I have become very tired – sick and tired in fact – by the succession of false histories concerning who the ‘FIRST PEOPLE’ of the Cape were, and also the misrepresentation of the Xhosa as foreign alien blacks who invaded the Cape, and indeed blanket claims that the ‘Coloured’ people are the Khoena or Khoi and therefore we are the ‘First People’ who demand control of this land.
Much of this is based on false Apartheid and Colonialist history that has unfortunately been embraced by a significant number of our people along with much racism and bigotry.
Having said this I will go on to explain why I say it, but I first want to state that I do believe that there are genuine Cape Khoena or Khoi communities, and when revived memory and organisational forms are done in a proper manner with due regard to the real history and heritage of the Khoena, then I fully support such initiatives. I believe that there is a place for Khoena revivalism of this sort but it certainly is not a solution or appropriate way for all to follow…. And I say this with due respect. Here I note that revival of tribalism as a way forward can and should be separated from reviving heritage and memory and there are many variants of ways in which this can be done.
In some parts of the three Capes there are strong grounds for a revived association of Khoena people and there are serious claims to be considered soberly in terms of restorative justice. Here in particular the recognition of Revivalist Cape Khoena groups as among the five most marginalised Indigene groups who are discriminated against in South Africa must be recognised. However in other parts of South Africa – the Cape Peninsula in particular only a very small minority have Cape Khoena roots and even then it is but part of much stronger roots relating to slavery and various other migrations of people of colour. I have carefully studied the 1865 census which was the most reliable until 1904 and of the 90 000 identified Cape Khoena of that time a very negligible percentage were to be found from Koeberg to the so-called Hottentot Holland Mountains and across to Cape Point. Over 91% of persons of colour in this area had other historical roots.
Now to understand firstly who the only ‘FIRST PEOPLE’ of the Cape can be said to be, we have to go a long way back in history to understand this. Through coming to a proper understand of who the /Xam-ka were, we will also come to an understanding of how they were first displaced from the coastal areas of the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape by the first migrants – the Cape Khoena pastoralists from the Northwest and their earliest cousins the first Xhosa ancestors (not to be confused with those called Xhosa today). We will also need to look at the much later entry of the Nguni into the Eastern Cape and what truly unfolded there. To be able to understand this we will have to look at who the Nguni were, because there is a lot of confusion about this because of the false Colonial narratives.
All of these matters pertain to PRE-COLONIAL HISTORY. Another history begins with colonialism and I have covered this elsewhere in explaining how the Colonists over 170 years involving 15 wars first forcibly removed or pacified the Cape Khoena and then committed genocide on the /Xam-ka ‘First People’ and then moved on in the overlapping 100 years wars against the amaGcaleka and amaRharhabe Xhosa and all the other Nguni tribes right through to Pondoland.
Let me start with first explaining that there 90 000 years ago, the ‘real ‘First People’ – Homo Sapiens moved out of East Africa to populate the world and by 70 000 years ago hundreds of small groups of Homo Sapiens were dotted all over Southern Africa, and have been genetically mapped with what is called SA dna (Southern African dna) which some refer to as using the anthropological and linguistic terms – San or Khoisan dna. By 40 000 years ago half of these ‘First People’ with as much diversity in way of life as they were in number, had died out, and by 20 000 years ago they had again reduced considerably.
At that time and over the next 20 000 years distinctive social identities developed to which archaeologists and anthropologists gave the broad label SAN. But with the huge distances between these different groups each had distinctive names and cultures of their own. Down in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Central Cape the descendants of the first homo-sapiens who we can call ‘FIRST PEOPLE’ were the /Xam-ka and they were far removed from the Tshua and #Hõā San tribes on the Northwestern Kalahari and Limpopo…. As much so as the Scots, Irish, English and French.
The Khoena or Khoi as a distinct people, first emerged 2500 years ago in the Northwestern Kalahari and Limpopo. They separated from the ancestors of the Tshua and #Hõā San, when pastoral people from East Africa crossed the Limpopo and brought sheep and a new way of living into the region. These new-comers were also rooted in the ‘descendants of the ‘First People’ in East Africa – the Hadza and Sandawe. But geneticists have also found that the ancestors of these people had also mixed with Nilotic peoples (North Africans from the Nile) who were the ones who introduced sheep to the East Africans. Sheep originate in the Middle East and were conduited down the Nile either through Southward migration from the Middle East or by trading links with the Nilotic people. Some evidence such as the existence of the Lembe with their customs and dna suggests the possibility too of a direct link with South Africa, but that is another story. Sheep pastoralism and milk drinking cultures trace along very specific routes and interface with South Africa parallel to the emergence of Khoena people. It is these Khoena or Khoi people who became migrants to the Cape, to join the /Xam-ka ‘First People’ who had been there ever since the first Homo Sapiens moved there.
This Limpopo gateway into South Africa tells us a lot about pre-colonial times as it is from here that various people migrated across the Limpopo to KZN and also down to the Gariep River and from there into the Eastern and Western Cape, with a lesser used route also down the West Coast. At this gateway the San of that area and the new arrivals both from East Africa and Bantu from the Great Lakes regions mixed and the Khoena emerged in three formations. One remained around what would become the Kingdom of Mapangubwe, another, the Bakoni moved Eastwards right through to KZN and the other moved Southwards to the Gariep and beyond to the Eastern Cape.
By 800AD a powerful African Kingdom developed along the Limpopo with its centre at Mapagubwe made up of a mix of San, Khoena, Bakoni and Bantu peoples.
The Mapangubwe Kingdom presided over by the Tshua San and Khoena Royalty who were held in great esteem by the mixed population of Kalahari Tshua, Khoena, Bakoni and Bantu peoples who all lived in accord. It was an advanced African civilisation of people who lived in stone walled towns, smelted and fashioned golden objects and who likely from evidence found, traded with the East African Coast, Arabs Indians and Chinese in the 10th century. Hundreds of these stone walled city ruins can be found all the way to Mozambique. Great Zimbabwe is just one of these.
When the Bakoni travelled East into KZN there were another distinct San people, the //Xegwi in that region who were displaced by the pastoralist Bakoni, a mixed Khoena-San-Bantu people. Many of the //Xegwi were assimilated into the Bakoni who themselves then assimilated into the Tsonga Bantu tribes who crossed into Northern KZN. It is this mixed people who came to be called the Nguni – the Ndwandwe Kingdom and the Mthethwa Kingdom being the most powerful. In the late 18th and early 19th century a revolution took place in this region in which the small original Zulu tribe and Khumalo tribes played a huge role and a new modern National group, the Zulu emerged as a Kingdom. Through this revolution known as the Mfecane a number of Nguni tribes – the Ngwane, Qwabe, Hlubi, Bhaca, Bhele, Zizi, Xesibe and Mpondomise were pushed South wards. Only the Mpondo under King Faku, on the Southern borders of KZN, were able to withstand the Zulu forces now operating way out of their rear supply bases.
As a result the Mpondo, Mpondomise, Thembu and Bomvana put pressure on the mixed Cobuqua-Xhosa in the area north of the Kei River. So did other refugee groups who were a mix of Khoena and Sotho also fleeing the Mfecane from the surrounds of Mosheshwe’s mountain kingdom which also checked the Zulu advance. This takes us up to the time of Shaka’s death in 1828.
But long before then – some more than 1000 years previously, the Khoena who travelled down Southwards from Limpopo and had settled alongside other San formations along the Gariep, also move further down Southwards through the Eastern Cape seaboard into the Western Cape right down into the Cape Peninsula. Not long after them, probably as the Mapangubwe Kingdom flourish from 800AD there was a trickle of Bantu into the Eastern Cape alongside the Cobuqua. Historians suggest that there was little differentiating between these two groups. They were people who were use to each other over a lengthy period. The original occupiers of the land, the /Xam-ka named these people, the Xhosa. These people spoke a funny mix of Khoena and SiNtu language, and had adopted many of the religious and cultural traditions of the Khoena and San and were thoroughly inter-married with San and Khoena. They were initially also not a kingdom but rather just a small loose federation of clans.
When the Nguni drift occurred and when refugees started pressing down South much later, this pre-Nguni,”Xhosa-Khoena” mixed people came under a much stronger and more well organised Nguni influence. But already there were Khoena tribes further south all the way to the Cape Peninsula by this time.
The Khoena that migrated to the Cape had no direct genetic linkage to the /Xam-ka. It is only in antiquity that there is a connection. They were thus not indigenous to the area in the old-fashioned use of the term. In modern UN terminology indigenous is used much more broadly and thus Khoena are an Indigene people as much as all whose forebears come from the continent are indigene. But the Khoena certainly are a marginalised Indigene people in South Africa who face discrimination. That is not the same as being the ‘First People’ in the older sense of the word indigene. The UN and AU and the SA government recognise the San, the Nama, the Korana, the Griqua and the Revivalist Cape Khoena as being “most marginalised and discriminated against Indigenous People’.
The Khoena pastoralists nudged out the /Xam-ka hunter-gatherer ‘First People’ from their traditional hunting grounds and as pastoralists took dominance of the seaboard areas. The /Xam-ka ‘First People’ were gradually pushed from their traditional lands over a 500 year period, so that by the time the European shipping started regularly pulling into bays along the coast, the Khoena in the Western Cape and the Xhosa-Khoena of the Eastern Cape were the indigene Africans whom they met.
In the region of the Zuurveld and down to the Gamtoos River mixed Xhosa-Gonaqua tribe called the Gqunukwebe lived alongside the Gonaqua. The name Gqunukwebe is exactly the same as Gonaqua in a different dialect.
From the Zuurveld area, the following Khoena tribes who had taken over the /Xam-ka lands in the past 500 years were in place at the time of the first European invasion of the Cape. The Gqunukwebe-Xhosa, Gonaqua, Hoengeyqua, Gamtoos, Outeniqua, Attaqua, Hessequa, Chainouqua, Cochoqua, Chariguriqua, Goringhaiqua and the Gorachoqua.
Drifters from the latter four who changed their way of life and established a new economy servicing European shipping during the 52 years before Jan van Riebeeck were loosely referred to as the Goringhaicona of Camissa. The formation of the Camissa traders was highly influenced by a number of them travelling abroad and back – long before van Riebeeck’s arrival. Two of the most prominent were Chief Xhore who visited London in 1613 with the English and Chief Autshumao who visited Java in 1631 with the English who assisted him to establish a servicing settlement. These two men were the real founders of the Port of Cape Town which serviced 1071 ships and over 200 000 European visitors before van Riebeeck. Visits ranged from 3 weeks to 9 months in duration. Without us fully understand the significance of this part of our pre-colonial history we can also never be able to navigate our future. It is in this Camissa experience of a new economy and mode of living among Indigenes and how this was crushed that our understanding of our past is greatly enhanced.
The Goringhaicona were not a tribe….. they were a paradigm shift….. a revolution, that was crushed. But that is a story that I have dealt with elsewhere.
The Khoena or Khoi were the first to encounter the Europeans on the shoreline frontier when their ships dropped anchor in search of meat, water, salt and repair materials. When the European settlers came to stay they were highly reliant on the advanced animal husbandry and pastoral skills of the Cape Khoena whose understanding of sustainable grazing, water conservation and insect-borne diseases was invaluable to the European greenhorn farmers. At the time of the first interactions with the Europeans, the Khoena were very successful livestock farmers with tens of thousands of head of sheep and cattle. Indeed the Khoena had introduced livestock to the Cape.
In the Central Cape mountainous area were the bulk of the /Xam-ka and initially the Europeans steered clear of them. From the moment the VOC started a colony they consciously started a process of forced removals or ethnic cleansing of the Khoena communities from what became the Cape Colony and it took the 170 – so fierce was the resistance. Those that would not be pacified were forced to flee to the Gariep or to join the amaXhosa resistance in the Eastern Cape. The Cape Peninsula up to the Hottentots Holland Mountains, down through Paarl and the outskirts of Malmesbury to the West Coast, was by 1720, a virtual Khoena-free zone, so bad was the ethnocide implemented. By the 1865 census there were less than 8% of the 90 000 recorded Khoena (Hottentots) in the whole Colony, living in the Peninsula area. Over 90% of people of colour in this area were recorded as slave descendants and descendants of migrants of colour. The largest concentrations of Khoena were recorded alongside some of the largest concentrations of Xhosa in the Eastern Cape or in the Northern Cape and the West Coast of the Western Cape and the Karoo and part of Hessequa. Smaller concentrations were in the Overberg.
By the late 1600s the Europeans first encountered the /Xam-ka in warfare when some of the Peninsula Khoena refugees team up with these Cape San to resist the Dutch advance. Increased contact was made after the 1740s as the Europeans in their pushing the Khoena out of the Cape began to encounter more and more /Xam-ka inland. But from the 1770s for 25 years the /Xam-ka valiantly held their own against Dutch-Khoena Commandos. The Commandos were under Dutch leadership but about 60% of these Commandos were pacified Khoena and in this period is when the great genocide slaughter of the ‘First People’ /Xam-ka was at its worst.
The Khoena in the Commandos were instructed to wipe out the adult /Xam-ka. Only a few of the children were spared and taken prisoners and shared out to work on white farms alongside slaves and pacified Khoena. The Khoena Commandos were also allowed to take some of the girls as concubines. Both the European and Khoena Commandos favourite aberration was to cut off the breasts of /Xam-ka women to make leather tobacco pouches.
Much of the 30 000 /Xam-ka community were wiped out, with the survivors moving northward short of the Gariep. There by the mid-1800s the British, Nama, Orlams and the Griquas carried on massacring the /Xam-ka. This is the real tragic story of a genocide with many role-players taking part but largely overseen by the Dutch VOC and the British. This genocide spread from the /Xam-ka victims to wiping out many of the Gariep San too.
It is this fact that makes it painful for the collective surviving San peoples across Southern Africa, when Khoena descendant inappropriately use the term KhoiSan, an anthropological, archaeological and geneticist academic term coined by a German anthropologist in the 1930s. It is adding insult to injury. It also adds insult to injury for any group to assume the title ‘First People’ in the Cape because all were migrants who displaced the /Xam-ka.
Let us now just go back again to the pre-colonial period to see a little bit more closely what occurred in the Eastern Cape with the Khoena. As already noted the earliest original pre-Nguni “Xhosa-Cobuqua” were the first already back as far as the 15th century feeling some impacts of Mpondomise, Mpondo and Thembu engagement with the “Xhosa-Cobuqua” of the area above the Kei River. Gradually assimilation took place with some Nguni offshoots from the Thembus, Mpinga-Ngwevu Mpondomise, and the Ntshilibe-Mfene-Vundle Sotho as well as the Ntlane and Zangwa Mpondo , all joining the mix.
A trickle became a greater flow when a game-changer occurred. The Nguni domination of the federation of the Xhosa-Cobuqua-Nguni clans began with a fratricidal battle between two royal brothers Cira and Tshawe. The heir to the throne, Cirwa, was defeated when Tshawe called on the Mpondomise to come to his assistance. This led to the initial Nguni domination.
But then Tshawe offered sanctuary to a number of Khoena clans and this again balanced the mix. Expediency had most accepting the new arrangement but those who did not voluntarily accept sanctuary under one Tshawe Kingdom were forced into the Kingdom. A mythology was created over time by the victors, that does not stand up to scrutiny, that Tshawe’s father was a great Chief called NkosiyamNtu. This seem more to be a storyline to suggest an older direct link to the northern Nguni, than fact. What people also tend to do is to confuse the development of Kingdoms with history. Before Kingdoms were imposed there were just clans and very little rigidity as every clan was a mix of Khoena, Bantu and even /Xam-ka to some extent. The “Kingdoms” ideology was often ahistorical, just like today when people are creating kingdoms from thin air, simply because it may result in a government cheque every month and some land.
The following Khoena clans joined the new Xhosa Kingdom of Tshawe – the Ngqosini, Giqwa, Cete, and isiThathu voluntarily joined in accepting Tshawe as King of the mixed Xhosa-Khoena Kingdom and the customs and language was a mix of Khoena and SiNtu.
All of this happened some-time in the 17th century because the first contacts between the colonists and another tribe known as the Gqunukwebe is recorded when a commando of Europeans road out of Stellenbosch in 1702 and moved up as far as the Zuurveld to raid cattle and encountered these people. Who were the Gqunukwebe?
After Tshawe’s time and before 1700 one of the Khoena clans (which also had a Sotho mix) – the Ngqosini under Chief Tshiwo revolted against the Xhosa Kingdom and made an alliance with a medicine man Khwane who had quietly built up a small Khoena army in the forests over some time. They were victorious and this is how these Khoena Xhosa joined by a number of Gonaqua Khoena people in the forests, formed the Gqunukwebe, (it actually is Xhosa word for Gonaqua) and became the southernmost Xhosa living alongside the Gonaqua in relative harmony. These were the first so-called Xhosa that the Europeans started raiding cattle from when commandos rode out from Stellenbosch in 1700.
The Gqunukwebe became a melting pot for the Hoengeyqua, Gonaquea, Gamtoos and even Hessequa refugees and Confederation military alliance was forged between them all under the elderly Chief Chungwa and the Khoena Chief Klaas Stuurman, and after his death with Chief David Stuurman. This was of course all in the South of the Eastern Cape.
In ,the north the end of the 18th century the Zulu Mfecane then also added to the impacts when other Nguni refugees followed – the Ngwane, Bhele, the Zizi, the Hlubi, the Bhaca, the Qocwa and the Mfengu. All of this took place before the Colonial Conquest of the Eastern Cape, and continued just up to the VOC Dutch wars started in the region, and some of it carried on in tandem with the first few British wars that seized Khoena and Xhosa land.
But something else also happened before the Colonists came onto the scene. By 1736 a new powerful Xhosa Kingdom arose under the House of Phalo. It came into being through another fratricidal conflict within the Xhosa Kingdom
Next door to the original Cobuqua-Xhosa pre-Nguni were another powerful Khoena tribe – the Inqua also called the Humcumqua. They made a huge political military mistake in the region when they got involved in taking sides with one brother against the other in the Xhosa conflict. The Inqua took the side of the brother that lost and they were conquered in the process.
The Inqua Chief Hinsati made an alliance with the Xhosa King Gwali and gave him protection against his brother Mdange. The latter defeated the Inqua and installed Phalo as King and then assimilated the Inqua clans – Sukwini, Gqwashu and Nqarwane into the House of Phalo. So thereby another whole Khoena tribe with all its clans simply had a name change. They were Khoena or Khoi who suddenly became part of this by now more than 800 year old ever metamorphosing entity called “Xhosa”.
The House of Phalo also eventually split into two antagonistic tribes – the amaGcaleka of Chief Gqaika and the amaRharhabe of Chief Ndlambe. The Rharabe allied with the Gonaqua and Gqunukwebe against the colonists and Gqaika allied with the colonists against the Xhosa-Khoena Confederacy. Two amazing resistance fighters emerged from this alliance under the Rharhabe – General and Itola, Makhanda known As Nxele, whose mother was Khoena and father Xhosa; and Khoena Chief David Stuurman. Bothe ended up together as prisoners of war on Robben Island and both were in the same escape boat that made it to Bloubergstrand. Makhand unfortunately drown when the boat hit the rocks. Chief David Stuurman survived but was banished to Australia as a POW convict.
All of the Khoena tribes from the Zuurveld down into the Cape Peninsula had very strong familial links to the Xhosa, who were in fact to a great degree Khoena themselves as well as part Nguni. In modern times we tend to call all of the people of the Eastern Cape Xhosa and then assume all are Nguni. That is much too simplistic and it also feeds into the “Great Lie” that a Black invasion occurred more or less at the same time as a white invasion, and both are aliens to the Khoena.
From this historical falsehood has grown a false Khoena or Khoi separatism, and also the falsehood that the Khoena or Khoi are the ‘First People’ of the Cape, whereas they were pastoral migrants and only the /Xam-ka were the ‘First People’. Besides everything else the commandos who slaughtered the /Xam-ka were 60% made up of pacified Khoena. The few /Xamka surviving the 1780s genocide by the VOC Commandos faced further genocide at the hands of the British and the Griquas in the 1800s.
We really need to hit this nonsense on the head. It is all based on notions of superiority indoctrinated among ‘Coloured’ people by the colonists and Apartheid racism and bigotry. Our history as Africans is much more complex and integrated than we want to believe. The evolution and the falling away and recreation of tribal and kingdom identities happened before Colonisation and was exploited to divide our ancestors at that time, just as it is dividing us now. And all sorts of opportunists and racists are climbing on board. There should be no place for racism in any united association of indigenes, and these cannot just be open to those labelled “Coloured” when history shows us that only a third of “Coloured” have Khoena heritage and probably an equal number of those today called “Xhosa” also have Khoena Heritage in the Cape. In the Gariep, Free State and right up to Limpopo and then across to KZN, there are also descendants of the Khoena.
The Cape Khoena heritage is real but it has nothing to do with race, colour, features and geo-location. The story is a lot more complex.
If we want to be true to ourselves and to our ancestors we should proceed cautiously and get to first embrace a non-colonial historical understanding of our roots. We also cannot just be trendy and adopt models from Canada, the USA and Australia.
I believe that in going forward and looking at all the components of our heritage that has been forced under this label “Coloured” we must honestly address the past, and there is much research to consult and everyday new information arises. We cannot neatly separate our indigene heritage which some carry in more weight than others from our Slavery ancestry from Africa, India and Southeast Asia, nor from the many other tributaries of migrants of colour whose descendants too were labelled “Coloured”.
I firmly believe that together we should be in exploration mode least fraudulent charletons and the Zuma State bamboozle us all for their own benefit just like previous regimes have done…. And then our people are betrayed. The dead give-away of the false doctrines floating about is that they are firmly a matter of the age old “DIVIDE & RULE”.
One of our old late stalwarts wished to leave a legacy of understanding that he as someone labelled ‘Coloured’ wanted to claim his African-ness by correction the colonial historical nonsense that created a wall between one indigene African people and another.
This colonial lie of “separateness” needs to be challenged at its roots. One of our late old stalwarts believed that we must be honest and face up to history and write our own pre-colonial narratives. Until we do so this notion of ‘Coloured’ superiority will not die out. We are an African people and will never find our African home and African rights if we keep following the ‘white’ lies. We are an integrated African people and separatism is not the answer to our problems. It is when we truly accept our African heritage in all its wonderful facets, and merge this with our slavery heritage seamlessly as the very blood that flows in our veins – then we will find peace and liberation.
He would say, “We have allowed the Europeans world view to become our world view. It is a common argument of the Europeans that where would Africa and South Africa be if it was not for the Europeans skill and hard work. They shout –look what good colonialism has done for you.” The only way to counter this is to stop believing their half-baked stories and making these our own. Look at the pre-colonial situation with honesty.