San Rock Art preservation

San Rock Art
Eland’s Cave (Photo: James Seymour)

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 debate continues regarding the San’s exact origin. But, 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. Finally the colonialists from Europe. One of the most significant areas where small bands of San lived were the Drakensberg mountains.

the demise of the san in the drakensberg

Two attempts affected the survival of the San in the Drakensberg. Firstly, in skirmishes with the Iron age Nguni peoples. Finally, the Europeans. Large numbers left the Drakensberg and South Africa as a result . The San have existed in the Drakensberg up until the early 1900s. A fresh bow and quiver were 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 three 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.

san rock art

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 Drakensberg mountains have the largest concentration of this art. Over 30,000 examples exist in rock caves and overhangs in this region. The public generally cannot view this art. There are some important areas, where it is possible to see 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.

preservation of this rock art

This arduous task has largely been taken on by a group of volunteers the KZN Wildlife’s Honorary Officers. They try to assist the under-staffed Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the nature conservation agency of the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and Amafa AkwaZulu Natalithe cultural conservation agency.

The meticulously monitor the state of San Rock art sites in the Drakensberg as one of their tasks. This includes removing man-made obstacles and litter from these sites.  Please watch the video, “In the steps of the San”, on YouTube.


  • only visit AMAFA registered open sites;
  • visits need to be 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.
  • an AMAFA registered guide must .accompany visitors to such sites, and
  • no more than 8 people may enter the site at a time

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