Pre-European population of South Africa
|The colorful pseudoscience|
Race & Racialism
|Hating thy neighbour|
|Divide and conquer|
Certain apologists for white colonialism in the area claim that the pre-European population of South Africa was very small or non-existent (the terra nullius legal concept). Supporters of this claim believe that the black population of South Africa are, in fact, descended from Bantu peoples who entered the area after European settlement made the land inhabitable, or that the Bantu people colonized South Africa concurrently with colonialists. This claim is sometimes made by Afrikaner nationalists or white nationalists.
Khoisan tribes lived in South Africa before European settlement. They were non-agrarian and without metal tools, with most being hunter-gatherers, although some, including those in the Cape, were herders. Conveniently for later European colonists, they lacked writing. Epidemics of European-derived diseases such as smallpox caused significant devastation of Khoisan populations near the Cape and helped facilitate their defeat and enslavement by whites, and in several cases caused them to lose their cattle, forcing them to become hunter-gathers and thus further reducing their population densities.
According to mainstream white historians of the colonial era, the Bantu arrived in South Africa relatively late, at about a few centuries before the Dutch (whose first settlement started in 1652). However, archeological evidence suggests otherwise, with artifacts made of iron (Bantu-speaking groups were likely the first South Africans to work iron) such as those associated with the Lydenburg heads having been dated to as early as 500 BCE (a time difference of about two millenia). Their experience with agriculture allowed them to attain high population densities, high enough to cause severe conflict due to overpopulation. Indeed, it was this conflict, not some sort of "barbarism", that depressed black population densities and helped hasten white expansion in the interior. In areas not subject to the Mfecane, such as the areas inhabited by the Xhosa (Nelson Mandela's people) on the coast east of the Great Fish River, native population densities were enough to significantly blunt white advances, and it eventually took an epidemic of respiratory disease among their livestock and the subsequent millenarian woo of the "prophetess" Nongkawuse and the famine she inflicted in an attempt to drive out the whites (caused by the willful destruction of crops and livestock) to bring these areas permanently under white control. Before that, the Xhosa had been able to resist for well over a century.
The Zulus living further east were even more powerful and numerous. An 1838 battle at the Ncome (Blood River) in which over 3,000 Zulus were killed failed to destroy or even permanently damage their military power. In a later conflict, the Zulu War of 1879, they were able to significantly inconvenience the British, and completely destroyed their armies in several battles, most famously at Isandlwana.
Reasons for creating the false narrative of the empty South Africa
As with the American Indian genocides, the motive on the part of colonialist/imperialist historians is simple: namely, to legitimize their claim on the land and to dismiss charges of genocide against them. The lack of evidence for it is similarly weak. Due to this, these pseudohistorians have taken to giving false dates for populations movements, among other dishonesty. Radiometric dating has helped to refute their arguments.
- NPR article
- Shula Marks, "Khoisan Resistance to the Dutch in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries".
- The Story of Africa, Chapter 12.
- Steve Phatlane, "Plague, Pox and Pandemics: A Jacana Pocket History of Epidemics in South Africa".
- See the Wikipedia article on Dutch Cape Colony.
- Clifton C. Crais, "The Vacant Land: The Mythology of British Expansion in the Eastern Cape, South Africa"
- Tim Maggs, Patricia Davidson, "The Lydenburg Heads".
- Britannica overview of the Mfecane
- Diamond, Jared Guns, Germs, and Steel Page 381.
- Phelan, Sean, "Examining the Unseen Reasons Behind the Xhosa Cattle Killing".
- Britannica account of the battle
- Battles of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift
- The Empty Land Myth
- Motsoko Pheko, "‘Empty land’ in South Africa is desperate colonial madness".