San heritage lives on through rock art and scientific studies of these gentle hunter-gatherers. The San Bushmen of South Africa were the country’s original inhabitants, and very likely the ancestors of all humanity. Today remnants of these fascinating people can still be found in the Northern Cape.

Did you know?

In San culture there is no concept of private possession or land ownership.

The rich Bushman or San heritage is that of the original people of southern Africa. It is even believed that the genes of the San Bushmen of South Africa predate the rest of humanity, making them our original ancestors.

Nomadic bands lived on the land for approximately 100 000 years before the arrival of other groups. When the pastoral Khoikhoi appeared 2 000 years ago they saw people similar to them in physical appearance, but with a different culture.

They called these elders of the land ‘the San', which means ‘people different from ourselves'. The San Bushmen lived in small groups in the desert before dispersing to the rest of the country. There they lived under rock overhangs in the mountains, or in dry areas in simple huts made of leaves, twigs and animal skins.

The San men usually hunted antelope using bows and arrows, which had been smeared with poison. Before a hunt, a shaman would conduct a religious ceremony. He would enter a trance and his vision was recorded on a rock by way of painting.

In the San culture, women stayed in villages or homesteads, looking after the children. They foraged for food around the camp, searching for edible bulbs, roots, stalks and fruit. Other duties included making clothing sewn together by catgut.

An important aspect of the San culture took place at night when stories would be told to music played on rudimentary instruments. But the music stopped when other groups and settlers entered the region. In time the San were driven further and further north into the more arid areas of the country.

Today, there are only a few distinct communities of San left. But their rich culture lives on through their rock art and the work of anthropologists searching for the origins of modern man.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Bushman Council Office
Tel: +27 (0)78 129 6668
Email: bushmancouncil@khomanisan.com

Northern Cape Tourism Authority
Tel: +27 (0)53 832 2657/2643
Email: northerncapetourism@telkomsa.net

How to get here

The remaining San Bushmen of South Africa are found in the Kalahari area of the Northern Cape, especially around Kimberley and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Best time to visit

Winter, when the weather is milder.

Get around

You will need your own transport to visit the far-flung San and rock art sites.

Length of stay

A week, or at least part of a week, would be best to explore the desert region and experience the life of the San.

What to pack

Comfortable walking shoes or boots. The Northern Cape experiences extremes of weather so pack cool summer clothing for the days and warm winter woolies for the nights.

What to eat

After the spring rains indulge in a rare treat, the Kalahari white truffle.