HIDDEN FIGURES – Addressing the issue of the missing Khoena (Khoi) in the history books by examining census records Century

THE FACTS OF THE SPREAD OF THE KHOENA ACROSS THE CAPE COLONY IN THE 1865 CENSUS noted as the first professional and comprehensive census. Formal histories propagated argue that the Khoena (Khoi) were wiped out in a smallpox epidemic and is still a popular myth among some who do not know about the 170 years of forced removals and resistance wars.


Of all the census up to 1904 this one most comprehensively records the Khoena and locates them across both the Western District of the Cape Colony and the Eastern District.

In 1891 they dropped the separate ‘Hottentot’ figure in favour of ‘Mixed’ or ‘Coloured’. In 1904 they again record ‘Hottentot’ and thereafter it is just ‘Coloured’ that is recorded. In the 1875 and 1891 Census one can visibly see the drop in the standard of the census particularly around differentiating between Khoena and ‘Coloured’.

However by looking at these figures and most particular the 1865 Census we are able to effectively demolish a number of myths about indigenous people. By 1865 the conditions were better for taking a professional census and adverse reports to the British Parliament by the Indigenous People’s Protection Society in London had put on the pressure to gather more reliable information about the peopling of the Cape Colony up to the Gariep or Orange River. It is also the first census that records the Xhosa population in the Eastern Cape under colonial control.

The census dispels three myths which still underpins Apartheid and Colonial propaganda passing as history.

1)  That the Khoena (Khoi) people were wiped out by a smallpox epidemic or even by the 170 years of ethnic cleansing wars. The census records the widespread existence of Khoena (Khoi) numbering 52 637 in the Western District of the colony and 28 961in the Eastern District, alongside White, ‘Coloured’ and Xhosa communities. That is 81 598 Khoena (Khoi) indigenes whom we were told in our history books had been wiped out by smallpox. These are official census figures which break down town by town across the Cape Colony. WE WERE TOLD BLATANT LIES.

2) Now these figures also demolishes another popular lie that says ‘COLOURED PEOPLE ARE THE DESCENDANTS OF THE KHOENA AND SAN & THE ONLY TRUE DESCENDENTS OF THE “FIRST PEOPLE” OR “FIRST NATION”. The 1865 census clarifies that not all ‘Coloured’ people, or even a majority of ‘Coloured’ people are descendants of Indigenous peoples. The notion of being the “First People” or “First Nation” is also an erroneous one, but let us park that critique for a moment. For both Western and Eastern Districts of the Cape Colony in 1865 it was recorded that there were 81,598 Khoena (Khoi) to 132,655 descendants of slaves, indentured labourers, Free Blacks and other migrants of colour. (38,2% Khoena to 61,8% other).

3) The former figure largely applies to the larger part of the old Cape Colony and to rural localities. For the area of Cape Town, from Cape Point to Koeberg and Durbanville and through to Paarl and the town of Stellenbosch and foothills of the Hottentota Holland Mountains incorporating the Cape Flats which hold the largest numbers of people classified as ‘Coloured’ – the truth is that very few can claim to be Khoena (Khoi) and probably none can claim to be San. In this area less than 10% of people are descendants of Indigenes and it is highly likely that those making such claims are denying their real ancestry and making a false claim. The trend of a drift from rural to urban areas after Proclamation 50 in 1828 had reached its peak and was rapidly decreasing from 9,4% on the Cape Peninsular and surrounds to nearer to 5% by 1904. Even if we said that there would always be a degree of a drift from rural to urban and added a 100% top up to account for error, that would still be 10%, with 90% being descendants of Slaves, Prize Slaves, Indentures and other Migrants of colour. This definitely challenges claims by the urban population of Cape Town through to Stellenbosch and Paarl as being the descendants of indigenous peoples. Of course this does not include all claimants, but the likelihood is that those would be able to prove family movements from rural to urban in the last century plus the 10%. It is also possible for people with no ancestral roots to Indigenous people to find a home in revivalism, but they need to be very careful of making outlandish personal claims. It is for this reason that I always advise groups to make community claims of restorative justice and not personalised claims.

4) A study of the figures showing a close proximity of Khoena to the dispersal of the Xhosa, and the figures of each of these communities and the proximity across the Colony of Slave descendants must put paid to the erroneous “us and them” arguments where Khoena (Khoi) revivalist groups make claims of Xhosa and other being alien invaders of the Lnds of Indigenous Peoples. At a generous interpretation that those among those labelled ‘Coloured’ who can claim to be direct descendants of Khoena Indigenes across the greater Cape colony this would be no more than around 38%. But among the Xhosa people around 20% could make the same claim to be Khoena and San direct descendants. It is therefore conclusive that “coloured” people who may have claims cannot say that they are the only people who can say they are the descendants of Indigenous Peoples. In Town it is even more stark where only 10% can make this claim. In fact there probably is a greater percentage of Xhosa people in Cape Town, than “Coloured” who can make such a claim.

5) Finally the only direct descendants on non-migrant people in the Cape were the Cape San or /Xam who were mercilessly the victims of post-colonial genocide by Europeans and pacified collaborator Khoena (Khoi) rather than at the hands of the Xhosa. The Early Xhosa and Khoena (cousin groupings) lived in relative coexistence with the Cape San in pre-colonial times, even though there was a degree of displacement of the hunter-gatherers by the herder-pastoralists and agriculturalists. A number of signs point to the original Xhosa being a pre-Nguni migrant people who were alongside and integrated with the Khoena migrants who had made their way down from the Kalahari and Limpopo districts to the Gariep, and then migrated through the Eastern Cape and into the Western Cape by the first millennium (100AD) The remains of verified royals in the mixed San, Khoena and Bantu community of the stone walled towns and Kingdom of Mapangubwe, through dna testing are shown to be of San and Khoena origin, but are buried with their golden symbols of royalty in Bantu ritual style. This shows exactly the opposite of a people subjugated by alien invaders. It shows that the San and Khoena were held in high esteem. Everything that we know now about history contradicts the contorted histories and claims of “First People” and “First Nation” and the painting of other Africans as aliens. Our history and heritage is much more integrated and complementary. More accurately the “First People” who track back to a long time prior to any of the different formations to emerge as those we refer to as San, 40 000 years ago, (many of who are extinct groups), and certainly much further back in history than the Khoena who emerged as a social formation 2500 years ago. What is amazing and should be our focus in terms of social history, is what was that very mixed and advanced civilisation that stretches across a few hundred stone city and town sites stretching from Mapangubwe, Great Zimbabwe and Thulamela sites across Southern and South Africa long before colonial incursion of the Europeans. A civilisation where San and Khoena had pride of place and were looked up to by a range of other peoples.

Our history is much more complex than the ethnic short cuts that we take and therefore we should be much more sensitive in how we express ourselves on these matters. These figures below help us to understand where the descendants of Indigenous peoples would be located today and the dispersal and strongest localities of descendants of the Camissa footprint (slaves, prize slaves indentured labourers and other migrants of Colour). Interestingly this census tallies with dna testing in rural and urban communities and also with the historical timeline of events. The identity of the people of greater Cape Town is rooted strongly in the diverse peoples who came here either as slaves or as migrants of colour and who were embraced by early Khoena inhabitants at Table Bay – the people of Camissa.

For a copy of the 1865 census – CLICK HERE


Over the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries there are few figures for Khoena and San, and by the time reliable figures for Khoena briefly started to be recorded, the San survivors were down to three and then two digit figures as a result of genocidal practices by Europeans and Khoena against the Cape San (/Xam).

Cape Colony 1806 1821
Slaves & Free Blacks 30 200 28 414
Khoena* 18 000 14 739

*In 1806 this broke down to 500 in the greater Swellendam District; 5000 in the very large greater Stellenbosch District; 8 947 in the Gamtoos and Graaff Reinette District; and others scattered along the Western Frontier. The Khoena are noted as ‘Baster Hottentot’.  In 1821 the figure provided is the combination of adult pacified Khoena and Khoena plus a small number of captive San children who were recorded as Apprentices.

Western  District Cape Colony 1865 1875 1891 1904
‘Coloured’* 69 139 70 010 166 300 161 269
Khoena ** 52 637 50 637 ——–   30 624

*‘Coloured’ = People of the Camissa Footprint (Slaves, Prise Slaves, Free Blacks and other migrants of colour. From 1875 inclusive of separate figure artificially created for ‘Malays’)

** Khoena (Khoi) are noted in census as ‘Hottentot’. In 1891 Khoena are not noted separately, but in 1904 they are noted separately for the last time. Also included from 1904 are all of the African indentured labourers and former African slaves known as Masbiekers.

In 1865 the population of the Cape Town Municipality:
White 15,118 4,600 born in Europe
Coloured 12,451 Former Slaves, Prize Slaves, Indentured labour –  their descendants

536 born elsewhere

Khoena 628 Noted  as ‘Hottentot’
Black 274 Noted as ‘Kaffirs’
In 1865 the population of other parts of Cape Peninsular/Koeberg,/Tygerberg/Blouberg/Durbanville:
White 9,748
Coloured 8,540 Former Slaves, Prize Slaves, Indentured labour –  their descendants
Khoena 1,452 Noted  as ‘Hottentot’
Black 497 Noted as ‘Kaffirs’

Out of 22,981 people later to be categorised in future census as ‘Coloured’ in the greater Cape Town areas up to but not including Malmesbury in the West and Stellenbosch in the east only 2080 were recorded as ‘Hottentot’   now noted as Khoena (Khoi)

In Stellenbosch and Paarl the figure for ‘Coloured’ was 14,610 and or Khoena(Khoi) it was 550.

The overall total for the Western Division of the Cape Colony however shows 69,139 ‘Coloured’ to 52,637 Khoena (Khoi) and shows the spread from Malmesbury and Piketberg  to Namaqualand on the West and to the extremities of George, Knysna Oudshoorn and Mossel Bay in the East, giving a breakdown for 20 districts that made up the then Western Cape.

Thus for the Western and Northern Cape the largest numbers of Khoena/Khoi are found in the rural districts.

The figures in the Greater Cape Town, Cape Flats and surrounds right through to and including Paarl and Stellenbosch is  really quite a small figure. There were 33, 961 descendants of slaves, indentured labourers, Free Blacks and other migrants of colour, compared to 3,630 Khoena (Khoi). Ie: 90.4%  other as compared to 9.6% Khoena.

In the areas outside of the Cape Town, Paarl and Stellenbosch arena there are 58% Khoena (Khoi) to 41,5% ‘descendants of slaves, indentured labourers, Free Blacks and other migrants of colour,

In the Eastern District of the old Cape Colony for both rural and urban districts there were 28,961 Khoena (Khoi) to 63,516 descendants of slaves, indentured labourers, Free Blacks and other migrants of colour.  (31,2% Khoena to 68,8% other)

For both Western and Eastern Districts of the Cape Colony in 1865 it was recorded that there were 81,598 Khoena (Khoi) to 132,655 descendants of slaves, indentured labourers, Free Blacks and other migrants of colour. (38,2% Khoena to 61,8% other)

Those making wild claims and claiming emphatically that they are the true descendants of the Khoena and San are challenged by these facts which suggest that most (not all) making such claims in the urban are unlikely to have any Khoena or San roots. Those who claim equally erroneously that the Khoena (Khoi) were wiped out also need to go back and revisit the distortions that they have been exposed to.

So where do we have to look for the concentrations of people who do have the strongest claims to Khoena (Khoi) ancestry?

The largest concentrations of Khoena (between 2000 – 5000 per locality) in the Western and Northern localities of the old Cape Colony are in Malmesbury, Clanwilliam, Namaqualand, Frazerberg, Calvinia, Caledon, Swellendam, Riversdale George, Oudshoorn. There are a further ten localities where there were between a few hundred to over 1000 at the time of the census. The largest concentrations are as follows: Namaqualand (5019); Oudshoorn (4846); Malmesbury (4083); Clanwilliam (3991); Riversdale (3845);George (3138).

The largest concentrations of Khoena in the Eastern District of the old Cape Colony was in Humansdorp, Uitenhage, Port Elizabeth, Alexandria, Albany, Bathurst, Peddie, Victoria East, Stockenstrom, Fort Beaufort, Beford, Cradock, Middleberg, Graaff Reinette, Murraysberg, Richmond, Hopetown, Colesberg, Albert, Aliwal North, Queenstown. Each of these have sub-localities too. The largest concentrations of Khoena (Khoi) in the eastern District was Uitenhage (3810); Graaff Reinette (2772); Stockenstrom (2205); Colesberg (2054). The large Khoena numerics are all in areas where there were a large Xhosa and ‘Coloured’ numeric recorded too. The Western District by far had more Khoena than the Eastern District, but in the largest concentration of those labelled ‘Coloured’ there were negligible numbers of Khoena – namely Cape town from Cape point to the Hottentots Holland through to Paarl and through to Koeberg.

What is particularly disconcerting in going back to look at these fascinating primary source documents, is that nobody has used a comparative study of census records to refute an obvious set of lies put into the public domain by colonial academia.

While at some levels this challenges the irresponsible and crude element in Khoena revivalism, it does however strengthen the arguments of the more responsible elements. But to all within the revivalism sector there has to be some rethinking about some wild claims and antagonisms expressed. In another article that I will still post, I will look at the international organisations fighting for indigene rights who have been supportive to indigene and indigene revivalist movements in South Africa. In my opinion if the revivalist movements in South Africa continue to travel down an insulting, non-authentic  and racist road, these organisations will cut their ties and support. In my forthcoming article I will share the cornerstones of their support and show that many here are breaching these indefensible tenets of the Indigenous People’s movements by deviant behaviours.

Khoena Revivalism if properly self-managed can for many be a liberation experience. One Khoena Revivalist movement has existed for over 200 years – namely the Griqua who at that time were faced with all the same questions that people face today. Their form of revivalism was not fractured into many splinters as is todaty’s movement and much could be learnt from their trajectory…. Both from the one serious split that occurred and from some other negatives, but also from the many positives that they have experienced over the years. Personally revivalism of ethnic groups is not the choice that I would make, but I can respect it as a legitimate choice for many. I would encourage others to also see that while for the majority of us this is not the way forward, to please also show respect to those make this choice. To those who have made this choice I would encourage authenticity in revivalism and oppose ludicrous claims and racist attitudes. This will only retard your forward movement and result in losing support at home and within the international movement in support of Indigenous people. All Africans in South Africa are indigenous people. The difference between others and the san, Korana, Nama, Griqua and Revivalist Khoena is that these face marginalisation and discrimination as indigenous groups. It would be good if all of the two sides of the divide respect this, because this is the grounds for international support.

2 thoughts on “HIDDEN FIGURES – Addressing the issue of the missing Khoena (Khoi) in the history books by examining census records Century

  1. I read with great interest and have learnt a lot …I am a descendent of makooa slaves (Zanzibarari) brought in from Mozambique in 1873 ..to Natal ..we have as a community preserved our language and culture….we are currently researching our roots….hopefully trying to connect some families…..

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