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Peoples of Cape Town
Bantu The San People The Khoekhoe
Coloured People Cape Malay Afrikaners
  British Jews
The Bantu

'Bantu' is a generic name covering many black tribes. Bantu migration into South Africa began in the 3rd century AD with the occupation of the fertile eastern and coastal stretches of the country, where they came into contact with the Khoekhoe (more..)

The Xhosa people are a Bantu tribe that settled along the south coast a thousand kilometers east of Cape Town. They encountered European and English settlers along their western border, the Great Fish River, from the seventeenth century onwards. Their ability to resist Afrikaners encouraged the Great Trek away from the area.

Labour migration of Xhosa to Cape Town began in the mid-eighteenth century and measures were taken to control the Black population. Nevertheless migration continued in the twentieth century and a township was created at Langa.

In the early twentieth century black people became more politicised in the face of discrimination.

This discrimination became systematic and ruthless under the apartheid system, against which a long struggle ensued until liberation was achieved in the new South Africa.


The San People

For perhaps one hundred thousand years, until the nineteenth century, the San lived by hunting and gathering in small nomadic 'bands'. They concentrated in the mountains after contact with the Khoekhoe (see below) and later the Bantu.

As European settlement advanced the San were joined by Khoekhoe refugees. As the trekboers advanced they attacked the San and drove them deeper into the mountains.

Today there are no distinct communities of San left, although their 'cousins' the Bushmen are still evident in the Kalahari, Namibia and Botswana.

The San People

The name Khoekhoe means 'men of men'. They spread out across Southern Africa, and migrating south 2,000 years ago brought pastoralism (animal herding) to the Cape.

By the husbandry of sheep and cattle they enjoyed a stable, balanced diet and could live in larger groups than the San. They grazed their herds in the fertile valleys across the region until the 3rd century AD when they encountered the advancing Bantu and retreated into more arid areas.

The migratory bands living around Cape Town came into contact with European explorers and merchants from 1500, these encounters led to violent encounters, although the British made attempts to develop closer relations, although this included two kidnaps!

The Khoekhoe at the Cape grazed traditional migratory routes. When the Dutch East India Company enclosed their grazing land for farms, war broke out.

Over the following century the Khoe were steadily driven off their land and exposed to smallpox by trekboers. Eventually their independence and culture were completely destroyed.

The Khoikhoi

The largest group of people living in Cape Town today are known as the 'coloured' community. The term refers to people of mixed racial origin.

In the early years of European settlement there was inter-racial marriage and European procreation by slaves (most of whom were from Asia).

Soldiers and sailors also had a reputation for fathering children at the Slave Lodge. In the outlying districts there were offspring from relations between trekboers and KhoeSan.

In the nineteenth century the British categorised such people as 'Coloureds' and 'Malays' (see below). In reality the group was never homogenous, and there were, and remain, marked differences of identity. Many coloureds held positions as skilled artisans, and some as professionals. Those owning property could vote, but many coloured people lived in slums.

Coloured willingness to fight for the British in the South African War and the First World War was snubbed and they struggled to gain equality with whites throughout the twentieth century. However, attempts to forge an identity or united political movement failed. Similarly Coloured protest to apartheid discrimination in the 1950s also became disunited.

Although coloured people held a higher status than bantu under apartheid, still they suffered discrimination, particularly the humiliation of forced removals from their homes to 'coloured areas'. In the 1980s they became active in the struggle for democracy, particularly in the United Democratic Front.

A Coloured Lady Selling Flowers
Among the slaves there was a strong Islamic influence, led initially by political prisoners from Malaysia. Over the years this religious community became known as the 'Cape Malays'.

The Cape Malay helped to pioneer not only Islam at the Cape but also Afrikaans and traditional Cape cuisine and music.

The area of 'Bo-Kaap' in Cape Town is associated with this group that retains a strong sense of identity to this day.

The Bo-Kaap

When the Dutch East India Company established a trading station at the Cape they had no intention of allowing it to become a colony. However, as demand for food exceeded supply they allowed Europeans to establish farms.

From this European community developed an independent people at the Cape, who regarded the Cape as their home and, when the British took over, distinguished themselves from the English by the name 'Afrikaners'.

In reaction to British liberalism they developed their own culture and many left on the Great Trek to establish new republics beyond British control.

In due course the British and these independent republics went to war in the South African War.

During the early twentieth century Afrikaners asserted their politics and language in the newly formed Union of South Africa.

Right-wing Afrikaner nationalism led to the election of the National Party in 1948 with its policy of apartheid that sought racial purity and Afrikaner dominance over South Africa. FW de Klerk finally led Afrikaners to embrace universal democracy in 1990.

The Great Trek

Britain has had close links with the Cape since the first days of the English East India Company.

British rule began in 1795. During the eighteenth century British influence established a strong liberal tradition that characterises Cape Town to this day.

See the History Section 'the British Era'.

Queen Victoria

The first significant immigration of Jews to the Cape came with the diamond and gold boom of the late nineteenth century.

Jews continued to migrate to the Cape during the twentieth century in spite of discrimination during the early years (more..)

Star of David

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