click-Speaking Populations of Africa Inferred from mtDNA and Y Chromosome Genetic Variation”; Molecular Biology and Evolution; (2007) / read with – Silva M, Alshamali, Silva P et al; “60,000 years of interactions between Central and Eastern Africa documented by major African mitochondrial haplogroup L2”, Scientific Reports volume 5, Article number: 12526 Scientific Reports Vol 5 – article 12526. (2015)
In this context the people we call the San, with their culture and technologies came to the fore in much more recent history around 12 – 15000 years ago, even though their forebears were in the broad region for much longer. The ancient forebears of our species would have migrated along the waterways from northeast Africa to the South as long as 140 000 years ago in the region of Zambia to Namibia, 45 thousand years ago in Mozambique and 30 thousand years ago in the southernmost regions of South Africa.
The San were a product of the evolving prowess and technologies of our species as well as emergent social organisational forms. There is no magical date and certainly those social groups who have the characteristics of those we today call San, did not remain statically the same over 15 000 years. They also are not likely to have been isolated for thousands of years from either archaic humans or other homo sapiens and homo sapiens sapiens.
If there are any people today who can justify cautiously using the term “first” in this manner it would be the San, of whom there are only around 111 000 today in a number of formations and spread over six countries. They do not particularly place emphasis on the usage of “first” but rather on their culture and heritage on which others are trampling. Their use of the term is not a claim of primacy, and simply denotes their heritage linked to the first ancient peopling of Southern Africa, and a call to respect their human rights by not discriminating against them or marginalizing them nor impacting negatively on their fragile culture by dominating forces.
The trendy use of “FIRST” as used today in South Africa by Khoe revivalism, greatly muddies the waters for the San in this context and is a problematic notion without substance.
We also need to be aware that our human species which fanned out in various directions across Africa and kept moving were all inter-related, going back to one human source, and in different regions of Africa different peoples and different dates pertain to surviving peoples who link to that first dispersal. It is most likely that there were other sapiens groups who died out over time too, leaving just our species. So “FIRST” is not a scientific term, and when wrongly used it becomes a political term and is weaponized. The term first people has largely been driven by white social scientists.
It is unfortunate that social science voices lend credibility sometimes to primacy nationalists who claim that their forebears are the direct descendants of early archaic humans or other extinct homo sapiens species and archaic humans who have left markers across South Africa. This leads to false claims by some that their forebears were around hundreds of thousands of years ago, if not millions. This is the fruit of irresponsible and misleading statements by European academics who either just do not employ thought or have traditionally engaged in divisive tactics in fanning identity conflict among Africans – “white-mischief”.
In the 21st century nobody can be called ‘first people’ in this sense of the meaning except for the threatened San communities in 6 Southern African countries and the even older Sandawe in East Africa. And modern communities expressing the term globally mostly do not use the term in this sense.
The second manner of use: in which “First People” or sometimes “First Nations” is used is a relatively modern usage that has emerged from organised indigenous communities in Australia, New Zealand, Latin American, Canada, the United States of America and elsewhere. Here its meaning has not been to identify one or two ethnicities over others as in primacy nationalist-politics, but rather as a collective (eg: in the Americas where there are many hundreds of indigenous ethnicities calling themselves ‘First peoples’) reference to all indigenous communities in territories before the invasion of specifically European colonists.
It’s a simple definition that is a distinction between all indigenous peoples on the one side, and colonial Europeans on the other side, and this is a globally accepted usage of the term. In this context all peoples indigenous to Africa – Africans, whose territories were invaded by Europeans, are “First People” or non-colonials. I have had the pleasure and privilege to visit, discuss and share with Australian Aboriginal peoples and Native American peoples on their home-grounds, and am quite certain that they would be shocked at Andrew Smith’s labelling of Africans as being colonists just like the Europeans of the 15th – 20th centuries, and of his narrow ethnic definition of “First People”.
The third manner of use: Andrew Smith has bought into a peculiar South African meaning with a sordid history in 19th century colonialism and 20th century Apartheid – a crime against humanity. In South Africa in contemporary times, there are some who have come to use the term “First People” or “First Nations” in a trendy copy-cat manner without understanding its international usage and have given the term a racist make-over, using it in a mono-ethnic sense and equating African indigenous communities whom they call “Black Colonizers” in the Apartheid ethno-nationalist sense, as opposed to “Brown Khoisan”…. Effectively a “non-Black Race”.
Here the term “First People” or “First Nation” is used as a primacy term by just some of the groups wishing to distance themselves from other Africans who they see as “Black” rather than “Brown” and are among those who have been recognised to be “indigenous peoples who face discrimination and marginalization” – namely the San, Korana, Nama, Griqua and the various Cape Khoe peoples.
The South African meaning of the term “First People”, as one encompassing primacy claims and alleging invasion of black colonists, is not accepted by the United Nations nor the African Union. Smith has been totally irresponsible in feeding this falsehood born of racist politics and giving it academic blessing.
In my book The Lie of 1652 I dedicate three pagesMellet PT, 2020, The Lie of 1652 – A decolonised history of land, Tafelberg NB Publishers, pp. 237 – 239. of discussion in some depth and citing various UN/AU documentsUN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, read with UN Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people – Addendum: Mission to South Africa delivered to the Economic and Social Council; read with International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, and read with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; read with ILO Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries – ‘A manual’, Geneva, International Labour Office; read with Report of the African Commission’s Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities; ACHPR and IWGIA/African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. as well as other studies on the terms “indigenous” (in its old and modern definitions) and “First People” / “First Nation”. I further look at why, with good cause, the terms “First People” and “First Nations” are not used in international declarations. I point out that there is no singularly authoritative definition of ‘indigenous’ in either international law or in the documentation of international bodies.Macklem, P; Indigenous recognition in international law: theoretical observations. Michigan Journal on International Law.
I further point out that even in Canada where the terms (as per this second meaning) “First Nations”/ “First People” originate, there is neither an international legal definition of the term ‘first nation’ nor recognition of this concept.Canada Library Archives; Terminology guide: research on aboriginal heritage (2015), p. 11. Finally, I cite Peters & MikaPeters MA and Mika CT; “Aborigine, Indian, indigenous or first nations?”; Educational Philosophy and Theory 49 (13), pp. 1229–1234 DOI:10.1080/00131857.2017.127. to show the complexities of the labelling trends to provide greater perspective beyond trendiness. Among the many issues at stake, Peters & Mika point out:
how a term such as ‘first nations’ can obscure the real specific struggles and focus on upholding rights, fighting discrimination and marginalization. Poor and trendy use of terminology can sometimes seriously undermine and detract from the interests of the very communities these terminology overlays purport to champion.Peters & Mika, 1229.
Andrew Smith’s trendy approach, mixed with European colonial and Apartheid ideology, crosses all of the lines, sensitivities and cautions pointed out. As an academic, in linking archaeology so absolutely with ethno-nationalist politics, he shows little understanding of international frameworks that advance the cause of indigenous communities facing discrimination and marginalization in South Africa or globally, and ultimately harms the cause of those he claims to support.
The history of this South African version of the term is deeply rooted in an expatriate European academic narrative closely related to archaeology and anthropology, but also other social sciences, once this train of thought jumped the tracks in academia from one discipline to another.
It is more accurate to refer to Foundation Peoples – namely San, Khoe and the proto-Kalanga formations and the formations born out of their coming together in the first millennium, than arguing claim to primacy or that South Africa was an “empty land” suddenly invaded by “black alien hordes” who stole the land from the only indigenous “brown Khoisan” communities of “first people”. It is actually quite shocking that Smith propagates this long-debunked nonsense.
This formula is a fundamentally racist European overlay on South African discourse to somehow cleanse and justify European – and particularly British – colonial conquest, and it tracks back along a trajectory in which Andrew Smith’s academic framing is rooted. This is the framing that informed the “native” policies of the Union of South Africa and was the intellectual bedrock of Apartheid ideology, pre-Hendrik Verwoerd.
In 1920 the Union of South Africa Education Department funded Rev WA Norton at UCT, with a substantial five-year grant of £15 000 (approx. R13 million today) to assist it in the formulation of a comprehensive native policy for the Union government, to address what they perceived as the “Native Problem”. Norton himself expressed that his academic offering’s focus would be “for the training of administrators and others dealing with natives, and the quelling of contentious agitation.”Philips H; The University of Cape Town 1918-1948 – The Formative Years; UCT Press 1993
And so was born UCT’s School of African Life and Languages, and UCT’s Social Anthropology department. After much in-house jostling about its focus at UCT, the state-nurtured concept was spread to three other universities, while at UCT this initiative became the springboard for an “Ethnology and Archaeology” programme which was the only archaeology programme in the Union of South Africa for 30 years. So, this is where the racist rot in the intellectual sphere was incubated, and not, as often thought, only in Afrikaans Universities. It was only when Monica Wilson came onto the social anthropology scene in the 1950s that she challenged the colonial fundamental pillars of UCT’s progression of academics “invader-Bantu coloniser of Khoe and San” stereotyping and othering.
Smith’s touting of the aberrational term “First People” is not a mistake, but rather rooted in a destructive tradition of identity-politics long embedded at UCT. His use of “First People” is simply wrong and it sows seeds of mischief and in its South African usage has nothing to do with “First People” movements in the USA, Canada, Australia, Latin America, New Zealand and elsewhere. At best it is used in a superficial, fashionable manner, and at worst it is wholly racist to invoke the term in opposition to, and in primacy claims against, other African peoples, as is done here.
Today many white South Africans abuse the term “First People” in a deflective racist tactic of “whataboutism” to charge that if they are colonialists so are those they call “black Africans” as distinct from “brown Africans”. Why Smith – a respected archaeologist who should have known better – went down this path is baffling?
But Smith was not responsible for the resurrection of the politicized term “First People” in recent times. This occurred when Alan Mountain published The First People of the Cape, in which he laid the ground for conflating the UN recognised “indigenous peoples who faced marginalization and discrimination – San, Korana, Nama, Griqua and Cape Khoe” with being the “First People of the Cape”. Mountain A; 2003; First People of the Cape; David Philip Publishers. The book makes many errors and conflates archaic humans, and pre-modern homo sapiens with modern homo sapien sapiens. It also negates the fact that the early ǁKosa and even later Xhosa have strong San and Khoe matrial roots particularly within the Gqunukhwebe-Gonaqua where ten clans of San and Khoe make up its iziduko genealogy.
This was a modern example of white academia again playing those classified “black” against those classified “Coloured” by presenting a history of separateness and giving it an inaccurate “First People” primacy tag, regardless of archaeological proof that Khoe and early ǁKosa were together in the Eastern Cape by 600 CE.
The fact is also that a basket of genetic studies shows the probability of around 42% of people classified as “Coloured” to have Khoe and San roots among other roots, but so too does at least 18% of the amaXhosa. Indeed, genetics confirm social history and genealogy which shows over 195 roots of origin among people classified as “Coloured” – including both Sub-Saharan African & Southern African dna, as well as South and West Asian, Eurasian, Southeast Asia, Chinese and European dna.
When it comes to the Nqgosini Khoe we know they are deeply embedded in Sotho society as are the Gyzikoa Khoe in the Tswana society. In fact, every African society in South Africa, even the Zulu (a relatively modern construct) can be shown to have ǀXegwi San peoples in their genealogy.
The polarization and hurtful divisions sown by white academia to deflect attention from white colonialism, has created the false “black colonist” notion in history.
Beating the created “Black Piñata” to deflect from white oppression is a favourite pastime in white South African circles. It is sad that Andrew Smith has done so in this book.
2. The idea of the “Lost History of the Khoisan”
Andrew Smith, who has been associated with the UCT archaeological tradition since 1977, presents his (not so) new “lost history of the Khoisan” offering, sans social history, a narrative that is deeply rooted in the trajectory of the 19th century colonial anthropological and archaeological tradition and which panders to modern day ethno-nationalism. There is no “lost history of the San or Khoe” as there are many works on the subject and many San and Khoe people alive who still ably articulate their history.
Yes, this “history” (theories) of Smith does draw on more recent findings and interesting debates, though Smith’s version in conveying these is rigid, contradictory, and confusing. In some places he argues the opposite of what he has previously stated. He ends up presenting us with a “a performing bear in drag, but a bear no less” version of what barely passes for history, padded between two bookends of a skewed politicized introduction and a poor assessment of contemporary socio-political identity politics anchored in San and Khoe issues in South Africa.
Over the 17th to 20th century, European academics employed archaeology, paleontology, anthropology, linguistics, and history in various ways to justify their positions on race, civilization, and white intellectual and cultural supremacy. A hierarchy of intelligence, social and cultural advancement was given scientific blessing by theories about the strict ordering of societies from primitive to advanced, and of rigid period time-lining of human advancement which was not enjoyed by all. Entire peoples were put into Apartheid silos and argued to be inherently incapable of changing.
Advancement, when it came to Southern Africa, demanded that new cultures and technologies had to be imported from elsewhere and that migration is the only means whereby change could take place; and where parallel cultures lived side by side ne’er the twain should meet, and, worse still, that all relations between ethnicities were said to be conflictual. Thankfully history does not support this nonsense, but unfortunately people still get degrees and are lauded for repeating such aberrations.
Some societies were then assigned to perpetual time-bubbles of primitivism. In South Africa those labelled by Europeans as the “Bantu Race” and the “Khoisan Race” were presented as inferior human types to Europeans, and at different stunted levels of evolution from each other, trapped in time and in perpetual conflict with each other. Trapped furthermore, in a ‘hunter-gatherer” or “pastoralist” human-type; if we follow the Smith line of thinking, people could no longer authentically be San or Khoe and have such cultures if they became farmers, doctors, engineers, or lawyers and did not carry bows and dress in skins, living a simple lifestyle.
Effectively people could not be San or Khoe if they did not think in the manner that Smith has decided they perceive or think or practice cognitive skills. The logical conclusion to be gleaned from Smith and the European gaze that he represents is that the San are immune to socio-economic evolution, and from learning, and perpetually “locked in time”.
The created “Bantu Race” and “Khoisan Race” were each the product of much heralded European experts who assigned histories and attributes to these “races” that were convenient to the European staking of claim to the territory of South Africa as part of a civilizational mission, and as though South Africa was not part of the continent of Africa. Intellectual othering and the assigning of Africans to the lowest rungs on a ladder of intellectual and developmental hierarchy was the pseudo-science that birthed racism.
Practically the result of this was to work from a proposition of what colonial authorities called “the native-problem” and to create Balkan-type reservations called Bantustans as a concession to so-called “Black Aliens” who were said to have invaded the land of the “Khoisan”. The colonial authorities then basically said that the San and Khoe identities (as defined by a time-bubble) had died out through disease and progress, and that a modern “Coloured” identity had replaced these. Smith’s book is rooted in the basic tenets of colonialism and Apartheid and serves it up as “lost history”.
This book by Andrew Smith takes South African archaeology back to the dark days of its first emergence in South Africa by marrying ludicrous identity-politics fictions to social science and then dubbing it as social history while continuing with the caricaturing of San and Khoe and even those classified as “Coloured”.
Initially the term “Bantu” simply meaning “people” was used as an organising cabinet for over 600 languages across almost two thirds of Africa spoken by over 800 different ethnicities. Wilhelm Bleek migrated the term to denote a “race’ of people. After Leonhard Schultze’s creation of the term “Khoisan” which I will go on to explain later – a combination of two variant terms for “people” – (“Khoe” and “ San” both mean people, with the latter having a connotation of typecasting) were simply joined as one, by Schultze.
Starting with the views of Schapera, “Khoisan” also became used by academia to denote a family of languages and cultures, which later were found largely to be erroneous. The use of these linguistic terms to denote “races” and “linguistic nations” as a solution to the Union of South Africa’s so-called “Native Problem” was taken to further heights at UCT in its departments funded by the Union of South Africa government to help control black people. These endeavors came up with the concoction of fatally flawed and even false history, now repackaged, as Smith has done, and presented as education for the descendants of San and Khoe, and “Coloureds” about their “lost history”.
Faced with great diversity of over 140 African communities in South Africa, the European colonial authorities needed a framework that lent itself to easier control, and thus ten linguistic “native” nations were created into which all societies were assimilated and classified with an umbrella term “Bantu” used with a division into “Nguni” (with its Zundu and Tekela branches) another linguistic term and the “Sotho-Tswana” division. All Africans speaking non-Bantu languages were then assimilated into a race classification category called “Coloured” which later in 1950 was further finessed to have seven categories, later reduced by 1960 into four (Cape Coloured, Malay, Griqua and Other Coloured), while the other three for the first time were put into a separate silo called Asians (Indian, Chinese, and Other Asiatic).
Originally in the 19th century the term “Coloured people of the Cape Colony” simply meant all people who were not white. As the end of the 19th century came and was followed by the formation of the Union of South Africa, the census format of 1904 gave way to a new format of Europeans, Coloureds and Natives.
Under Apartheid, Dr Verwoerd took a combination of the work to date of Theal, Barker, Bleek, Schultz, Schapera, Goodwin, van Riet Lowe, Radcliffe-Brown along with other academic views coming out of Nazi Germany and from Afrikaans nationalist historians like F.A. van Jaarsveld in his crafting of the Apartheid concept – an idea already deeply rooted in South African law and practice in the time of Jan Smut’s United South African and National Party .
Those deemed to be the “Bantu Race” were projected to be 15th century colonial invaders from west, east and central Africa who had suddenly descended on the south during a colonisation mission.
Europeans, regardless of their genocidal attacks on the San, were projected as the protector-stepparents of the exoticized “Bushmen” and Khoe servants seen as God’s “Volkies” who needed the guiding hand of the white super-race. As such whites and their “Khoisan” charges were projected as the ”First People” – and part of God’s plan for the “Chosen Race of God”. It was argued that God was an orderly God, and whites and their wards were the only true South Africans – die “Wit Afrikaner Volk” en hul “Bruine-Afrikaner Volkies”.
It was argued by one of the (self-schooled) amateur founders of the mixed disciplines of archaeology, anthropology, botany, entomology, ornithology studies in South Africa, British born Mary Barber,Mary Elizabeth Barber (nee Bowker) (1818 – 1899) was a pioneering amateur botanist, entomologist, ornithologist, and geologist, accepted as an early South African scientist and naturist who also contributed to foundational archaeology and palaeontology. She and her brothers were outspoken and unashamed white supremacists. A full account of their constructed mix of science and racism is detailed in Tanja Hammel’s – Shaping Natural History and Settler Society – Mary Elizabeth Barber and the Nineteenth-Century Cape. that the Europeans had been in South Africa before as a lost white tribe and had groomed the San as a client sub-human race put by God in the care of white “First People”. But she said that after something had wiped out the whites, the “Bushmen” had again degenerated, but still having just a thread of what the whites had endowed upon them. When the whites arrived in South Africa it was argued that they had come “home” to their God-given homeland.
Mary Barber continued her bizarre argument, asserting that “the nomadic San are at the lowest rung, as they do not have the capacity to think about the future and are naively happy to live from hand to mouth.”Hammel T; Shaping Natural History and Settler Society – Mary Elizabeth Barber and the Nineteenth-Century Cape; Pg 227; Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series; Palgrave Mcmillan (2019).
At a conference in 2014 – Science, Race, and Identity in the Global South. Basel Graduate School of History, University of Basel – Tanja Hammel made a presentation focussing on the ‘birth’ of archaeological research in South Africa. She concluded by analysing the production of history in contemporary local museum displays which decontextualize Thomas Bowker’s actions and collections in a way that perpetuates myths when she placed Thomas Bowker’s (1807-1885) collecting and interpreting of stone implements in the context of his political ideology and career. As a member of parliament, Bowker sought to gain compensation for the settlers’ lost land in the Frontier Wars. Via evidence of stone tools he aimed to demonstrate that ‘a white race’ had inhabited southern Africa before the Bantu or Khoisan. His sister Mary Elizabeth Barber explained perforated stones (commonly called ‘Bushmen stones’) to be the sole remnants of a lost Jewish tribe.Grogan P; H-Net Humanities and Social Sciences Online ; (2014).
All sorts of exotic versions of the “lost history of the “Bushmen Race” and later “Khoisan Race” have abounded over the years, each a variant of the other but all based on an idea of a “simple people locked in time” – either evolving on a completely separate track in Africa or parachuted into Africa from somewhere else, but always a client people (“noble savage”) among superior, evolved people.
Smith’s approach to what he calls “Khoisan First People” is a progression of this trajectory of thinking tailored with the advances in social science disciplines that occurred in his time. The more things change the more the fundamentals of a separate “brown (non-black) primitive “first people” caught in a time-warp” remains the same in white-thinking in South Africa.
Barber claimed that in as far as “Bushmen” demonstrated any intellectual capacity through artefacts and art, they were proxies of the original white superior “first people” civilization that once lived alongside them but had died out.
Mary Barber’s approach to the San had initially swung back and forth speculatively and contradictorily. Ultimately, she settled on a position that the “Bushmen” (San) were “a type of the human race, which was but only slightly removed from its poor relations who dwelt in trees” .” Hammel T; Shaping Natural History and Settler Society – Mary Elizabeth Barber and the Nineteenth-Century Cape; Pg 236; Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series; Palgrave Mcmillan (2019). Mary Barber argued that white “first people” in South Africa influenced the practices of the nomadic ‘Bushmen’ – She suggested “that white people of Jewish descent had perforated the Griqualand West stones, and not Bushmen/San and believed a lost tribe of Jews may have lived in Southern Africa millennia ago….. Bowker and Barber in the same way erase the history of contemporary Africans by positing a vanished white Jewish presence which only the settlers could revitalise.”Hammel T; Shaping Natural History and Settler Society – Mary Elizabeth Barber and the Nineteenth-Century Cape; Pg 237-238; Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series; Palgrave Mcmillan (2019) Pg 237-238.
Barber’s descriptions of “Blacks, Bushmen, Hottentots” and Griqua in her writings in which she used analogies with insects was so extremely racist that it would have made Eugene Terreblanche and his AWB look like amateurs. It is Barber and her brother Thomas Bowker’s mix of politics, wars of dispossession and land claims, with pseudo-science, that introduced the primacy notion of “firstism” into South Africa (long before the term arose in the modern global usage) and which has as its trajectory what is pitched as “lost history” today.
In the mid-20th century Jan Smuts, who dabbled in archaeology, history and anthropology and had a special relationship with UCT’s archaeology and anthropology departments, continued to argue the case about Theal’s “barbaric blacks” invading South Africa and colonizing the “Khoisan”. Smuts’ speech at London’s Savoy Hotel in 1917 on the South African “racial experiment’ (concocted at UCT) and its attendant risks” posited that the “Bushmen got their late ‘stone-age’ skills from Asia but had degenerated again within a short period and that throughout Africa black experimental attempts at creating civilizations had all degenerated and disappeared”. In so arguing, Smuts was rehashing Mary Barber and simply replacing “European” with “Asian”.
In recent times and based on this “First People” construct of Mary Barber, a self-proclaimed King Cornelius (a former traffic cop with a negative reputation in local communities) of the fictitious Khoisan Kingdom that he had created, was accompanied to the UN along with ultra-right white organisation Boerevolk /Boerelegion to make a common plea to be recognised jointly as the “First People” of South Africa and the legitimate owners of most of South Africa which they mapped out. White Boers they argued were also indigenous Africans. They had produced a flag and indicated that they would by one means or another secede from South Africa. The United Nations basically told them to get lost. Back in South Africa they presented their declaration to Parliament officials and then proceeded to haul down the South African flag and replace it with self-proclaimed King Cornelius’ flag. There is but a degree of difference between this kind of action and the approach taken by white academics who are not critical about their role in promoting skewed views of history and heritage.
The mischief of European colonial academics from Holden and Theal to Schapera, Goodwin and Radcliffe have always fed directly into political theory and practice. Holden in 1866 laid foundations in history books that entrenched the “black Invasion”, an empty land theoryHolden WC; 1866; The Past and Future of the Kaffir Races..
Theal’s political racialization of Africans which inspired Smuts can be seen in his works – The Yellow and Dark-Skinned People of Africa South of the Zambesi: A Description of the Bushmen, the Hottentots, and Particularly the Bantu, with Fifteen Plates and Numerous Folklore Tales of These Different People and History and Ethnography of Africa South of the Zambesi, from the Settlement of the Portuguese at Sofala in September 1505 to the Conquest of the Cape Colony by the British in September 1795. As one will also see there have always been attempts to cast people perceived as YELLOW or BROWN as separate from BLACK. The fact that San and Khoe people have varied skin tones, heights and features as all other Africans can be seen today and in the first photographs of the 19th century by Gustav Fritsch. The colourist “lost history” of the Khoe and San, is one in Andrew Smith’s imagination.
Unless Smith has been living in a sheltered bubble over all of these years in South Africa he could not have been oblivious to the history of his line of thought, which only in variation he again serves up as the “lost history of the Khoisan”. Strip away the archaeology in-speak, the scientific overlay, and some of the contemporary findings, and there is nothing new nor “lost” about Andrew Smith’s historical offering. The wonderful and well-articulated social history of Africans, including Khoe and San who play multiple roles within that history, is there in many un-biased writings and with African story-tellers, for those who are interested.
3. The fiction of a “Khoisan” race
I have already explained how it was Mary Barber who embedded the preoccupation with the primacy notion of “firstism” (who was here first) in South Africa – a colonial and ethno-nationalist doctrine wittingly or unwittingly promoted by Andrew Smith in his book, its title, and with its notion of a “Colouredist claim” to first-nationhood. Wrapped up with this and the marketing anchor for the book is the term “Khoisan” with all the rottenness that is attached to this mischievous term in history.
In earlier Cape history the emphasis in intellectual circles was the notion of the “noble savage” applied to San and Khoe as arising out of the French Enlightenment. The terra nullius creed was not previously invoked nor was there any notion of “Bantu” and “Khoisan” races or of “first people”. These ideas came to the Cape with British imperialism and were born from the so-called “frontier wars” in the 19th century. Even the iconic painting of van Riebeeck meeting the startled Khoe on the beach, was painted almost 200 years after the fact by Charles Bell.
The real first meeting was in 1647, and the meeting of Jan van Riebeeck and Autshumao was with Autshumao (herri die strandloper) wearing European clothes on board the ship Dromedaris on 7th April 1652, over dinner (as recorded by Jan van Riebeeck in his journal).
To fully understand how this term “Khoisan” became embedded and the destructive racist claims that go with it, one has to first understand what the colonial tradition in political archaeology represents. To do this, one has to go back to look at the nine other characters that shaped this tradition and their motivations. I can only lift the lid on these ever so slightly, as the full story is a much deeper subject. One also has to look at the roots of where the “Terra Nullius” theory comes from and what it developed into by the 19th century when it was first used in South Africa.
The term “Terra Nullius” literally means empty-land or land that is legally deemed to be unoccupied or uninhabited), and it is central to “primacy-theory’ and use of “firstism” in South Africa which involves a trajectory of nine main inter-connected personalities and their thinking.
Priority one for the mix of British colonialism and Boer Colonialism theories was to separate indigenous Africans in South Africa from the rest of the continent through indoctrination that emphasized that South Africa was a European political entity not part of the rest of Africa. Following this the authorities assigned those considered aliens and part of the “rest of Africa” to Bantu Reserves. This assertion relied on what was referred to as the “terra nullius” doctrine of discovery of an empty land, which proceeded from an older Papal Bull called the Inter “Caetera” promulgated in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI that European monarchs used to colonize territories across the world. The doctrine of discovery found its way into international law through the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 and 1524 and through its endorsement by the United States of America in 1792. This became the bedrock of European colonialism.
When Dr HF Verwoerd, who was minister of ‘native affairs’ before becoming prime minister in 1958, declared “We came to a country that was bare. The Bantu too came to this country and settled portions for themselves,” he was not just standing on the shoulders of Afrikaans academics, he was standing on the shoulders of English and German academics and Anglo institutions like UCT, which had done much of the pioneering work of Apartheid race theory.
This dubious history was born out of the fact that the peoples of the Eastern Cape – Khoe, San, Xhosa, Thembu, fought pitched battles with British colonial troops which meshed ten western and central Cape wars with nine Eastern Cape wars – a total of 19 wars over 235 years. The indigenous Africans were not just defeated during those wars. Many Europeans died and lost much of what they had and bitter feelings arose on both sides of the war. It was from these war-twisted European settler minds that a concocted African history emerged from European pens, and theories abounded about who had right to the land and who was there “first”. The “Terra Nullius” doctrine was given a unique South African make-over and made respectable by the emergent academic establishment.
Out of this scenario of war, stories became vogue among whites that Black people were alien invaders of the land of whites and of their wards the “Bushmen”. At that time the Khoe were not seen as related to the San but were also seen as migrant invaders along with the Xhosa and other Africans of the Eastern Cape. The reason being that many of the Khoe of the Eastern Cape fought alongside the Xhosa against the whites. The Khoe revolt in the Kat River Settlement was just one of many examples of Khoe-Xhosa alliances. The kinship ties deeply embedded in the Gqunukhwebe-Gonaqua went right from commoners to the Xhosa royals and even the greatest of military personalities, Makhanda, was married to the sister of Hans Trompetter, a Khoe leader. Not to mention the fact that Makhanda’s own mother was Khoe and his father Xhosa. Smith unfortunately does not reference indigenous African history perspectives that are not handed down by fellow expatriates and white South Africans.
Only later, through the use of Cape district subjugated Khoe as soldiers and missionary workers, did the colonist settlers change their attitudes towards the Khoe and started seeing Khoe and San as one brown people that stood with them against back people. Those Cape District and mission-station Khoe, subjugated by the Europeans, and as commandos, committed great atrocities on the San in particular, and on the free Khoe and Xhosa. This too is ignored by Smith’s perpetuation of the “Khoisan” myth.
A study of the roots and history of the SADF Cape Coloured Corps is an eye-opener in this regard. The SADF, the Apartheid Coloured Education Department and the evangelical and Dutch Reformed churches were all part of PW Botha’s Stratcom plan to indoctrinate “Coloured” youth with notions of being brown and not black, and being the original owners of South Africa, which was stolen by the blacks. It was the antidote to the Steve Biko, Black Consciousness philosophy which saw youth classified as “Coloured” and “Bantu” uniting in struggle against Apartheid. In 1977 Botha decided strategically to ethnicise the term “Black” and drop the term “Bantu”. Andrew Smith follows this Botha approach of the polarization of “Coloured” and “Black”.
Having lived through this and fought against it all of my life, I am incensed that a respected academic and expatriate professor in South Africa can again be touting this contrived history in 2022.
We then have the two characters on whom Andrew Smith bases his thoughts on the “Khoisan First People” – whose political views are linked to flawed or pseudo-science and in the case of one, participation in a crime against humanity comparable to the holocaust. I here refer to Leonhard Schultze and to Isaac Schapera. The others in this line up are John Goodwin, Clarence van Riet Lowe, FA van Jaarsveld and Alfred Radcliffe-Brown.
Leonhard Schultze was the German zoologist, who came to Namibia at the beginning of the 20th century to study animal life. Schultze soon turned to studying the !Kung and the Nama, and based on his erroneous view of these being a single people and culture he coined the term “Khoisan Race”.
Smith has his facts wrong about the term being created in 1928. Schultze came up with the term under brutal circumstances during the German genocide against the Nama, !Kung and Herero in the period 1904 – 1914. Leonhard Schultze turned ethnologist and anthropologist in Namibia while carrying out experiments on Nama and !Kung during the genocide in the concentration death camps. Among other things he exported 300 severed heads of Khoe and San people to Berlin for further experiments. It was Schapera that migrated Schultze’s term “Khoisan” in 1928 into a broader academic orbit and gave it respectability.
Isaac Schapera, deeply steeped in the pseudo-science of “racial types” was a Cape-born social anthropologist who popularized Schultze’s erroneous notion of a single “Khoisan” people, with a single language and culture. These ideas were further influenced by Alfred Radcliffe-Brown the founder of structural-functionalism theory in anthropology – a rigid view of human evolution that tends to see societies as being locked into worlds, without impacts of processes of social change, contradictions, and conflicts.
One can see how Andrew Smith’s views were shaped about the impossibility of there having been hunters with sheep, or a neolithic period in South Africa. It has deep racist type-casting roots embedded in a number of academic disciplines in South Africa.
It has taken an outsider, the Iranian-born archaeologist, Karim Sadr, at Wits University, to break through the racist white academic stranglehold on thinking about human beings as being human-types.
Schapera was considered to be the guru on anything to do with the invented “Khoisan Race”. These may all seem to be respectable academic voices to white South Africans and expatriates but to black South Africa they were an evil blight on African lives.Karim Sadr: A Short History of Early Herding in Southern Africa; in Bollig, M., Schnegg, M. & Wotzka, H-P. (eds) 2013; Pastoralism in Africa: Past, Present and Futures, pp. 171-197. New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books.
There has never been a people who called themselves “Khoisan” nor any other collective term of this sort until some modern-day Khoe revivalists saw the term in colonial and academic literature and started using it in ignorance of its genesis. Andrew Smith clearly is not ignorant of this even though his dating of the origin of the term is wrong. He knows full well how the term has been abused, but consciously jumps onto the ethno-nationalist political bandwagon. To whites there are “Bantu-types” and “Khoisan-types” of human beings and this is the foundation of “Othering”.
Why is it such a reprehensible term? There are a few highly relevant reasons why it has been found to be unacceptable. Schultze in propagating that this “Khoisan Race” was un-tameable, unfit for labour and something between human and beast, argued that the “Khoisan Race” posed a threat to the German colonial project and propagated that they “should be allowed to disappear as a race”. He further explicitly said “The struggle for our own existence allows no other solution. We who build our houses on the graves of these races, have a responsibility to safeguard civilization, sparing no means.”Olusoga D & Erichsen CW; The Kaiser’s Holocaust – Germany’s forgotten genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism; Faber & Faber; 2010.
It was here in the concentration camps and genocide carried out in Namibia that the roots of the Nazi extermination camps with its “final solution” against Jews and Roma in Europe were first embedded in what could be argued to be a trial run. The German Imperial Commissioner in Namibia at this time was Heinrich Ernst Göring, the father of Hermann Göring, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s Deputy Fuehrer. This sordid history of the term “Khoisan” has long been suppressed from coming out by the European-dominated academic arena who continue to insist on using the term. They know full well its bloody history embedded in scientific pursuit using crimes against humanity and worry that the stain of this may undermine the foundations of modern-day prestige in institutional status. These truths unfortunately found no place in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The continued interplay between white-supremacism, race-theory, and terminology, together with its ugly origins in genocide must be looked at critically in the light of the preference clearly expressed in the form of a different protocol, supported by the organised San organisations since 1996, for common interests between San and Khoe, can only be interpreted as a continuation of the white-mischief tradition. This is what “must fall” in the struggle for decoloniality in the education institutions of South Africa.
The protocol that has been established since 1996 is that the San and the Khoe (or Khoekhoe) are two distinct communities, histories, and linguistic traditions, and are not “Khoisan” or a caricatured exotic people-type. While the preference for each of the many communities of both peoples is that they should be referenced by each of their own names (eg: Hessequa, Cochoqua, ǀXegwi or !Kung etc) and for those areas of common interest only, the written term “Khoe – San” and spoken Khoe and San protocol was preferred. Andrew Smith has ignored this protocol.
There is recognition that the range of terms used by academics and officials do not arise from these communities themselves but were imposed by others, and that these carry, to lesser or greater degrees, negative connotations. The term San, though recognised to have some possible negative connotation was found to be the least offensive term and agreed to be the accepted convention. It was thus decided by San communities in Namibia that SAN pronounced SAAHN would be the acceptable protocol and this has been upheld by every AGM of WIMSA since 1996.
What was seen as particularly offensive was the tagging on of “san” as an appendage to “Khoi”, most particularly in the light of genocidal attacks recorded in history by Khoe who were often the majority militiamen in European commandos of the 18th century and by 19th century free Khoe communities who attacked San communities.
“The term Khoesan (Khoisan) has not been used as the San object to being grouped together with the presently more powerful pastoralist KhoeKhoen for academic and linguistic reasons”.le Roux W & White A; 2004; Voices of the San; Project of WISA, SASI and the KURU Family of Organisations; Kwela Books pp 4 – 10 & pp 220 – 224 endnotes 4 – 5.
The term Khoe simply means people, and with this spelling or alternatively “koa” it did not carry offense (there is no “oi”). In the light of all considerations, and only for matters of common interest to all communities in these two streams, San and Khoe, the acceptable protocol is “Khoe – San” matters.
It was also noted that within Namibia there were some who preferred to be called “Bushmen” – “Boesmans”. It was further noted that the term “Bushmen” was seen negatively by most in South Africa and therefore while upholding the right of those San communities and individuals self-naming in Namibia and repurposing the term, it does not follow that academics, officials, and others have the right to use this as an umbrella term of reference or as a way of addressing individuals.
The use of “Khoe – San” did not denote a single race, ethnic group, linguistic community, or people, nor historic communities but its use should be cautious, for matters of common cause and used with even greater caution within academic research disciplines. The San also developed an ethics protocol to govern the many forays of “scientists” and “geneticists” who have been exploitatively turning San communities into personal laboratories for movie documentaries, experiments, and observation, and then using these with no controls asserted by communities. That protocol, I understand, was presented to the United Nations for observation by academics worldwide.
Smith of course must have been aware of this longstanding discourse given his keen interest in the subject. He also must have been aware of what had happened at UCT with its close relationship with the Union government. The various San communities across Southern Africa have also published a “San Code of Ethics for Researchers”South African San Institute (SAAI) (2017). The San Code of Research Ethics. Kimberly: South African San Institute. which should be observed. Smith would do well to look at the ethics protocols. The San peoples have made it clear that they are not an appendage of the Khoe as in “Khoisan” and that should be respected. They in turn respect the Khoe or KhoeKhoe and their struggles but make it clear that the San issues and that of the Khoe cannot be conflated as the same, nor can the San be reduced down to being “Coloured” or Camissa Africans. The non-primacy and politicized use of the term “first people” in the manner used in South Africa by some is not used by the San in the same manner in their literature as is being used by some Khoe revivalist organisations. I have never seen the European political term “nations” being used either.
In 1928, Isaac Schapera, using the foundation work of Schultze, migrated the term “Khoisan” into the academic arena, to entrench the idea of a single “Khoisan race” and single “Khoisan language” and emphasized the ideology of “firstism” while simultaneously perpetuating the notion of foreign “Bantu race” invaders.
Schapera and UCT became the backbone of thinking for Smuts’ government’s attempts to deal with what they called “the Native Problem”. The colonial political establishment had a conundrum to deal with based on the fact that colonial South Africa of the Europeans (Whites) had become dependent on black labour which was indispensable. The search for a solution as to how to order and control the black majority, resulted in the establishment of the Native Economic Commission from 1930–1932. Schapera was the guru guide to discussion in that commission where three options were initially discussed to resolve the ‘Native Problem’ – repression and removal to reserves of ‘barbarism’; assimilation of blacks into European civilization; or adaption through means of building a new single black culture which would be a mix of black and European cultures.
What I am illustrating is how deeply involved in political mischief academia was around issues of identity. Schapera projected that the “native Bantu race” had to be separated from the “Khoisan Race’ which was the favoured song at that time. It’s still Smith’s song.
Smith comes out of an institution and department which has for the best part of its existence promoted a colonial group-think paradigm for looking at African societies in Southern Africa and imposing a history and identities on those societies. He suggests others have been guilty of this group-think, and then proceeds to carry on the same tradition while trumpeting a personal mission to close the gap between science and what the general public know. Besides the patronization in his argument, he, like all before him, believes that it is the white/European academic that must lead the way in enlightening the public to the “true-facts”.
Having referenced the racist, ethnicist and nationalist origins of the term “First People” or “First Nations” in South Africa, the modern reference to the terms first resurfaced with a bang in 2003, in a book by Alan Mountain – The First People of the Cape; A look at their history and the impact of colonialism on the Cape’s indigenous people – where again a white writer, using the colonial paradigm of “firstism” with a stated political agenda in his preface, waded in to show indigenous people the way ahead using a distortion of science.
Notably both Mountain and Smith seek to present the UN (Declaration on the rights of Indigenous People 2007) and ILO (Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 169 of 1989) declarations as what they embed their arguments in and deliberately blur the term “indigenous” with primacy notions of the “only indigenous” and “First People” or “First Nation”. These primacy terms as used in SA are not in any of those declarations, nor is it in the AU declaration. These documents all use the carefully worded “indigenous peoples who face marginalization and discrimination” and in South Africa name these as the San, Nama, Korana, Griqua and revivalist Cape Khoe.
Indeed, the ACHIPR and WGIP working from the UN and ILO declarations specifically warn against abuses of the modern usage of the term “indigenous” or overlaying the spirit of the declarations with primacy meanings by which terminology “is misused as chauvinistic terms with the aim of achieving rights and positions over and above other ethnic groups or members of a national community nor as terms which nurture tribalism or ethnic strife and violence”.African Commission on Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples Rights – ACHIPR / Working Group on Indigenous People – WGIP.
The international declarations are focused on turning around situations where some indigenous peoples are in a structurally subordinate position to dominant groups and the state, leading to marginalization and discrimination – and not in any way about primacy or being “first”.
4. The assertion that early foundation people belong in silos of hunters and herders.
Andrew Smith is wedded to typecasting which is the greatest flaw in his work. Colonial and Apartheid history and the social sciences and our museums all have pushed an intellectual Apartheid line which suggested that there was no civilization in Southern Africa before Europeans brought it here. It followed in the argument that there was no African social history but simply a progression of different stone ages, then a shift to a migration of iron age peoples southwards to establish an early iron age, leading to a later iron age. Africans of the south were thus objectified as primitives on the margins of human society, without social history. None of our South African institutions of higher education pay due attention to offering African social history studies on the many African civilizations over the last 4500 years or more.
This argument of absolutely separate societies, if not “races”, had its roots in 19th century archaeology and its methodologies and dogmas.
“Othering” is the twin of “ordering” and ordering links to the ideas of “human-types” vs “single species human-beings”. Related to this is the use of race overlays closely related to linguistic overlays. The fundamentals that were laid are rooted in the rigid three-silos ordering of hunter-gatherer, pastoral herder, and farmer with mining-metallurgy skills and beneficiation skills.
Race-classification became the systematic ordering into hierarchies of worth of human-types.
The latest scenario is an attempt to use genetic science in a manner inconsistent with that science’s basic principles. Racist terminologies have increasingly and inappropriately begun to be migrated into the arena of genetic science. So, for instance, when genetic scientists originally spoke of Sub-Saharan mtdna haplo-groups or Southern African haplo-groups, now the broader social sciences are instead calling these Bantu haplo-groups and Khoisan haplo-groups in an insidious race-ideology creep, just like race-classification crept into linguistics. This is always going to happen as long as there is European bias and domination in the social sciences.
When I was exiled and found refuge in Botswana in the 1970s, I heard of a British historian, Neil Parsons who in the early 1980s brought out a textbook on Southern African History for O-Level and GCE-level school children. The book was used ever since then as a history textbook across Southern African countries, regularly updated over the years. It became my textbook for learning the comprehensive African social history of Southern Africa, comparable to history books in Europe about Europe. I subsequently ensured that I got its regular updates, the latest being – Alois S. Mlambo & Neil Parsons; A History of Southern Africa; Macmillan International & Red Globe Press; 2019. It’s a real history book, of which Andrew Smith’s is not. It’s not the meanderings of an archeologist passing as an African social historian. I was blown away by how much social history we have in Southern Africa, how far back it goes and how detailed it was and that it was not taught in South Africa.
We were not taught this history in South African schools or higher education institutions because a set of colonial historical, archaeological, and anthropological dogmas had taken its place. To this day South Africa has not got anything comparable to the Mlambo and Parsons book, where the focus is the black history of Africa. White South Africans are still dominating and still jiving the youth of this country with much that is not real, except in their minds.
There is now for instance, a second addition of the Gillomee et al New History of South Africa, which is what I call a black-coated white-colonial history book. It misses a great opportunity to reconfigure the South African learning and reference tool for history which proceeds from a critical look at coloniality when presenting history. This history book certainly has its merits but it repeats much too many colonial chestnuts and it proceeds from that fatal construct where equality and balance in South Africa means 50%-50% black-white, whereas equality for most South Africans means 92%-8% black-white. Hence, we have a continued version of Gillomee’s Hendrik Bibouw story where a few important facts are airbrushed out of each story so that would produce a different conclusion, as with the story of the origins of the term “Afrikaner” and the language Afrikaans. So again, here we have white-mischief at play and it would seem that respected black academics are prepared to go along with these ideologically bent versions of history where what was a 100% colonial version of history is massaged to create a 50% colonial story given respect by including 50% black history riddled with question-marks. A kind of gentlemen’s agreement for ‘toenadering’, a bit like the South African flag and the national-anthem 50/50 formula has become the new ideological politically correct formula for the history narrative of South Africa.
Andrew Smith is a lot clumsier in trying to get archaeology out of old Apartheid paradigm habits, so rather than cooperate in an academic social-compact like Gillomee et al, he has chosen the path which says “I will embrace change by teaching those considered to be ignorant, what the scientific facts are for opening up their history and heritage”. He is so locked into an intellectual paradigm which see Africans through a Stone-Age/Iron-Age prism and which rigidly sees Africans in the south over the last 2500 years as locked into the silos of human-types – hunter-gatherer, pastoral herders, and farmer-metal workers. It’s a classical Apartheid and colonial framing of African history, heritage, and technological advancement.
For instance, Smith proceeds to use a rigid singular theory on the origins of pastoralism in South Africa that does not entirely stand up to opposing scientific argument by peers in the multi-disciplinary academic fields. Smith conflates pastoralism or herding exclusively with Khoe identity. He argues that there is no other way in which proto-herding could have seen hunters with sheep because that is not consistent with “human-type” typecasting and stereotyping. Any form of genuine herding was thus not possible by hunter-gatherers. South Africa could never have had anything like a neolithic period, according to Smith, because the San are predetermined to not be wired for anything but hunting and gathering.
His approach to the origins of the Khoe does stand up to rigorous interrogation and debate, but it is absolutely and rigidly argued by Smith to be the only single origin of pastoral activity in South Africa. He argues that only migration from outside of the San communities in South Africa can explain pastoral herding in South Africa. The claim is that there is no way that sheep arrived among the San in any significant way whereby they could competently keep sheep by engaging in herding. This claim is regardless of the fact that all over the world there is evidence of multiple modes at play in communities embracing hunting, gathering, herding, and farming. There is much evidence in history, and in contemporary society, for a less rigid model of reality. In Thailand to this day farmers raising crops also keep animals, and they hunt and gather. In Jan van Riebeeck’s journal it is noted that after the Peninsula Khoe were pushed out by the Free Burgher settlement, they pleaded with the Dutch to at least be allowed in through the Pega-Pega boundary fence without their cattle, so they could engage in their seasonal gathering of almond nuts and bulbs to eat. We also know that the Sonqua line-fishermen hunted and gathered and also kept sheep.
In Smith’s view, early African societies had iron-clad walls around them, and those early societies were inherently incapable of anything but being “hunter-gatherers”, “pastoralists” and “farmers”. His argument is essentially one where he reduces human beings to human-types that are locked into cultural and economic modes for all time. This line of thinking conjures up Nazi Germany race theories and Apartheid race classification and the exclusion from intellectual pursuits of black people who were said not to be designed to be anything other than hewers of wood and drawers of water. It is this same rigidity that colonial intellectuals used as the origins of race-classification and Apartheid.
When it comes to the work of peers who oppose such rigidity, such as the work of Iranian born Prof Karim Sadr at Witwatersrand University, Smith deals with this different thinking in a cursory, dismissive manner, and he does not necessarily represent accurately what the alternative thinking entails, nor the questioning of his own work and his conclusions by peers. I really do not understand his stance.
In Chapter Five – “Khoekhoen and the development of herding in South Africa” and in Chapter Seven – “Herders meet Hunters” Smith briefly introduces just a bit of his difference with fellow archaeologist Karim Sadr and disingenuously brushes the critique aside in a cursory manner, suggesting (page 26) that there has been some concession on Sadr’s part without elaborating on the “concession” nor giving any of the real substance of Sadr’s critique of Smith’s view on African history in the South.
Sadr’s critique is important in any historical overview of the San and Khoe as it goes to the heart of colonial racist mentalities in the hallowed halls of academia. He poses a valid question – “all over the world, in archaeology and history there are Neolithic periods in the evolution of societies; why only in South Africa is it factored out and considered impossible?”
Notably Sadr does not challenge everything in the the dominant theory of the migratory drift into South Africa of peoples from other parts of Africa with new modes of living, herding and farming and with new technologies. I don’t challenge this either and my approach to critical aspects of Khoe history is very similar to Andrew Smith’s, but without being emphatic, and always being open to other researchers. The problem that Sadr has, and I share, is with Smith’s approach or belief that it is impossible that San societies were multi-dimensional and had elements of farming and keeping livestock besides being hunter and gatherers. Sadr believes that sheep in particular arrived in Southern Africa before the herder ancestors of the Khoe.
Smith cites substantially in this work alluding to Sadr’s critical view without actually airing these in Sadr’s own words. (12 works of Sadr appear in the reference) Nowhere is Sadr’s unique and critical approach to mainstream archaeologists in South Africa on the substantial theory of sheep arriving before the East African ancestors of the Khoe 2200 – 2500 years ago or during the first millennium. Sadr’s argument for a Neolithic period in Southern Africa and of hunters with sheep seems to be seen as a counter-position to the emergence of the Khoe, and that is not how I interpret Sadr. The San are always projected as people who are caught in a time and egalitarian primitivist bubble, without an evolving history.
So, when assuming to write the definitive history of a people called “Khoisan” created by social scientists it is dominated by versions of the Khoe story and San is just an undeveloped appendage – a people trapped in a time-warp. The entire “history book” is the notion of a “Khoisan” people through a European romantic ‘noble-savage lens’. Sadr has dared to break this pattern of thinking by convincingly arguing for a Neolithic period where some San engaged in sustainable livelihoods other than just being hunter-gatherers.
Karim Sadr concludes his paper arguing for a fresh look at early pastoralism in South Africa in Chapter 5 –“A Short History of Early Herding in Southern Africa”in Bollig, M., Schnegg, M. & Wotzka, H-P. (eds) 2013. “Pastoralism in Africa: Past, Present and Futures”, pp. 171-197. New York & Oxford:
Berghahn Books. By stating:
the origin of pastoralism at the Cape need not be linked to the origin of livestock herding or pottery manufacture. We have tended to bundle these variables in order to explain their appearance with one slash of Occam’s razor, in a single migration of the Khoekhoe two thousand years ago. But the principle of parsimony may not be the best guide in this case. That the first livestock and pottery in southernmost Africa arrived long before the emergence of true pastoralist communities in this area seems archaeologically evident. here is certainly not a shred of material evidence for a mass migration with livestock and ceramic technology from the north to the Cape around two thousand years ago. Several episodes of infiltration or small-scale dermic diffusion, with subsequent hybridization, may account for the vague similarities between Bambata and Cape coastal spouted pottery, and perhaps the later similarities in the use of lugged wares as well as the red geometric art style (for the latest genetic evidence see Schlebusch et al. 2012).Karim Sadr, A Short History of Early Herding in Southern Africa.
In “The Neolithic of Southern Africa” Sadr gets to the crux of the matter in his opening abstract in saying:
As the exception on the continent, southern Africa has no Neolithic period. In the 1920S, when the term came to mean Stone Age with food production, Neolithic was dropped in South Africa for lack of evidence for farming or herding in Stone Age sites. But since the late I96os many sheep bones have surfaced in just such sites. Now, the continued absence of a Neolithic may say more about the politics of South African archaeology than about its prehistory.” He goes on to say that “three decades after the first sheep bones were found, the ubiquitous ‘nearby’ Khoekhoe pastoralists have yet to materialize. It may be time to ask whether this is absence of evidence (of Khoe pastoralists) or evidence for their absence? I argue for the latter possibility: that the sheep found in southern African hunter-gatherer sites were actually herded by the hunters themselves, and that this represents a type of low-intensity food production which characterizes the Neolithic period of southern Africa.Karim Sadr, ‘The Neolithic of Southern Africa’ in The Journal of African History, Vol. 44, No. 2 (2003), pp. 195-209; Cambridge University Press.
Sadr elaborates on how the South African approach discriminated in dropping global social scientific methods in favour of looking at South Africa’s “less evolved cultures” – “In their seminal publication of 1929, he and his colleague C. Van Riet Lowe, later director of the South African Bureau of Archaeology, decided that the European divisions of prehistory into Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, etc., was not appropriate for the less evolved cultures of southern Africa. Instead they established the terminology still in use today, that of dividing southern African prehistory into an Earlier, Middle and Later Stone Age, followed by the (imported) Iron Age”. As a prelude to stating that sheep bones were actually found in San shelters but attributed to Khoe Sadr states – “From the late i960s onwards, sheep bones were found in several southern African Later Stone Age sites. Instead of leading to a re-introduction of the term Neolithic, however, the sheep bones led archaeologists to search for the prehistoric ancestors of Cape Hottentots.”
The reason why Smith seems to studiously avoid the alternative view of the past that Sadr elaborates on, is that it fundamentally challenges Smith’s own view tail-ending a long line of expatriate academics at UCT and keeping alive the traditional view. What Sadr does is to open up a much more open explorative and multi-disciplinary approach that breaks the colonial paradigm and encourages enquiry.
I believe that somewhere between Sadr’s approach and Smith’s approach young black researchers may find themselves on the cusp of writing something much closer to histories of the San and Khoe peoples.
In concluding his paper, Sadr says – “Three decades after the initial discovery of sheep bones in a southern African Later Stone Age context, it may be time to consider whether the absence of hard evidence for a 2,000-year-old sequence of Khoekhoe pastoralism is not in fact evidence for its absence. Instead of trying to conjure up 2,ooo-year-old Khoekhoe pastoralists we might profit from studying the Neolithic of southern Africa for what the archaeological evidence suggests it is: a period starting about 2,000 years ago, just before the arrival of iron-using, Bantu-speaking farmers and herders, when ideas of food production, domesticated small stock and new technologies such as the manufacture of clay vessels, spread rapidly through the subcontinent. A period when these new ideas and animals were adopted in a variety of ways by many (but not all) local hunter-gatherer groups, some of whom assimilated more of these incoming traits than others, and most of whom changed little as a result to become what I have called hunters-with-sheep. Perhaps the spread of new ideas and technologies was indeed occasionally aided by long and short distance migrations of larger or smaller groups of people here and there. Some of these migrants may have even spoken a language which later evolved into modern Khoe. But rather than providing a blanket explanation, such proposed migrations need to be examined and documented case by case and their size and shape must be worked out.”
In his last word Karim Sadr says – “What might facilitate our re-orientation towards these questions is to adopt the more neutral term ‘Neolithic’ and discard the current terminology of ‘pastoralist’ archaeology with its subtext of Khoekhoe migration. Unlike the more open-ended ‘Neolithic’, the overly specific word ‘pastoralism’ can mask a lot of interesting local variability in subsistence strategies and, worse, it seems to force us into a conceptual dichotomy of Khoekhoe pastoralists versus thieving Bushmen hunter-gatherers, leaving us little room to recognize other cultural and economic combinations in the Later Stone Age of southern Africa. In the long run, adopting the Neolithic may even have the desirable side effect of helping to eliminate the obsolete and surely incapacitating notion that indigenous southern Africans never made it out of the Paleolithic.”
Smith argues that the San were naturally incapable of being pastoralists in his argument on page 52 – “Hunters becoming herders”. He says, “One aspect of the debate on the development of pastoralism in Southern Africa has been the belief that local hunters were capable of obtaining stock through internal exchange systems (and thus became the Khoekhoe)”. The latter appendage is not quite the conclusion of the Sadr argument ie: “and thus became the Khoekhoe”. Smith goes on to argue, “the difficulty in achieving this, at least among the immediate-return hunters of Southern Africa is that they are strongly egalitarian, with no leaders, and an aversion to private ownership. It is almost as if the hunters refuse the responsibility of pastoralism, perhaps because that would domesticate them too”. Besides the questionable language used, this entire small section is taken up with tales of colonial experiments on the San in failed attempts to encouraged them to be herders. Smith takes a sophisticated argument of Sadr in many papers, and reduces it to the puerile. This does no favours to students or scholars of African social history.
Smith’s emphatic world view and presumption to write a definitive history of San and Khoe through the prism of “Khoisan” is challenged by the work of others such as François-Xavier Fauvelle-Aymar“Against the ‘Khoisan paradigm’ in the interpretation of Khoekhoe origins and history: a re-evaluation of Khoekhoe pastoral traditions” – in Southern African Humanities Vol. 20 Pages 77–92 Pietermaritzburg; 2008. There is so much that is fundamentally debatable on the histories of San and Khoe that no academic should be writing a politicized definitive history of San and Khoe complete with the jaundiced colonial eye. Now is the time to allow indigenous Africans unfettered opportunity to explore their own stories… his stories, her stories and our stories. Let people hear all of the different views and explorations in the different academic disciplines so that we have movement towards an history of San communities and Khoe communities, free of the Ghosts of Bleek, Schultze and Schapera.
Rather than seeing the fresh new thinking as complementary to some of his own work, which clearly does hold value and is respected, Smith seeks to paint it as an antithesis of his work and is defensive. Personally, as far as the Khoe roots or origins are concerned, and as far as their migrations are concerned across Southern Africa and including the Cape, Smith’s theories do hold out the best of explanations for the Khoe. But his time-frames and attempts to link some of what he has found at sites to be proof of Khoe presence can be questioned as well as his contradictions around “first peoples’.
Sadr is not presenting a different view of who the Khoe were. He is simply saying that all evidence indicators point to there being “hunters with sheep” among the San and that sheep could have arrived in the south before the Khoe. Genetics tend to support this approach. Also, we have a mind space where Smith is almost suggesting that the San were just a South African-Botswana-Namibia people, whereas genetics and even modern-day dispersal show that there were San in Angola, Zambia, possibly Congo, and also Mozambique and Tanzania, possibly as far as Kenya. The engagement between hunter-gatherers and herders probably goes back in those area more than 3000 years BP. Neolithic societies must have existed where there were hunters-with-livestock along what I call the Thöathöa-triangle and its waterways all the way up to northeast Africa.Mellet PT; 2020; The Lie of 1652; pp 37-41; Tafelberg NB Books. South Africa did not have an Apartheid curtain cutting it off from Southern Africa, nor Southern Africa from East Africa.
It would seem that white South African academics are blinded to seeing or exploring different avenues because of race-theories and long-held Apartheid beliefs. As an outsider Karim Sadr was baffled by the claim that Southern Africa was different to elsewhere in the world and did not have a neolithic period, and the argument made, that it was impossible for stereotyped hunter-gathers to be able to mentally and culturally embrace progress into pastoralism because they were wired as such by being a human-type. This is the mentality of a chain of thinking that goes all the way back to Mary Barber’s assertion that the “Bushmen were a type of the human race, which was but slightly removed from its poor relations who dwelt in trees.”
The quest to prove a Khoe presence in the southwestern Cape before the 2nd millennium and elsewhere before 650 is yet to be convincingly made. Smith’s and others’ findings on the archaeological front in terms of the Khoe having journeyed faster or further than what has conventionally been thought has not been proven. Everything points to the Khoe and early ǀKosa (Xhosa) being fellow travelers, integrated to a degree and neither of these “First”.
A careful look at Smith’s own argument about the Khoe, and that argument in relationship to the human spread in the peopling of South Africa, cannot support that the Khoe are the “First People” nor are “Khoisan” with an ancient history in the Cape before “black” people.
We know through the early iron age sites in the Eastern Cape that the Khoe and the early ǀKosa (Xhosa) were together in the Eastern Cape much earlier than traditional histories have it – around 650 CE, almost a thousand years earlier. Place names suggest more commonality between Khoe and Xhosa than propagated previously by European historians.Feely JM & Bell-Cross SM; ‘The distribution of early iron age settlement in the Eastern Cape: Some historical and ecological implications’; The South African Archaeological Bulletin, vol. 66, no. 194, 2011, pp. 105–12. If we look at the Xalanga region of the Eastern Cape and the co-relationship to Kalanga culture and the central role of the symbolism of the African Hawk Eagle or Ixhalanga (Aquila Spilogaster) in Kalanga/Karanga cultures across Southern Africa one can begin to see much connectivity.
The Khoe emergence from interactions between East African migrants with the Tshua and Khwe San peoples of Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Northern Botswana between 200 BCE and alongside proto-Kalanga by 300 CE, before the Khoe migrated north, south, east, and west in their own slow migratory drifts and meshed with other social formations, still best explains the older Khoe social history. This in fact is in tune with much of what Smith has to say when he sticks to archaeology, and leaves social history and politics alone, and is less dogmatic and rigid, and dare I say – contradictory. The contemporary politically motivated skewed approach that suggests the Khoe were not migrants to the Cape just like their early ǁKosa cousins (Xhosa) but rather had thousands of years of local history, does not hold up to any scientific scrutiny.
The rigidity of seeing economic activity of Africans in hunter-gatherer, pastoral and farmer Apartheid style silos is equally intellectually questionable and objectional. Africans in the south are argued to have been some other non-African race in a primitivism bubble and that anything that spoke of human advancement had to parachute in from elsewhere. Over the years all sorts of hocus pocus arguments have been provided to suggest that intellect and technology arrived in South Africa through a lost white tribe, or an Asian people, possibly Dravidians, or even according to some bizarre statements, from outer space. These theories have always come from Europeans where at root it is white-supremacism sugar coated.
I reject the notion that the San people, for all time, would be locked into some kind of lessor developed exotic species of human that has been incapable of raising domestic animals and incapable of farming. The complexity of human evolution is dumbed-down and dogmatized, because it fits well with notions of hierarchies of so-called races. Thus, in South Africa, our museums see civilization and African social history as starting with the European arrival. Prior to 1652, Africans are seen as being at one or other strata of being Iron age and stone age peoples, and museums focus on that, rather than on African Social history. Our South African universities generally do not offer pre-1652 African Social history as a subject.
The rigidity of colonial academic thinking can only be broken by people who can look at all the information before us and the interplay of the different findings. Professor Sadr as a bit of an outsider from the non-imperial world provides a breath of fresh air that will greatly assist South Africa to see that Africans did not only exist in a stone-age and iron-age paradigm. Like all societies throughout the world Africans also have a social history – the history of societies and civilizations – that stretch back in evolutionary trajectories over millennia and were often more advanced in some respects to European cultures in comparable time-frames.
5. The claim that those classified “Coloured” are the descendants of the “Khoisan”
Nowhere is there any plausible argument that “Coloured” exclusively means, or is interchangeable with, “Khoe or San descendant” as Andrew Smith postulates in his politicization of ethnicity. The history and social engineering that resulted in classifying peoples as “Coloured” is much more complex than simply saying that all or even most of those so classified are Khoe and San descendants today.
We know through well-documented social history that there are over 195 streams of origin among those classified as “Coloured” with only some having Khoe and San ancestry to greater or lesser degrees. As much as those classified as “Coloured” were previously erroneously explained (by racists – Ed) as resulting from miscegenation between black and white, so too is it false that all classified “Coloured” are the true descendants of the San and Khoe.
This of course does not negate the fact that some do have a strong case of direct distinct descendancy and others have part descendancy. But then again most may not have any Khoe and San ancestry at all. As much as many “Coloured” people may have some Khoe and San ancestry so too do at least 18% of Xhosa, and a significant percentage of Sotho, Tswana, as well as every other African society in Southern Africa.
Within this factual framework communities of Nama Cape Khoe, Korana and Griqua have the right celebrate their Khoe heritage, as do all Camissa Africans who have ties to the Khoe, regardless of how slender, and San communities in their diversity have the right to celebrate their San heritage too – all free of firstism and ethno-nationalist overlays. The amaXhosa, BaSotho and BaTswana have always celebrated that part of their roots which are Khoi despite European academics stomping on this by claiming that there is no such ancestral-cultural heritage…. Only a “Bantu” heritage.
We know that there were a number of censuses done since the first professional census in 1865 that recorded San, Cape Khoe/Nama/Korana/Damara, and Griqua as social groups separate from those labelled Mixed-Other, Malays, Chinese and Indians. The last of the censuses carried out and counting people per these groups in the Cape Colony was in 1904. In 1911 in the first census of the Union of South Africa, all of these were assimilated as “Coloured”. From the 1904 census we can get a good idea of how many Khoe there were and where they were residing (the vast majority not in the City of Cape Town). It certainly shows that the vast majority of those in the new “Coloured” classification were not Khoe or San, but there may have been some degree of Khoe and San distant ancestry in the mix of what was predominantly African-Asian enslavement roots and black migrant roots.
In the 1904 census – the last one of the Cape Colony – the ‘British Coloured Population of the Cape of Good Hope Colony’ now stood at 279 662 ‘Mixed/Other’ (African and Asian descendants of the enslaved and other migrants of colour); 8 489 Cape Malays; 15 682 Indians; 6 289 Griqua, 4 168 Bushmen; 85 892 ‘Hottentots’ (made up of Nama, Korana, Hill Damara, and Cape ‘Hottentots’); 310 720 Mfengu; and 1 114 067 Xhosa/Tswana/Sotho. The European population numbered 579 741 and included both locally born people and a range of immigrant nationalities. The following census in 1911, the first for the Union of South Africa, saw only Coloured, European and Native classifications where Mixed-Other, Malay, Indian, Chinese, Griqua, Bushmen, Hottentots, and Griqua were now all assimilated into one classification “Coloured” with ringfenced sub-figures for Indian, Chinese and Malays.
If Griqua, ‘Hottentots’, and ‘Bushmen’ of 1904 were calculated together then the Khoe and San communities numbered 96, 349 or just under a quarter of all classified “Coloured” (400 182). If we project this on the current figure for people classified as “Coloured”, there would be around 1,2 million who belong to Khoe and San communities, the vast majority being Khoe. There are then others who may have some Khoe and San ancestry along with predominantly African-Asian enslaved and black migrant ancestry, as well as some Eurasian and European ancestry too.
Andrew Smith should embrace the archaeology of documentation in South Africa before jumping to conclusions that all classified “Coloured” are Khoe and San, while all classified as “Black” are not. Note that most who belong to the five marginalized San and Khoe families of peoples today are also people of mixed ancestry, but who remain organised as Khoe and San people. Indeed, if we should do the math and projection, we may well find that others like the Xhosa who have up to 18 % Khoe and San heritage would numerically not be too different to that among “Coloured”. The difference is that the distinct history, heritage and social structures of the Cape Khoe, Nama, Korana and Griqua have been violated and suppressed over time and they require restorative justice, while Khoe identity and heritage in other African societies in South Africa are celebrated in different ways. Thus, the issue cannot be that any society can wholly appropriate the broader Khoe identities (plural) and exclude others based on ‘firstism’ ideology. The focus should be on those indigenous societies facing discrimination and marginalization and addressing that injustice rather than making false primacy claims.
The stoking up of divisive racist political identities that promote conflict between people classified as “Black” and “Coloured” should not be happening from the social sciences platform at universities in south Africa.
Andrew Smith should also know that the definition of “Coloured” in law was as clear as mud and that nobody was simply classified as “Coloured”. The actual seven classifications initially were – Cape Coloured, Malay, Griqua , Other Coloured and Indian, Chinese, and Other Asiatic. Nobody was classified using the umbrella term and by 1960 the later three were put into a separate silo labelled Asian. This all stemmed from the peculiar definition in two pieces of legislation – “Definitions (iii) A Coloured person is a person who is not a white person, nor a native”. (Population Registration Act of 1950) and (c) a COLOURED GROUP in which shall be included: (i) any person WHO IS NOT a member of the WHITE group or the NATIVE group; (ii) any woman, to whichever race, tribe or class she may belong, between whom and a person who is, in terms of sub-paragraph (i), a member of the Coloured group, there exists a marriage, or who cohabits with such a person, (iii) any white man between whom and a woman who in terms of sub-paragraph (i) is a member of the Coloured group, there exists a marriage, or who cohabits with such a person.” (Group Areas Act of 1950).
By what stretch of Andrew Smith’s imagination are white women and white men classified as “Coloured” now miraculously Khoe or San? There can be no automatic translation of “Coloured” to be Khoe or San as Smith presents in his argument at the beginning of the book when referencing the descendants of Khoe and San are “Coloured”.
Anyone wanting an understanding of the 195 roots of origin of Camissa African (or “Coloured”) ancestral-cultural heritage can refer to the Camissa Museum or read my book – The Lie of 1652.Mellet PT; 2020: The Lie of 1652 – A decolonised history of land – Chapter 4 – Seaborne force migration: Loss of Liberty, Labour and Patriality; and Chapter 5: de-Africanisation; Tafelberg NB Publishers.
The propagating of a “Khoisan First People and lost history” and “Colouredization” narrative actually is an assault on the history and heritage of a number of peoples who deserve each of their distinct histories and their heritage to get due exposure instead of a questionable archaeological version of their history lumped under one non-existent assimilated creation – “Khoisan”. The San have a really important history that needs to stand alone and be heard and respected.
Voices of the San, a notable first attempt at such a social history, shows just how much there is to expose, that simply is not there in any clear shape or form in Andrew Smith’s book. Likewise, the Witbooi Nama (!Kowesen) and the Oorlam Afrikaners have an amazing social history, of which we have had some exposure by the late Dr Klaus Dierks. The Griqua too, both East Griqua and West Griqua, have their own history, as do the Korana, both being Khoe-revivalist organisations of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The various !Gariep Khoe have a history too. The Gyzikoa, the Nqgosini and Gqunukhwebe-Gonaqua Khoe each have histories that deserve to be heard. There are writings by Griqua about their own history.The history of the Khoe is not just the history of one set of formations – the Cape Khoe. It is not just a history of what European diarists project, and it is certainly not a history locked perpetually in a 17th century time-trap.
A further critical overview of First People – the Lost History of the Khoisan
Attempts by scientists to racialize and ethnicise descent in the 21st century, are simply mischief. Also, there is no justifying the use of stereotypical physical features to describe Khoe or San and their descendants, nor to exclude the full range of African societies in South Africa from celebrating being part-descended from Khoe, San and other Foundation Peoples. This kind of racialization and ethnicization of ancestral-cultural heritage is unfortunately deeply embedded in Smith’s colonial legacy.
As I have elaborated, Smith’s book is a presumptuous production of a type of manual for students and so-called “Khoisan” descendants on the history of San and Khoe peoples based on the deeply embedded false notion of “Khoisan” (re Shultze’s Khoisan-race), the spurious primacy notion of an ethnic group or race of surviving “First People” in Africa and an entrenchment of the view that those labelled “Coloured” are the real descendants of Southern Africa’s Foundation Peoples.
Pitted against his “Khoisan” are what Smith calls the “black colonisers”, a classic colonial and Apartheid fiction. While he ditches the 15th century as the date of “colonisation by Blacks” arbitrarily to the 5th century he maintains the false coloniality construct.
We have European expatriate academia once again mixing nationalist race and identity politics with social science to influence the way forward for South Africans plodding through the minefields left as an alliance legacy of European academia and colonial administrations. “Divide and rule” tactics where different African societies are sown with divisive seeds of mischief and are set up to hammer each other based on false facts. This has been the mainstay of white South African thinking for the last 370 years. At a time when most are trying to move into a decolonial space beyond white mischief, Smith strides onto the stage to take a final bow.
“Whataboutism” If we Europeans are colonist settlers “what-about the Black colonists”
From the 19th century, and dominating the 20th century, the halls of white academia have constantly and consistently engaged in a game of “whataboutism” to deflect attention away from the atrocities and subjugation committed by European colonialism against all African people. The fictitious creation of the “black colonizer” narrative has been a weapon used in this pursuit.
In South Africa the Europeans played on ethnic differences, language and colourism by dividing Africans according to race-types, linguistics married to nurtured linguistic nationalism, and by means of notions of “black vs brown”. A political bogeyman of division was created in the form of what historian Theal called the “barbaric black alien invaders” who swooped down in a sudden invasion in the 15th century to steal and colonize the land from “brown true indigenous peoples”.
Smith starts his opus by dedicating his book to the “descendants” of the “Khoisan” alternatively “Khoenkhoen”, calling them “fascinating people who survive today, even though in the 21st century they are still pushed aside by black (beginning 5th century) and white (beginning 17th century) colonial interests.”
After this introduction of the “black colonizer” bogeyman of colonial and Apartheid creation, Smith goes on to say that – “in the new South Africa, Khoisan peoples have been pushed aside by black aspirations”. He further notes that it is understandable that so-called “Coloured descendants of the Khoisan feel marginalized”. Smith then equates white colonialism with what he believes to be black colonialism by saying- “This is a theme that permeates all ex-colonial countries. The Aborigines of Australia, the Native Americans of North America and the isolated peoples of the Amazon also feel the heavy hand of historical colonial exploitation and neglect.”
And thus, to Smith, Africans are colonists on their own continent and co-partners with Europeans in colonial oppression in South Africa, rather than victims of white colonialism like their brothers and sisters across the European colonised world.
And so Smith starts down the slippery slope of the white mischief of equating the slow migratory drifts of African farmers on the African continent beginning around 200 CE (not the 5th century as asserted by Smith) with 17th century European colonialism. My studies of the work of Huffman and others notes that for pottery and ceramics Bambata-Kalundu sites date from the 1st century, Silverleaf-Kwale sites from between the 2nd and 3rd century, Ziwa-Nkope sites from the 3rd century. According to MillerMiller DE; 2020; ‘Smelter and Smith: Iron Age Metal Fabrication Technology in Southern Africa’; October 2002 – Journal of Archaeological Science 29(10):1083-1131. iron smelting linked to farming-cultures in South Africa dates from the 3rd century, by the 4th is more widespread, and by the 5th century there are 15 sites in the Eastern Cape where Khoe, San and early ǁKosa (Xhosa) are living alongside each other.
I do not want to leave an impression that in critiquing this book, I am dismissing Smith’s life work. Furthermore, I also reject the stereotyping in Smith’s description of his “Khoisan” as “the small, brown-skinned people who were quite distinct from black Africans, the Bantu-speakers of southern Africa.”
From the San and Khoe that we know today, and the carefully documented photographs in the early to mid-19th century of Gustav Theodor Fritsch, or the sketches of Daniel in the late 18th century and early 19th-century, this stereotype racist-colourist identification is complete nonsense. San and Khoe have a broad variety of height, physical features, and skin-tones of all shades of black and it’s clear that the various communities cannot be pigeonholed in this manner.
The migratory drift of the Khoe ancestors from East Africa to among the Khwe and Tshua San peoples who occupied southern Angola, southwestern Zambia and Zimbabwe, and northern Botswana and Limpopo province of South Africa only occurred between 200 BCE and 200 CE (2200 BP and 1800 BP) dovetailing with other west, central and east African slow migratory drifts between 100 CE and 300 CE (2100 BP – 1700 BP).
Imagine if in England one started calling the majority populations in those territories, colonists and that only pre-Roman Briton Celts of the period 300 BCE are true English “First People” in the 21st century with a primacy claim? Indeed, the ingredients of modern English identity only occurred in the 5th century when the European Angels and Saxons migrated across the English Channel to mix with the Roman-Celts. This period is after the first west African, Central African, and East African migrations. Smith would not play his silly divisive political games in England as he would be laughed out of his job. The period that he ascribes to “black” colonisation using the race and colourism mentality, was a time in all the continents of the world that migratory drifts were occurring and creating new ethnicities in new places.
The peopling of South Africa
South Africa was no different to the rest of the world in terms of migratory drifts and the emergence of new identities from 300 BCE to 600 CE and this renders Smith’s intellectual paradigm, as per the five issues that I highlighted in my critique, as being fiction and ideologically dominated. The Khoe were just one of those first new creations from older ethnicities. Linguistics and dna help us to understand this today. The notion that Apartheid segregation or colonisation was at work 2000 years ago has no foundation. Between the emergence of the proto-Khoe 2200 years ago, the diversification of these and their various migrations over Southern Africa, and the formations and spread of some of the Khoe to the Western Cape some time in the early second millennium there has to have been much multiple social histories of these people.
As other cultures which HuffmanHANDBOOK TO THE IRON AGE – The Archaeology of Pre-Colonial Farming Societies I Southern Africa by Thomas N Huffman is one of the most invaluable books on my bookshelf running into over 500 pages including colour plates of every conceivable piece of pottery and ceramic in Southern Africa carbon dated, time-lined and mapped. It is a work where the whole is the statement rather than just each of the thousands of specimens organised as data and Tables. But the best pages to illustrate my statement below would be three citations:
1. pg xiii Chronological sequence of some important events and sites during the iron age in southern Africa (timeline between 250 – 1840)
2. pg 118 Table 14.1 The relationship of ceramic faces in Southern Africa (timeline between 200 – 1800)
3. pp 463-471 Radiocarbon dates before the present.
Huffman TN; HANDBOOK TO THE IRON AGE – The Archaeology of Pre-Colonial Farming Societies in Southern Africa; pg xiii, pg 118, pp 463-471; University of KZN Press; 2007 labels as Kalundu, Nkope and Kwale further filtered into the large Southern African terrain, in a washing-machine effect, all identities of the time including the old San identities and the new emergent Khoe identity got mixed up in the wash to one degree or another (genetically, linguistically, culturally, technologically, spiritually and in social organisation forms and modes of economy). In this way Southern Africa was no different from what was happening all over the world at that time and other times. This is an inconvenient truth for Andrew Smith who has been nurtured by the colonial paradigm of thinking in South Africa. He simply uses advances in the archaeological and other social sciences to put a spin on his loyalty to the traditional colonial narrative.
At this stage in the intellectual arena in South Africa one would have hoped that the academic foundations of identity and race-separation politics set by the likes of Holden, Theal, Barker, Bowker, Wilhelm Bleek, Leonhard Schultze, Isaac Schapera, John Goodwin, Clarence van Riet Louw, Radcliffe-Brown, FA van Jaarsveld, et al would have given way to fresh new more nuanced thought, truly open to exploration by new generations of enquirers on the peopling of South Africa and the last 2200 years of African social history in Southern Africa. Contemporaries of Andrew Smith like Shula Marks, emeritus professor of history at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London, long ago in the late 1970s debunked the narrative of “terra nullius” and a South Africa only populated by “Khoe” and “San” – “First People” before an invasion of black colonists.Marks S; 1980; The myth of the empty land: African History; School of Oriental and African Studies; University of London). Yet fifty years later Andrew Smith plays this same old tune, just hammed up a bit to make it more palatable.
Robert Weisbord shows usWeisbord, R. (1966). ‘Who Got There First?’ Africa Today, 13(2), 10–12. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4184690. that back in the late 1950s Monica Wilson (a respected critical voice within anthropology in SA) was challenging the doctrine of “black alien invaders who colonised San and Khoe” as per Smith’s assertion where he simply sets the date back to an earlier questionable 5th century date.
White-mischief and the distortion of African social history
Smith’s latest book, in terms of the issues that I have highlighted for critique, is in the tradition of white-mischief. It distorts history for the consumption of contemporary descendants and part descendants of Foundation Peoples in South Africa now recognised as “indigenous peoples facing discrimination and marginalization” as per declarations and reports of the UN, ILO and AU and now also accepted by the government of South Africa – namely the San, Nama, Korana, Griqua and Cape Khoe.
Contrary to Smith assisting the Khoe and San, his work entrenches the assault on their history by false and distorted narratives, and negatively impacts on heritage, and influence all across Southern Africa, along with that other foundation people – the proto-Kalanga. Furthermore, Khoe influences in social history across Southern Africa as can be seen at Mapungubwe, Great Zimbabwe, Khami, Mutapa and even in the roots of the Rozvi empire, are airbrushed out. The Khoe and San presence in all ten of the linguistic-nation silos in South Africa is hushed. Archaeological reductionism as per Smith, actually strips the Khoe and San influences on, and from history, and isolates them into a primitivist paradigm. When this is done it marginalizes San and Khoe communities doing them no favors today as they try to break through ceilings of discrimination. Their contribution to the commonwealth of African social advancement in Southern Africa is muted.
Self-appointed white-colonial spokespeople for the San and Khoe setting the parameters of discourse
What also worries me is when white colonial orientated social scientists start talking as though they are spokespeople for the deepest thoughts of indigenous Africans with phares like the following – The idea of ‘sport’ hunting does not make sense to the Bushmen, although they will gladly eat any meat offered.” (Smith, p.37) – (note the assumption of the right to use the term “Bushmen”). This then introduces the European exoticist eye on the San complete with the trimmings of ‘Noble Savage’ talk that tracks way back to a mix of 18th century ramblings through to the 20th century Laurens van der Post infatuation summarized as “they are this and they are that, and they believe x,y,z.”
Clearly Smith sees nothing wrong with assuming that he speaks emphatically for the San and suggests that over 25 different societies in six countries can all be defined by his “type-casting” and adding the san as an appendage using “Khoisan”.
If it is the San or Khoe voice which needs to be conveyed, note the individual or community, obtain their permission based on how you will use the information, and only in their own words and context use what they say, and not what you surmise or attribute. That is the “non-Bwana or non-Makulu baas” respectful approach. As an archaeologist also do not set yourself up as a psychologist, or spiritual interpreter, or artwork interpreter. Stand back and allow the San and the various Khoe peoples to tell us what they think. We have enough modern technologies to assist us in this regard. There is something terribly unethical in entering a community under one pretext and then going out to tell the world what that community or person has said or displayed as though one has a right to be peeping Tom and gossip. It is from this starting point that garbled “facts’ emerge.
The praise singers of Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd, seldom take cognizance of the fact that their subjects of research were prisoners and not free.
The conditions under which the !Kun, ǀXam and other subjects who were prisoners, were unethically objectified and ‘studied’ at the Bleek home on the hill in Mowbray were far from idyllic. A number of research papers have subjected to critique, both the conditions under which the prisoners and their families were committed to intense social laboratory study, as well as the resultant research conclusions. Today we would call this an element of human trafficking. Andrew Bank tells usBank, Andrew, From Pictures to Performance: Early Learning at the Hill, Kronos: Journal of Cape History 28, p.66-101, 2002. External link. that “when IA!kunta, was transferred from the Breakwater Prison to their home, the Hill, on the 29th of August 1870, he was put in a backroom ‘with a grated window under guard by a former prison warder with a gun.’”
He also shows that Bleek’s choice of property was made because it allowed for “proper surveillance” and shows how Bleek and Lloyd got financial assistance from the Cape government for the expenses of their study. Leonhard Schultze did his experiments on !Kung and Nama prisoners who seldom came out alive from those concentration camps in Namibia. There is a thin dividing line between the European social-science voyeuristic gaze on prisoners and walking into traditional San communities and subjecting them to the voyeuristic gaze and stolen cameos of captured time conveyed to the world as “knowledge”.
These European information gathering traditions have framed important areas of the social sciences which have propped up orchestrated divisions and systems of oppression in South Africa for so long. It also flies in the face of the fact that all of Southern Africa’s indigenous African peoples are also ancestrally and culturally inter-connected to some degree, to forebears among the Foundation Peoples – San, Khoe, and proto-Kalanga.
The rigid and racist idea that there have always been Apartheid silos that separated Africans into races and unchanging ethnic formations was deeply entrenched by British and German academic traditions in South Africa which were responsible for the intellectual foundations of race classification and separatism.
My personal experience of reading this book
I am a conscious descendant of five Khoe women from two communities, as well as of 26 African-Asian enslaved, as well as 19 Europeans who married across the colour lines, and I grew up in a multi-ethnic family of poor people who were marginalized and faced discrimination. From my childhood I rebelled against colonial and Apartheid manipulation of people around matters of identity and paid a price for doing so. It felt hurtful to see a clearly talented academic who has contributed much to archaeology go and frame this book in a manner that rakes up so much pain. So many have fought this tradition for so long and this tradition was practiced in a way that intruded on our lives and caused trauma.
As the stated aim of Andrew Smith with this book is to close the gap between his world of science and the world of Joe Public (my world), I have made a robust critique, and here I have chosen a particular focus. On other areas of the book, I have felt that it is best to direct the reader to the critiques of Andrew Smith’s work by his professional peers, who do so quite robustly. I decided not to spar above my weight on the finer points of archaeology. Also, I always prefix my own view as a perspective, and I do so again here. As Bertolt Brecht’s poem elaborates, mine is ”a view from a worker who reads”. I am largely self-taught but late in my adult life through night-time distance education I achieved a masters’ degree. I have also written and published and have had to defend my work on public platforms – local and international – daunting as that has been. I always urge my readers not to simply accept my view, but to please go and read and engage in discourse much more widely. I however did feel confident in saying on the matters that Smith tackles, believe me, his work is not a useful manual, but rather quite damaging to San and Khoe interests and that of people still classified as “Coloured” largely because of how he framed his contribution.
Smith states that his book is designed for students and “Khoisan” descendants interested in early South African history and proudly elaborates on a trajectory of offerings by Schapera, Parkington, Boonzaaier, and himself. But theirs has been an experimental laboratory with a mix of speculations and colonial syrup added to archaeology, with a dash of linguistics, anthropology and genetics thrown in – not a social history at all – and totally sanitized from the history and peopling of South Africa that took place place around and together with the San and Khoe for 16 centuries before the Portuguese, Dutch and English turned up in the neighborhood. And Andrew Smith, a Scotsman, assumes the right to now divide Africans and to label “Black” people as colonizers.
If we are serious about decoloniality, it is all about that expression from the Cape Flats – “Make the circle bigger.” This is not to say that all of the work done by Smith is bad. Indeed, he has in some areas made a sterling and appreciable contribution. It is his foray into politicization of social science in the fakery tradition of a long line of European academics who left a foundation of social scinece impregnanted by race and identity-politics.
If Andrew Smith had been wise and appreciative of the importance of information in this arena, fraught with tensions, and wanted to bridge a gap in how he tackled the task of producing an easy-reader to close the distance between scientist and the public, he would never have done this as a one-man show, nor project his rigid singular view in the manner that he has. To me that is simply disrespectful towards those whom this work is directed and to their forebears.
At this important time in South Africa, we need to hear contesting views, plural views, and perspectives, not dubious claims of being factual and scientific.
Also, we need an inter-disciplinary approach where no single discipline can speak for archaeology, philology and linguistics, genetics, anthropology, social history, paleontology, and dare I say – oral history in communities. In this sense the production of this book was just wrong in its present form and mischievous in its title and political endorsements. The assumption that a Scottish professor needs to teach local South African communities about their “cryptic hidden history” and heritage and the science that underpins it, is rather arrogant.
It is not for an archaeologist to attempt to control and influence public discourse from a position of power in a particular direction. I contrast this work to the much better open-parameter book produced together with 17 individual San participants and in collaboration with a basket of San community organisations (SASI, WIMSA and the Kuru Family of Organisations) over a number of countries in Southern Africa, assisted by editors – Voices of the San.Willemien le Roux and Alison White; Voices of the San; 2004 – Letloa Trust.
While I have some elements of critique of this work, and the white-voice is still impacting, it certainly presents a sounder and participatory way of presenting a comprehensive approach to producing a publication with great consultative value and closing the gap between social sciences and the public. It also represents co-operation between the academic world and broader society. Furthermore, it is a history, whereas Smith’s is not a history but rather a poorly conceived and actioned handbook.
Smith’s book is clearly written as an opus of academic opinion aimed at influencing the revivalist San and Khoe groupings (which he calls “Khoisan”) in a way that the American academic Richard Elphick had unintentionally done back in 1985. Elphick R; 1985; Khoikhoi and the Founding of White South Africa; Ravan Press; Johannesburg. More than any other work, Elphick’s book became a bible for modern day Khoe revivalism seeking to recreate 17th century Khoe community structures largely based on information provided by him. The Elphick book is far superior to this latest effort by Smith and more useful, even though it too can be questioned in many places where mischief and division has resulted from skewed speculative statements and ramblings, unfortunately taken by readers as gospel facts. Elphick’s poor reading of Jan van Riebeeck’s journals, and assumptions incompatible with the journal text, is just one of the many critiques of that work. Smith’s work however has even fewer redeeming features.
Smith’s book had already worn its contents on its cover and that was a forewarning of what was to come. I flipped a quick look at Smith’s inaccurate and misleading definitions of terms, from page 4 to 15 complete with a bizarre choice of illustrations. This set the scene for starting the read the book from page 1 to page 23, by which time I was left agitated. It was immediately apparent that we would not be dealing with anything remotely like a “true lost history of the Khoisan”. Unbelievably after this highly questionable introduction Smith concludes his first chapter with a section called “racial othering” as if his book is not just doing exactly that – “Othering”. It beggared belief!
When reading the book, by the time I got most of the way through chapter four I had to put it down because I found it offensive that two decades into the 21st century it is the same old colonial chestnuts and white gaze, even on simple things, irritatingly jarred me as reader, both intellectually and emotionally. I couldn’t help saying to myself “Here we go again, Bwana pontification. Why can they just not stick to social science and give a balanced view of the different scientific opinions and let people decide for themselves how to interpret and apply findings to matters of popular contemporary social enquiry.” Identity politics is fraught enough without white academics stirring the pot in the manner that this book does.
So, I tried something different by then going to his last few chapters before the appendix, and then working back to where I left off in the third chapter. The appendix information was a poor add-on gimmick, as this is much better and comprehensively dealt with by Menan du Plessis in her workDu Plessis M; 2018; Kora – A lost Khoisan language of the early Cape and the Gariep; UNISA & SAHO. on the Kora language.
Though there were still jarring pieces, the last six chapters (reading backwards), at least were not as offensive and I saw a bit of an attempt at weighing up interesting arguments in chapters 6, 7 and 8, even though confused and mechanistic at times. The genetics chapter is particularly weak and veers off to what some genetic scientists dismissively call genetic astrology. It also shifts away from the scientific term “Southern African haplogroups” to migrate the unscientific term “Khoisan” into the world of genetics as though there is such a set of haplogroups. The scientific protocol is Southern African dna mostly found among San, Khoe and others but not exclusively so.
The content of chapters 9 and 10 are just naive and poorly informed commentary all over the place on Khoe revivalism, legislation (which certainly can be critiqued… not necessarily from Smith’s perspective) and ethno-nationalism. The revivalist discourse, which is presently going off on a firework display of sparkling tangent trajectories, unfortunately is most often based on questionable colonial texts and intellectual colonial forays into the identity politics of Smith’s predecessors. I frequently assist revivalist groups and can say that Smith’s work simply adds to confusion and misinformation.
On the whole the content of the book creates more confusion than is helpful and is very much a clumsy compilation of dubious European gazes upon the San and Khoe which dumbs-down complex information across many disciplines on the assumption that readers are empty vessels.
I thus got to a point where I had a considered critique to make and it was focused. I believe that this presentation of the five areas of critique, without going into every element in the book that can be critiqued, has addressed where I believe Smith entered the current discourse like a bull in a China shop and thus has contributed to the legacy of colonial mischief and the wreckage left in the wake of misapplication of the social sciences in South Africa.
In South Africa today the five indigenous African peoples, among many other indigenous Africans are the San communities, Nama communities, Korana communities, Griqua communities and the Cape Khoe communities. These are distinct peoples, cultures, and histories, but when dealing with common issues these are referred to as Khoe – San matters. The term ”Khoisan” is not acceptable to the San who have made their preference clear on this matter. The term, and its origins, has a sordid history. Each of these five groups have well known histories and this cannot be collectivized and called a “lost history”. The term “First People” as it is used in South Africa has a racist history and is not used in the manner as used in Australia, Canada, USA, New Zealand, Latin America and elsewhere. In those countries it pertains to the people of all indigenous community territories prior to European invasions.
Only the San peoples throughout Southern Africa can use the term “first” in a non-primacy sense to refer to direct links to those first ancient peoples of the continent.
Generally, they do so cautiously in literature coming out from San formations and do not associate it with the present trend in South Africa using the racist meaning. The further notions of “Black Colonizers” and “Coloured – Khoisan” is also simply a matter of social science driving a racist bandwagon. We should all be working for peace, justice, and harmony among the peoples of Southern Africa ensuring no discrimination or marginalization and respect among all and a pulling together by all to create a better life for all. A common African Consciousness based on the ties that bind us and liberation of the mind is what we should put as a priority for black South Africa. In my humble opinion that would be most pleasing to the spirit of our greatest philosopher Steve Biko.
|1.||↑||Smith’s book title – FIRST PEOPLE, and throughout argues “First People” as per page 2, 5, in continuum – alternatively First Nations.|
|2.||↑||Schmidt B; “Creating order · culture as politics in 19th and 20th century South Africa – Nijmegen – Third World Centre, University of Nijmegen – Proefschrift Katholieke Universiteit ijmegen; (1996).|
|3.||↑||Mlambo S & Parsons N; pp 1 – 17; “A history of Southern Africa”; Macmillan International / Red Globe Press; (2019) / read with – Soares, Pedro; Ermini et al; 84 (6): 740–759; “Correcting for Purifying Selection: An Improved Human Mitochondrial Molecular Clock“; The American Journal of Human Genetics; (2009) / read with – Rito, Richards, Fernandes, et al; “The First Modern Human Dispersals across Africa”; PLoS ONE 8(11): e80031; (2013) / read with – Gonder, Mortensen, et al; 24 (3): 757–68; “Whole-mtDNA genome sequence analysis of ancient African lineages”; Molecular Biology and Evolution; (2007) / read with – Pereira, Luisa, et al; vol. 77 no. 2 p. 213-229; “African Female Heritage in Iberia: A Reassessment of mtDNA Lineage Distribution in Present Times“; Human Biology, , (2005) / read with – Behar, Villems, Soodyall, Blue-Smith, et al; Genographic, Consortium; 82 (5): 1130–1140; “The Dawn of Human Matrilineal Diversity”; The American Journal of Human Genetics. (2008) / read with – Tishkoff, Gonder, Henn, Mortensen, et al; 24 (10): 2180–2195;“History of Click-Speaking Populations of Africa Inferred from mtDNA and Y Chromosome Genetic Variation”; Molecular Biology and Evolution; (2007) / read with – Silva M, Alshamali, Silva P et al; “60,000 years of interactions between Central and Eastern Africa documented by major African mitochondrial haplogroup L2”, Scientific Reports volume 5, Article number: 12526 Scientific Reports Vol 5 – article 12526. (2015)|
|4.||↑||Mellet PT, 2020, The Lie of 1652 – A decolonised history of land, Tafelberg NB Publishers, pp. 237 – 239.|
|5.||↑||UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, read with UN Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people – Addendum: Mission to South Africa delivered to the Economic and Social Council; read with International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, and read with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; read with ILO Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries – ‘A manual’, Geneva, International Labour Office; read with Report of the African Commission’s Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities; ACHPR and IWGIA/African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.|
|6.||↑||Macklem, P; Indigenous recognition in international law: theoretical observations. Michigan Journal on International Law.|
|7.||↑||Canada Library Archives; Terminology guide: research on aboriginal heritage (2015), p. 11.|
|8.||↑||Peters MA and Mika CT; “Aborigine, Indian, indigenous or first nations?”; Educational Philosophy and Theory 49 (13), pp. 1229–1234 DOI:10.1080/00131857.2017.127.|
|9.||↑||Philips H; The University of Cape Town 1918-1948 – The Formative Years; UCT Press 1993|
|10.||↑||Mountain A; 2003; First People of the Cape; David Philip Publishers.|
|11.||↑||Mary Elizabeth Barber (nee Bowker) (1818 – 1899) was a pioneering amateur botanist, entomologist, ornithologist, and geologist, accepted as an early South African scientist and naturist who also contributed to foundational archaeology and palaeontology. She and her brothers were outspoken and unashamed white supremacists. A full account of their constructed mix of science and racism is detailed in Tanja Hammel’s – Shaping Natural History and Settler Society – Mary Elizabeth Barber and the Nineteenth-Century Cape.|
|12.||↑||Hammel T; Shaping Natural History and Settler Society – Mary Elizabeth Barber and the Nineteenth-Century Cape; Pg 227; Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series; Palgrave Mcmillan (2019).|
|13.||↑||Grogan P; H-Net Humanities and Social Sciences Online ; (2014).|
|14.||↑||.” Hammel T; Shaping Natural History and Settler Society – Mary Elizabeth Barber and the Nineteenth-Century Cape; Pg 236; Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series; Palgrave Mcmillan (2019).|
|15.||↑||Hammel T; Shaping Natural History and Settler Society – Mary Elizabeth Barber and the Nineteenth-Century Cape; Pg 237-238; Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series; Palgrave Mcmillan (2019) Pg 237-238.|
|16.||↑||Holden WC; 1866; The Past and Future of the Kaffir Races.|
|17.||↑||Karim Sadr: A Short History of Early Herding in Southern Africa; in Bollig, M., Schnegg, M. & Wotzka, H-P. (eds) 2013; Pastoralism in Africa: Past, Present and Futures, pp. 171-197. New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books.|
|18.||↑||Olusoga D & Erichsen CW; The Kaiser’s Holocaust – Germany’s forgotten genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism; Faber & Faber; 2010.|
|19.||↑||le Roux W & White A; 2004; Voices of the San; Project of WISA, SASI and the KURU Family of Organisations; Kwela Books pp 4 – 10 & pp 220 – 224 endnotes 4 – 5.|
|20.||↑||South African San Institute (SAAI) (2017). The San Code of Research Ethics. Kimberly: South African San Institute.|
|21.||↑||African Commission on Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples Rights – ACHIPR / Working Group on Indigenous People – WGIP.|
|22.||↑||in Bollig, M., Schnegg, M. & Wotzka, H-P. (eds) 2013. “Pastoralism in Africa: Past, Present and Futures”, pp. 171-197. New York & Oxford:|
|23.||↑||“Against the ‘Khoisan paradigm’ in the interpretation of Khoekhoe origins and history: a re-evaluation of Khoekhoe pastoral traditions” – in Southern African Humanities Vol. 20 Pages 77–92 Pietermaritzburg; 2008.|
|24.||↑||Mellet PT; 2020; The Lie of 1652; pp 37-41; Tafelberg NB Books.|
|25.||↑||Feely JM & Bell-Cross SM; ‘The distribution of early iron age settlement in the Eastern Cape: Some historical and ecological implications’; The South African Archaeological Bulletin, vol. 66, no. 194, 2011, pp. 105–12.|
|26.||↑||Mellet PT; 2020: The Lie of 1652 – A decolonised history of land – Chapter 4 – Seaborne force migration: Loss of Liberty, Labour and Patriality; and Chapter 5: de-Africanisation; Tafelberg NB Publishers.|
|27.||↑||Miller DE; 2020; ‘Smelter and Smith: Iron Age Metal Fabrication Technology in Southern Africa’; October 2002 – Journal of Archaeological Science 29(10):1083-1131.|
|28.||↑||HANDBOOK TO THE IRON AGE – The Archaeology of Pre-Colonial Farming Societies I Southern Africa by Thomas N Huffman is one of the most invaluable books on my bookshelf running into over 500 pages including colour plates of every conceivable piece of pottery and ceramic in Southern Africa carbon dated, time-lined and mapped. It is a work where the whole is the statement rather than just each of the thousands of specimens organised as data and Tables. But the best pages to illustrate my statement below would be three citations:|
1. pg xiii Chronological sequence of some important events and sites during the iron age in southern Africa (timeline between 250 – 1840)
2. pg 118 Table 14.1 The relationship of ceramic faces in Southern Africa (timeline between 200 – 1800)
3. pp 463-471 Radiocarbon dates before the present.
Huffman TN; HANDBOOK TO THE IRON AGE – The Archaeology of Pre-Colonial Farming Societies in Southern Africa; pg xiii, pg 118, pp 463-471; University of KZN Press; 2007
|29.||↑||Marks S; 1980; The myth of the empty land: African History; School of Oriental and African Studies; University of London).|
|30.||↑||Weisbord, R. (1966). ‘Who Got There First?’ Africa Today, 13(2), 10–12. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4184690.|
|31.||↑||Bank, Andrew, From Pictures to Performance: Early Learning at the Hill, Kronos: Journal of Cape History 28, p.66-101, 2002. External link.|
|32.||↑||Willemien le Roux and Alison White; Voices of the San; 2004 – Letloa Trust.|
|33.||↑||Elphick R; 1985; Khoikhoi and the Founding of White South Africa; Ravan Press; Johannesburg.|
|34.||↑||Du Plessis M; 2018; Kora – A lost Khoisan language of the early Cape and the Gariep; UNISA & SAHO.|