The Khoisan Peoples; An Ostracized Minority In Their Own Country

Cultural Imperialism is the imposition by one usually politically or economically dominant community onto another non-dominant community. It is a form of imperialism, in that the imposing community forcefully extends the authority of its way of life over the other population by either transforming or replacing aspects of the non-dominant community’s culture.

Indigenous Khoi and San people occupied Southern Africa hundreds, maybe thousands, of years before colonization. The colonization of Southern Africa brought about oppression on the Indigenous Peoples through struggles against cultural dominance by  imperialism. These Imperialists used force or influence upon  the Indigenous Peoples to submit to their rules, beliefs, and culture by invading, conquering, and developing everywhere they could. The indigenous people were categorized into groups of  lower social standing class, and treated  in a dehumanizing manner.

Despite the fact that indigenous people never tried to harm these invaders, the invaders turned their cooperation and friendly relationship into conflict, war, and terrorism to expropriate the homeland of the indigenous people.

By 1656 the first conflict between the Dutch and local Khoisan erupted. This occurred as a result of the appropriation of land by Dutch farmers. The Khoisan were nomadic and felt they should have free access to all the land in the area to graze their cattle, as had been the case up to that point, while the Dutch farmers had been given land as part of the policy of freehold ownership where they farmed and lived. The Khoisan saw the Dutch as competition for available grazing land, and as invaders who were curbing their freedom of movement.  The Europeans in turn regarded the Khoisan to be inferior and a ready labor pool. The Khoisan in desperation attempted to regain their territory by  attacking the Dutch in 1659 and 1673, but lost many men in the conflicts.

On 8 April 1713, the  smallpox epidemic broke out in the Cape Colony. It  spread among both the Europeans and Khoisan. The Khoisan had never been exposed to smallpox and had no natural resistance to the disease. Many of the survivors  who fled came into conflict with other Khoisan groups. This resulted in the Drakenstein region suffering the most as the epidemic continued for between three and four months. In 1755 and 1767 two more smallpox epidemics almost eradicated the entire Khoisan population. Those who survived were forced to become westernised, Christianised and had to learn to speak Dutch, which later became Afrikaans. They even adopted the European  style of dressing.

Land and  water resources and pasture  were denied to the Khoisan pastoralists who found it increasingly difficult to sustain themselves in a land in which access to limited water resources was necessary for survival. In a slow, non-catastrophic process the Khoisan were gradually squeezed out of the lands that they had once occupied, as European settlers alienated the springs and permanent water courses. The survivors of this process often became clients of European settlers and applied their skills in animal husbandry to the invaders’ livestock instead of their own.

“Savage” is a colonialist term that has, in effect, been used for centuries to cast Indigenous peoples as less than human in order to make it easier to justify abuses against them. 

The effect that stereotyping had on Indigenous women is one of the main reasons why non-Indigenous people committed violent crimes of hate towards Khoisan women and girls. Some non-Indigenous people believed that indigenous women are dirty, promiscuous and overtly sexualised, which made these women vulnerable to violent assaults.

Colonial culture has been the foundation of these stereotypes, creating a relationship of violence and hatred, which justifies the treatment of First Nations peoples to this day.

Culture and its heritage reflect and shape values, beliefs, and aspirations, thereby defining a people’s national identity. It is important to preserve our cultural heritage, because it keeps our integrity as a people.

Unlike other native groups, the Khoisan are not recognised as their country’s first inhabitants, and their identity is largely invisible, forgotten even by most current descendants. Traditional customs, such as plant-based medicine and hunting, are dismissed as primitive. Much of the ancient Khoisan rock art still lies unmarked on private land, where it is desecrated with graffiti and often stolen by thieves and sold to archaeology collectors.

These days, because of cultural imperialism, those who identify as Khoisan are an ostracized minority, in a country of which they are the First Nation inhabitants.

By: Lorraine Richards

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *