The San were one of the last Late Stone Age people to live in South Africa. They were hunters and gatherers, who had a keen ability to live sustainably from their natural environment. The exact origin of the San is not known, but it is believed that they, together with a pastoral people, the Khoikhoi herders, were the earliest modern human groups to live in South Africa. They were living in South Africa thousands of years before the arrival of the peoples from Central Africa and finally the colonialists from Europe. One of the most significant areas where small bands of San lived were the Drakensberg mountains.
The ability of the San to survive was challenged on two occasions, firstly in skirmishes with the Iron age Nguni peoples and finally the Europeans. Unfortunately, a large number of the San were driven out of the Drakensberg and South Africa. The San are known to have existed in the Drakensberg up until the early 1900’s, a fresh bow and quiver have been found on a high ledge in Eland Cane in 1930. Another explanation for their disappearance is that they integrated with the surrounding Nguni tribes. Traces of Bushman genes were found in 1931 when 3 old graves were excavated in Gabar’s grave and taken to Wits University for further examination. The bones were found to be an admixture of Bushman and Nguni and showed signs of cannibalism. The San continue to exist in the Kalahari Desert of Namibia. In the 1950s, several thousand San people were still hunting large game with poisoned arrows and gathering plant food in this area. One group, the IKung, lived in an area called Nyae Nyae (pronounced ny ny, rhyming with high), near the border between Namibia and Botswana.
The San were masters of artistic expression on rock faces. Art critics have revered their ability to express human animation, their religious and day-to-day activities, and nature through art. The largest concentration of rock art and specifically San Rock art are found in the Drakensberg mountains, with over 30,000 examples of this art have been found in rock caves and overhangs in this region. Most of it is protected from normal public visitation, although there are some important areas, where it is possible to view the paintings of these maestros, good examples being Main Cave, in the
Giants Castle Camp and through a daily guided hike to Battle Cave in the Injasuti Camp area.
It is a tireless job, to try and protect the many examples of San Rock Art in the Drakensberg. This task has largely been taken on by a group of volunteers, who try to assist the under-staffed Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the nature conservation agency of the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and Amafa AkwaZulu Natali, the cultural conservation agency. These volunteers are known as KZN Wildlife’s Honorary Officers.
One of their tasks is to meticulously monitor the state of San Rock art sites in the Drakensberg and remove man-made obstacles and litter from these sites. More information on the San, their way of life and the theories behind the meaning of their art will be featured in future editions of this periodical. Please watch the video, “In the steps of the San”, on YouTube.
ROCK ART PROTOCOL:
- only AMAFA registered open sites may be visited;
- visits are with the approval of the custodian of the site. Custodians are the landowners or other appointed bodies (e.g. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife) who have a responsibility of maintaining the integrity of the site.
- visitors must be accompanied by an AMAFA registered guide, and
- no more than 8 people may enter the site at a time