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Anatomy of a South African Genocide

Mohamed Adhikari

Publication Year: 2011

In 1998 David Kruiper, the leader of the ‡Khomani San who today live in the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, lamented, “We have been made into nothing.” His comment applies equally to the fate of all the hunter- gatherer societies of the Cape Colony who were destroyed by the impact of European colonialism. Until relatively recently, the extermination of the Cape San peoples has been treated as little more than a footnote to South African narratives of colonial conquest. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Dutch-speaking pastoralists who infiltrated the Cape interior dispossessed its aboriginal inhabitants. In response to indigenous resistance, colonists formed mounted militia units known as commandos with the express purpose of destroying San bands. This ensured the virtual extinction of the Cape San peoples. In Anatomy of a South African Genocide, Mohamed Adhikari examines the history of the San and persuasively presents the annihilation of Cape San society as genocide. 

Published by: Ohio University Press

TItle Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 3-5

Table of Contents

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pp. 7


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pp. 9


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pp. 10-11

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Definitions of genocide

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pp. 12-15

Genocide is the intentionala physical destructionb of a social groupc in its entirety, or the intentional annihilation of such a significant partd of the group that it is no longer able to reproduce itself biologically or culturally, nor sustain an independent economic existence.e...

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Introduction Settler colonialism and San society

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pp. 17-27

In 1998 David Kruiper, the leader of the ≠Khomani San people, who today live in the Kalahari Desert in the furthest reaches of South Africa’s Northern Cape province, lamented of his people that ‘… we have been made into nothing’ (Crwys-Williams, 1999: 62). The ≠Khomani San are a tiny remnant of the foraging communities that once inhabited most of the land that currently constitutes South Africa. Whereas Kruiper...

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1. Colonial Expansion Through the Eighteenth Century

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pp. 28-35

By the start of European colonisation, the San had largely been displaced to the drier and more rugged interior areas by Khoikhoi pastoralists and Bantu-speaking cultivators, both of whom had migrated into the region about two thousand years ago. The first European colonial settlement in southern Africa came in 1652 when the Dutch East India Company...

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2. The Dynamic of Conflict on the Frontier Under Dutch Rule

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pp. 36-59

Trekboers, who derived considerable military advantage from their horses and firearms, severely disrupted the lives of foraging communities that had been living in the Cape interior for thousands of years. San and trekboer were bound to clash because they were in direct competition for the same environmental resources, namely, water, game, grazing and access to land, which included the right simply to be in a particular...

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3. Attrition under British Colonial Rule

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pp. 60-77

The dynamic of frontier violence against the San changed at the end of the eighteenth century soon after the British took control of the Cape Colony. An embattled administration representing a bankrupt VOC, facing revolt among citizens, and defeat by the Xhosa was replaced by one that could muster significant military force and was prepared to intervene in frontier conflict. When the British first occupied the Cape Colony in 1795,1 they were disconcerted by...

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4. A Case of Genocide?

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pp. 78-93

In recent years, there has been a growing corpus of scholarly literature that has interpreted colonial exterminations of indigenous peoples as genocide. Much of this writing has focused on the nature of settler colonialism, especially in Australia and the United States, and there has been a distinct tendency to view settler colonialism as highly prone to, if not inherently, genocidal.1 This discussion...

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pp. 94-96

Unlike farmers, foragers do not want to change or control nature but live in communion with it, harvesting what they need in ways that are in harmony with its rhythms and that demonstrate respect for its precepts. As with all hunter-gatherers, the life-ways of Cape San peoples were closely attuned to the natural environment. They had profound knowledge of the ecology, an intense spiritual connection with their natural surroundings...

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Guide to Further Reading

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pp. 97-98

It is gratifying that the last decade and a half has witnessed the emergence of a growing body of scholarly work on the colonial experience of the Cape San peoples. Shula Marks’s pioneering ‘Khoisan resistance’ still provides a serviceable overview of the subject while Smith et al’s Bushmen of Southern Africa, especially the middle section that deals with the colonial period...

Sources Cited

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pp. 99-112


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pp. 113-120

E-ISBN-13: 9780821444009

Publication Year: 2011