The grasslands of Southern Africa have been occupied by hunter-gatherers and herders for thousands of years. Archaeologists have discovered human remains and artefacts in caves inhabited by Stone Age people who lived 30 000 or 40 000 years ago. They were probably the ancestors of the San (Bushmen) nation.
European sailors and explorers visited the southern tip of Africa (between Walvis Bay on the West coast and the Kei River on the Eastern shores), as early as the 15th century. The first inhabitants with whom they made contact were the Khoikhoi. Their name Khoikhoi means, "men of men", or "true people". The early European visitors found their language, with its click sounds to be both unpronounceable and incomprehensible. The Khoikhoi loved to dance and chant and one of the words used while dancing was hautitou which sounded like Hottentot, hence their European name.
The Khoikhoi were small yellowish people. They owned sheep and cattle and lived in kraals, each with a leader or minor chief. The inhabitants of several kraals formed a clan with a chief as their leader. A number of clans had a paramount chief. Each clan had its own territory or grazing area in which they moved around from time to time to find better grazing. They spend much time along the coast where they found an easy food source in the form of fish, shellfish and seals. Their grass or reed huts were easily pulled down and re-erected and were transported on their oxen. This facilitated their nomadic lifestyle.
The Europeans found that they were used to the practice of bartering for they bartered goods like dagga, ostrich-egg shells, beads and occasionally metals such as copper amongst themselves and other groups. The Khoikhoi were reluctant to barter cattle and sheep with the Europeans since the size of their herds reflected their personal wealth and provided them with an important source of food.
Next to the Khoikhoi, the Dutch also came into contact with the San whom they called Sonqua (Bushmen). They were brown people, somewhat smaller than the Khoikhoi who also spoke a language with click sounds. They were not stock owners but only hunter-gatherers living on game, wild roots and berries. Being to such a great extend dependent on nature, they were more nomadic than the Khoikhoi. They built crude huts from branches which they covered with grass and skins although they sometimes also lived in reed huts. In earlier times they lived nearer to the Cape, but the Dutch first came across them along the Olifants River and further inland up to the Orange River.