The Bushmen (San people)
Namibia Bushman (San) Society

The Bushmen (San people)

The indigenous people of Southern Africa, whose territory spans most areas of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola, are variously referred to as Bushmen, San, Sho, Basarwa, Kung, or Khwe (see the name section for more details). The Bushmen are part of the Khoisan group. Though related to the traditionally pastoral Khoikhoi, they were traditionally hunter-gatherers. Starting in the 1950s, and lasting through the 1990s, they switched to farming as a result of government-mandated modernization programs as well as the increased risks of a hunting and gathering lifestyle in the face of technological development.
There is a significant linguistic difference between the northern Bushmen living between Okavango (Botswana) and Etosha (Namibia), extending into southern Angola on the one hand and the southern group in the central Kalahari towards the Molopo, who are the last remnant of the previously extensive indigenous San of South Africa.
The San have provided a wealth of information for the fields of anthropology and genetics, even as their lifestyles change. One broad study of African genetic diversity completed in 2009 found that the San people were among the five populations with the highest measured levels of genetic diversity among the 121 distinct African populations sampled. The San are one of fourteen known extant “ancestral population clusters” (from which all known modern humans descended).

The terms San, Khwe, Sho, Bushmen and Basarwa have all been used to refer to the hunter-gatherer peoples of southern Africa. Each of these terms has a problematic history, as they have been used by outsiders to refer to them, often with pejorative connotations. The individual groups identify by names such as Juǀʼhoansi and ǃKung (the punctuation characters representing different click consonants), and most call themselves by the term Bushmen when referring to themselves collectively.

The different San language groups of Namibia met in late 1996 and agreed to allow the general term San to designate them externally. This term was historically applied by their ethnic relatives and historic rivals, the Khoikhoi. This term means outsider in the Nama language, and was derogatory because it distinguished the Bushmen from what the Khoikhoi called themselves, namely, the First People. Western anthropologists adopted San extensively in the 1970s, where it remains preferred in academic circles. The term Bushmen is widely used, but opinions vary on whether it is appropriate because it is sometimes viewed as pejorative.
In South Africa, the term San has become favored in official contexts, and is included in the blazon of the new national coat-of-arms; Bushman is considered derogatory by many South Africans, regardless of their race. Angola does not have an official term for the San, but they are sometimes referred to as Bushmen, Kwankhala, or Bosquímanos (the Portuguese term for Bushmen). In Lesotho they’re referred to as Baroa, which is where the Sesotho name for south, Boroa, comes from. Neither Zambia nor Zimbabwe have official terms, although in the latter case the terms Amasili and Batwa are sometimes used. In Botswana, the officially used term is Basarwa, where it is partially acceptable to some Bushmen groups, although Basarwa, a Tswana label derived from Twa, also has negative connotations. The term is a class 2 noun (as indicated by the “ba-” class marker), while an older class 6 variant, Masarwa, is now almost universally considered offensive.