About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

The Coloured Leadership Experience

A Foundational Report of Findings and Observations from an Exploratory Assessment of the History and Evolution of the Concept of Leadership with Reference to the Development of an African Leadership Approach


1. Background

In terms of information gleaned from the interim research study, Coloureds have tended, under colonial and apartheid conditions, to be treated as an appendage of either the white/Afrikaner or the indigenous African group. This historical division has remained to this day as one section of the community professes to be happy with its affiliations with the Afrikaner group either on the basis of language or culture. Conversely, there is also a section of the community whose political and cultural affiliations are closer to those of the black majority. The latter sub-group defines itself as black or African in every sense of the word.

Findings from the interim study suggest that there is, among the Coloured community, little or no chance of consensus being reached vis-à-vis the existence and/or viability of the concept of a Coloured leadership. On one side of the argument are Coloured leaders and managers who were proud of the number of prominent Coloured men and women to emerge from this community especially during the current democratic transformation. The Coloured community was said to have, over the years, produced a wide array of leaders and managers who served both their immediate community and the nation with distinction. These respondents also pointed out that the voice of Coloured leadership has not been ignored within local and national political arenas.

Coloured respondents who questioned the existence or viability of the concept of a Coloured leadership class or model argued that until the issue of Coloured identity has been satisfactorily resolved – within the community – debates about such issues as Coloured leadership were dismissed as futile. Some of the people in this category aligned themselves with political positions that have sought to do away with race or ethnic labels. These respondents argued that their point of focus during the anti-apartheid struggle revolved around the total removal of race or ethnic boundaries. Further, they expressed disappointment at the growing revival of ethnicity across the post-apartheid democratic society. However, the group conceded that Coloured men and women who take up leadership positions do so as members of the broader open society.

2. Coloured History and Achievement Track Record

The section of Coloured leadership that align themselves with this label pointed out that Coloured leadership is legitimated by the existence of a distinctly Coloured history with a distinct cultural orientation, customs and ritual practices. The respondents also mentioned that acceptance of a Coloured identity should not be confused with desire to preserve whatever privileges the Coloured community may have amassed under apartheid.

Coloured leadership was also said to have recorded some illustrious achievements. Relative to their size, the leadership was said to have made significant contributions within fields including national, provincial and local policy development or management, education, sports and entertainment, and local as well as national politics. From business and cultural viewpoints, the Coloured community was said to have served as the backbone of most of the Cape region.

Some respondents who discounted the existence of a Coloured leadership conceded that the leadership role of the Coloured community was increasingly becoming apparent to the entire country. These respondents pointed out that Coloured contributions and achievements should not be limited to the past four or five decades. For instance, Coloured leadership had assisted in building aspects of the South African political economy.

3. Broader Coloured Definition

The issue of Coloureds dealt at length with controversies around definition of who or what is a Coloured person. One of the points to emerge from the debate is that South Africa's oldest people, the Khoisan or Bushmen, are an integral part of the Coloured community. This group was said to have made significant but under-publicised contributions towards humankind's knowledge of traditional wisdom about the cosmos, sea navigation, survival knowledge and skills, organic medicine, diet, the arts and conservation. The contributions and achievements of the sub-groups were only beginning to receive local and international acclaim.

Needless to say that the discussion around the issue of Coloured leadership and identity will require greater attention during forthcoming phases and stages of the leadership research. Our view is that both sides of the Coloured identity and leadership arguments are legitimate. The difference is that the one group approaches the matter from a practical, cultural and existential perspective while the other looks at the issue from a broader political framework. The latter group also adopts a universal liberal democratic stance, which dictates that a democratic open society will only be viable once the respective cultural groups have shed all their race or ethnicity labels.

It should be pointed out that as with Indian leadership and management, Coloured leadership has had and continues to have relatively strong representation within the Black Doughnut Leadership Model. While their numerical representation may appear negligible, their contributions appear to be substantial. From this perspective, their views on African leadership will not be entirely lost or missed. To reiterate, this phase of the overall African leadership initiative did not give sufficient time and effort to the investigation of the Coloured leadership model.

4. The Khoisan Leadership Experience

This section of the report highlights the life and leadership experiences of sections of the Coloured community. The review is based on a position paper prepared by Professor Candy Malherb, one of the experts in the field of Khoisan history. Malherbe's paper surveys the evidence concerning leadership as experienced by and practised among the hunter-gatherer and herding populations of southern Africa in the pre-colonial and colonial periods. It takes account of debates concerning the relationship between groups occupying a common landscape who were reliant for survival on different and possibly conflicting economic practices. The paper charts change over time and conclude with suggestions as to how older patterns of leadership may have relevance for and contribute positively to the management practices of modern organisations.

Who are the Khoisan?

'Khoisan' is a compound term derived from Khoekhoen (or Khoikhoi), which refers to the pastoral inhabitants of southern Africa, and San which is the name applied by Khoekhoe herders to the hunter-gatherers, who were called Bushmen by the Europeans. The relationship between these people has been the subject of keen debate among the historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and linguists who have made them their special study. It is also an important issue among those who claim descent from the region's autochthonous people.

One debate has concerned the arrival of sheep and cattle in southern Africa, a process which began roughly 2000 years ago. Were domesticated animals introduced by newcomers or were they passed along by existing populations? Did these intrusions result in conflict or were they accommodated relatively peacefully?

Arising from this debate are questions about the relationship between the herders and hunter-gatherers. Why did some people choose to live by hunting and gathering in close proximity to pastoralists? Were the boundaries between these lifestyles fluid or rigid? That is, how easily could a hunter-gatherer become a herder, and were there circumstances in which herders might be indistinguishable from hunters? Are there grounds, in fact, for believing that these pre-colonial inhabitants were distinct: Khoekhoe herders and San hunter-gatherers?

These questions are relevant to a discussion of leadership. For example, economic practice affects group size: though communities of both types aggregated and dispersed according to the season and other factors, there is persuasive evidence that herder groups were larger than the hunter bands. The level of conflict within and between groups must also be taken into account. Besides these points, one looks for evidence concerning gender relations, status based on seniority or other attributes, and levels of disparity in wealth and power. These are often embedded in the belief systems, customs and forms of social organisation which make a culture (see glossary).

Starting Points for an Inquiry into Khoisan Leadership Patterns

C. Malherbe's associations with Khoisan history have been chiefly with historians Richard Elphick and Susan Newton-King, and archaeologist Andrew Smith.* With his Kraal and Castle: the founding of White South Africa, Elphick (14) posited influential ideas concerning the origins of herding at the Cape, the relationship between herder and hunter-gatherer societies and the decline of Khoe institutions and communal life as a result of contact with Europeans. Newton-King and Smith have argued against aspects of Elphick's thesis, for example, his notion of an 'ecological cycle', involving a cyclical movement in and out of hunting and herding lifestyles according to circumstance'. Newton-King (30) observes that this view incorrectly posits the superiority of pastoralism over hunting and gathering. (29) Smith believes that hunter mindsets militated against the easy adoption of herder strategies for conserving livestock. Notwithstanding these and other reservations, Elphick's pioneering study has been important to their work, as to my own.

Stronger criticism has come from historian Yvette Abrahams (1) who finds the suggestion of an ecological cycle unacceptably static. Abrahams asserts that there are no factors within the system which would cause qualitative change and also draws attention to what she sees as Kraal and Castle's misconceptions concerning Khoisan chieftainship. On this and other points, her caveats are useful to a discussion of leadership patterns. Malherbe notes Abrahams' acknowledgment that it will always be difficult to write the history of people who did not write the sources, and whose world-view and epistemology was fundamentally different from those of the writers of the sources.

In her paper, Malherbe accepts Smith's evidence that there were two different archaeological signatures in the landscape' after sheep and, later, cattle were introduced, and prior to European settlement. (49) The evidence comes from hunter-gatherer ('pre-ceramic/pre-herding') and herder sites in the southwestern Cape. Malherbe also adopts Newton-King's amendments to the Elphick thesis respecting hunter/herder identity and relationships for the pre-colonial and colonial periods. Newton-King writes that despite the difficulties involved in distinguishing Soaqua from cattleless Khoekhoe in any particular case (and the haphazard way in which the terms 'Bushman' and 'Hottentot' are used in the records can often lay a false trail) the historian is obliged to acknowledge that the categories do have heuristic value and should not be abandoned or conflated. (49)

To a marked degree, evidence respecting Khoisan leadership is linked with the aggressive trade and policies of domination instigated by European merchants, rulers and settlers which caused them to seek out 'native chiefs'. Evidence respecting pre-colonial practices comes from these same sources and from short-term European visitors to the Cape or is argued backwards from the observations by anthropologists and others concerning the behaviours of surviving populations of southern Africa's 'first people'. Such sources are invaluable but also problematic. With all their shortcomings, they are the point from which one starts.

Typologies of Leadership

European observers of the indigenous societies of southern Africa looked for leadership which mirrored ideal notions of their own polities. In fact, the similarities they sought were of a fairly narrow sort: they looked for 'kings' and 'chiefs' able to marshal their societies for trade or accept the terms of peace at the conclusion of a war. H. Lichtenstein, chronicler of the Batavian period (1803-06), averred that since the Bosjesmans have no national interest, and any compact made with them, even if it were ever so well observed, could have merely a partial effect, binding individuals only, not the whole nation, it is easy to comprehend how little such agreements can afford security to the colony at large. (22)

Through close questioning of Khoisan at Table Bay, beginning with Autshumato of the so-called Strandlopers, Jan van Riebeeck populated the Cape with a phantasmagoria of 'tribes' whose importance he measured by reported livestock wealth (and also, at that early stage, the chance of gold and other treasure). Autshumato, who had been taken to the East where he learned some English, was acknowledged as the chief of the cattleless Strandlopers, some of whom like himself were former pastoralists. He was the first of the intermediaries who informed Van Riebeeck of the whereabouts of pastoralists and the names of their leaders. His own history prefigured that of later 'chiefs': throughout the ebb and flow of Autshumato's fortunes - whether he was said to be disporting himself as 'a great captain' or cowering as a pariah - the yardstick was his conduct of the cattle trade on the VOC's behalf.

In 1655 some Dutch explorers found a group which they identified as Sonqua. A certain people of very small stature, subsisting meagrely, quite wild, without huts, cattle or anything in the world, clad in small skins like these Hottentots and speaking almost as they do. (50). No leader is mentioned in this or the next accounts of people of this description. In contrast, clan captains and multi-clan or 'tribal' leaders (chiefs) were readily identified among the herders. Nearly two centuries later, the frontier official Andries Stockenstrom observed that as for the unfortunate Bushmen, they are without chiefs, laws, Government, or organisation of any kind, so that no human power can save them from absorption, either by ourselves, or by some powerful neighbouring nation.

It is simple to sketch alternative scenarios to one which calls for an all-powerful leader. A group of hunters (be they San or Khoe, who also hunted) might look to its more experienced members to take command of tracking, killing and butchering the wild animals vital to survival. Another cohort might guide decisions respecting movement patterns or confrontations with rivals. Men and women possessing shamanistic powers might lead the rituals associated with the group's health and spiritual wellbeing. Such a system recognises that it makes sense to select leaders whose talents and abilities are appropriate to circumstances. Those who act quickly to take charge in an emergency may not be the best people to lead the debate when long-term vital interests are at stake.

Malherbe finds it difficult to imagine a society lacking organisation of any kind as Stockenstrom alleged against the Bushmen of the Cape Colony in the early nineteenth century. We look now at what has been reported about the social hierarchies and leadership in pre-colonial Khoisan societies.

How Many Khoisan, And Where?

Before the Europeans arrived, San communities were spread throughout southern Africa. The Khoekhoen were less widely distributed but some mingled with neighbouring agro-pastoralists who influenced their social organisation.

Numbers have proved difficult to estimate. Of the San, Elphick simply said that 'their population [was] strictly controlled by the harsh realities of their economy and by infanticide'. Of the herders he believed that 'in 1660 there could have been no more than 100,000 Khoikhoi in the southwestern Cape. (14). This estimate, which he suggests is high, includes 4,000 to 6,000 Goringhaiqua and Gorachoqua on the Cape Peninsula, 16,000 to 18,000 Cochoqua between Table and Saldanha bays, some 2,000 Guriqua north of the Cochoqua, fewer than 1,000 herders in Little Namaqualand, and numbers equal to or somewhat greater than the Cochoqua for the Chainouqua and Hessequa who pastured east of the Hottentots Holland Mountains, as far as Mossel Bay. (14) Not included are large groupings like the Inqua, to the east, and the Nama, Korana and Einiqua living along the Gariep River and beyond.

Abrahams casts serious doubt on the usefulness of these figures: the earliest written estimates refer to the eighteenth century and vary by a factor of ten. (1) Some figures are, in fact, derived from Van Riebeeck 's estimates in the mid-1600s. One notes that livestock holdings were at least as interesting to Europeans as the numbers of indigenes in their vicinity and were normally part and parcel of any counting which took place. But, speculative as they are, Elphick's estimates should be borne in mind where they have relevance.

Less contentious is the proposition that hunter bands were smaller than the bands of herders. Evidence from hunter-gatherer campsites at Dunefield Midden near Elands Bay, on the Western Cape's Atlantic coast, indicates that just four to six family groups occupied the site for a few weeks annually, during the winter months. Herder groups were on average larger. A perhaps hyperbolic description by an early (1658) Dutch officer claimed of the Cochoqua that 'in the army of the States General, where he had long served, he had never seen so many men together, distributed over a number of camps or armies. (14) When the Dutch sent an expedition eastwards in 1689, the Inqua 'king' who met them was accompanied by 150 men. As noted above, groups of both types fluctuated in size through aggregation and dispersal, for purposes which ranged from food or (in the case of herders) grazing availability to gatherings for important ceremonies.

To the north (modern Namibia) the Khoisan were closely associated with Damara metal workers and, also beyond the Gariep, the Tswana. They were connected by trade routes along which iron and copper flowed southwards in exchange for cattle and, perhaps, other goods. Metals and dagga also passed along an eastern trade route in which the Tswana, Xhosa and Inqua were involved. (14) Where Khoekhoen came in contact with the Xhosa agro-pastoralists, inter-marriage occurred which resulted in communities called Gonaqua and Gqunukhwebe. The impact of this mixing will be referred to in the paragraphs that follow.

Leadership In Pre-Colonial Khoisan Societies

In 1778-79 a deserter from the VOC – the soldier, Hendrik Jacob Wikar – wrote of his travels along a stretch of the Gariep where he fell in with some local people: 'The head of the party was the Hottentot, Claas Barend, a Goeyeman Hottentot from the neighbourhood of the Cape, who had previously been on an expedition with Jac Koetzee to the Great Namacquoas and was now living here. In company with this party of eight men, five women and two children he met many others, including an elderly San named Ouga who 'became my travelling companion and brother. (27)

At the village of 'Captain Kandelaar', Wikar wrote that in the territory of the above-mentioned Keykao chief are eight more kraals, which also have their chiefs. This chief is almost an idol among the Namaquas, for no one may speak disparagingly of him. To keep up his state he makes them pay tribute. When he becomes impoverished each chief under his authority has to give him four heifers and an ox, and if his soldiers have bartered anything they first bring to him for inspection what they have received in exchange and then he takes from each a short piece of tobacco. He also makes laws and exacts obedience. He described Ouga as a patriarchal old chief of the Bushmen. (27)

These excerpts, selected for relevance to the question of Khoisan leadership, illustrate the nature of first-hand sources and the problems of evaluation which historians face. It might be thought that, at that date, indigenes so distant from the Cape were pure Khoisan and lived traditionally, but such was not the case. Four of the adults in Barend's party spoke Dutch and Barend himself was a relative newcomer to the region. It may be assumed that Wikar's observations were fleshed out by his Dutch-speaking co-travellers. Information from sources such as Wikar is likely to have been mediated in ways like this.

In The Khoisan Peoples, Isaac Schapera (44) - pioneer collator of evidence concerning the social organisation and other aspects of Khoisan life wrote that in the small family groups of the Cape and Namib Bushmen, and of the! O Kung, deference is paid to the head of the group, but his authority in general is very limited. The common affairs of the band, such as migrations and hunting parties, appear rather to be regulated by the skilled hunters and the elder, more experienced men generally. Among the north-western tribes, on the other hand, where the bands are on the whole more considerable in size, each band has a recognized chief (//exa or //exaba, gao-aob or gei-khoib; the last two words are of Hottentot origin). The office is as a rule hereditary in the male line, descending from father to son, or, failing such, to the nearest male relative.

Chiefs - who always, except in one doubtful case alluded to, were men - were leaders rather than rulers. As Schapera observed, 'he has nothing in the way of judicial functions, nor did he exercise any organized control over the members of the band'. Having accepted that the larger bands of San had chiefs, Schapera noted that they were not distinguished by particular dress or mode of life, or by entitlement to tribute or services. The main functions of the chief apparently are to direct the movements of the people from place to place and to allocate the work for the day, to order the burning of the veld, and, in particular, to lead in war. Chiefs also led the group in rituals and ceremonies. (44)

Schapera's findings contradict the assertions of Stockenstrom, that Bushmen were without chiefs, laws, Government, or organisation of any kind. In his opinion the absence of any organized system of public control does not imply that the Bushmen have no laws. On the contrary all their institutions, manners and customs served to regulate the relations between the members of the band, and thus to maintain law and order. (38) Malherbe maintains that Schapera is an anthropologist whose scholarly contributions to our understanding of the history and lifestyles of southern Africa's indigenous peoples spanned much of the twentieth century. His information concerning the San came from early travellers and observers such as Wikar, and the fieldwork of fellow specialists such as D.F. Bleek and L. Fourie who reported on living populations in Namibia, Angola and the Cape.

With regard to Khoekhoe social organisation Schapera took Peter Kolb, a German who spent eight years at the Cape (1705-1713), as his principal authority. By the time Kolb arrived the indigenes, over a wide area, had experienced more than half a century of dispossession and subjugation, to which they had responded in a variety of ways. Allowing for this fact, Kolb is deemed to have been a perceptive and generally fair-minded observer in many areas of his researches, he anticipated the interests and methodologies of the Enlightenment and, with his observations on the Khoikhoi, provided a rich source of ideas and information which played no small part in subsequent debates on the development of a science of human nature' (38). A smallpox epidemic which decimated the inhabitants of the Cape – most savagely, the Khoisan - was just making itself felt as Kolb sailed for home in April 1713.

From Kolb, Schapera learned that each multi-clan grouping of Khoekhoen had a chief whose office was hereditary in the male line. According to Kolb's information, the functions of the chief were apparently purely political. He led the army in war, he conducted the negotiations of peace, and he presided over the tribal council. The latter was the real governing body of the tribe. It consisted of the "captains" or headmen of all the different local groups constituting the tribe, and was summoned by the chief to his residence whenever any matter of public importance arose. It dealt with all such questions as peace and war, disputes between different kraals, and relations with neighbouring tribes or with the European settlers. In this council the authority of the chief was dependent mainly on his personality. His normal duties were to direct and sum up the deliberations of its members, who sat around him in a circle. When not occupied with tribal affairs of this nature, the chief was concerned merely with the government of his own local group, i.e. of the kraal where he resided. In this respect he played the part of an ordinary kraal headman. Every large Hottentot kraal had its own recognized headman or "captain" (usually spoken of in the early Cape Records by the Dutch title "kapitein"), whose status was hereditary in the same way as that of the chief. (44)

Whether captain or chief, a leader swore before the men closest in seniority to himself (his council) to uphold the group's established 'laws and traditions'. His position appears to have been close to that identified for leaders of the larger San groups. Elphick followed Schapera in turning to Kolb, and compared his early-18th-century account to Hoernle's account of Nama social organisation. He pointed out that the Nama 'tribes' described by Hoernle did not neatly match the 'nations' of which Khoekhoe informants had told Van Riebeeck and his successors. Therefore, Elphick wrote that the term "tribe" is used to mean a group of Khoikhoi who habitually called themselves, or were called by others, by a specific name [e.g. Cochoqua]. This did not necessarily imply that such a tribe was an effective political unit, but in cases where it was, it had to be assumed that the tribe must have been the largest political unit to which its members belonged.

In this discussion Elphick began to explore the weaknesses of Khoekhoe leaders, a factor to which he would revert to explain the rapid decline of their societies. (44) In her critique of Kraal and Castle, Abrahams warned that the bulk of the account of Khoisan social structures suffered from the anthropological fallacy that what was true for the! Xam of the 1870s, or the! Kung of the 1950s was automatically true of their ancestors. Much of the book's key evidence on the social organization of the clan, the institution of chieftainship and relationships of superiority between clans was an extrapolation to the seventeenth century Khoisan based on Hoernle's two studies of the Nama in 1913 and 1922. It should be pointed out that Hoernle, in her search for authenticity, allowed herself considerable latitude in selecting whom to study. (1)

Malherbe maintains that academic historians are, for the most part, mindful of these pitfalls and know that their conclusions may be plausibly confuted by other explanations. This awareness prompts particular care in handling such sources, and openness to alternative interpretations which the sum of knowledge may suggest.

Khoisan Leadership Concepts and Ideas

What can we learn from today's specialists? First, regarding the San: based on his work with the Ju/'hoansi of Namibia and Botswana, anthropologist Max Guenther posed the question: was this always so in the past? Guenther states that we can probably assume that, as a general principle, leadership roles have not changed. (48)

Because of the egalitarian nature of Bushman society, leadership is loosely institutionalised. Some societies appear to have had no leaders of any sort, like the G/wi, among whom, according to George Silberbauer every member of the band has rights equal to those of all others. But a Bushman band usually has a tenuous authority figure, the headman. He is as thin as the rest, as Lorna Marshall observed among the Ju/'hoansi, and has no special privileges or insignia of office. That office is achieved, not ascribed or inherited; the headman holds what little authority he has through personal popularity, wisdom and his ability to speak well, all of which enable him to give sound advice and good counsel. When decisions are made, or a dispute is dealt with, he may not dominate the discussion, let alone exercise any pressure on the group. The deliberations are a free-for-all, to which everyone adds his voice – and hers, women being very much part of the decision-making process. The aim is to reach a decision that all can live with, since all have had a say in it. Ju/'hoansi closely matches Schapera's description of leadership in 'small family groups' based on earlier observations. We note Guenther's verdict that what one sees today is likely to have been the practice in the past.

Of the Khoekhoen Smith has written from an archaeological perspective, which draws also on the work of currently active anthropologists such as Alan Barnard, that each village recognised the authority of a headman, a hereditary position passed on to the eldest son of the founding ancestor for every generation. Headmen made decisions such as when and where to move. They also acted as the mediator or judge in criminal or civil disputes. There is strong evidence to suggest that headmen were generally the most wealthy stock-owners in the village.

Several villages were usually united into a much larger unit, called a tribe by some or horde by others, which could range in size from a few hundred to several thousand individuals. As with the clan-based villages, tribes had a kinship base. They were made up of a number of linked clans, with the seniority of one of the clans being recognised. The head of the senior clan was recognised as the chief of the tribe. Tribal chiefs controlled outsiders' access to local resources. The chief 'owned' neither the land nor the resources on it … The chief was acknowledged to be the head of the tribe and could, through individual ability and effort, command a great deal of authority and respect. But he still remained dependent on the wishes of the tribal council. (6)

Barnard believes that surviving kinship and language structures as well as historical sources and oral culture may still yield new information, thus the door is not yet closed on fresh 'insights into the nature of pre-colonial cultural patterns. (6)

The concurrence in these accounts of San and Khoekhoe social organisation does not effectively simplify the analyst's task, nor do the written records to which historians routinely turn. The detailed index in R. Raven-Hart's compilation of writings by 'callers at South Africa from 1488 to 1652' – the period of pre-colonial observation of the Khoisan by European mariners – does not point to kapiteins or chiefs among the indigenes prior to the settlement at Table Bay. The three Khoe who are named - Coree, Isaac and Hadah (Autshumato – also called Thomas?) – were co-opted by the crews of passing ships for instruction in European languages and modes of trade. That Coree, for example, was a chief at the time of his abduction is speculative (11), as is the nature of his authority after his English captors returned him to the Cape. Historians have to assess the significance of such valuable but cryptic references.

The relationship called clientage, which postulates patterns of hierarchy in pre-colonial Khoisan communities, has been a subject of debate. Certain evidence points to a form of cooperation whereby San 'clients' performed services, such as hunting or fighting, for Khoe patrons who guaranteed their food supply as payment. (14) As will be seen, this construction of the pre-settlement period has relevance for a discussion of leadership in the colonial era. Abrahams has argued that there is no evidence for pre-colonial clientage, adding that it is clear that the ideas of a fundamental dichotomy between hunters and herders, of ongoing conflict between the two, and of voluntary clientage' are crucial to certain constructions of their experience of colonialism. (1)

Khoisan Leadership Patterns in The Colonial Era

With the founding of a Dutch settlement at Table Bay, impressions of the Cape's indigenes accumulated day by day but the identification of useful leaders was a slow process. In November 1652, when transhumant Khoekhoen brought 'a multitude of cattle and sheep' to the bay, Van Riebeeck feted their 'captain' and his wife. The diarist did not suggest how this man was distinguished from his fellows. On Sunday 8 December the diarist wrote that among these natives were a few captains, one of whom we entertained. None was named but Gogosoa, the 'Fat Captain' later identified as leader of the Goringhaiqua, may have been among them. The Goringhaiqua were one of the groups near to Table Bay, called by Elphick the Peninsulars. (50)

The explorers who reported the first encounter with San, in April 1655, met livestock-rich herders, the 'Saldanhars – as they called themselves', north of the settlement. They appear to have been Cochoquas whose leader, Gonnema, reached the bay in November that year. The Dutch called him 'the Black Captain' on account of the soot mixed with fat with which he was smeared. (50) The senior Cochoqua leader, Oedasoa, was more elusive and Soeswa, chief of the Chainouqua, had Van Riebeeck wait until 1660 before he visited the fort. (50) By then the Dutch had elaborated a hierarchy of Khoekhoe leadership thus:

The Hamcunquar or Khoebaha, i.e. emperor or paramount king; 'ruler of the whole Hottentot race' – the king of the Hamcumqua (Inqua). The Chocque or Khoeque, i.e. king – represented by Soeswa in the southwestern Cape (also the Khoequoa, i.e. the designated successor to a king, represented by Soeswa's son Goeboe).

Ø     Khoeque Kone – sons and daughters of the Chocque (Kheijsa – son or prince; Khoeque Achebasis – daughter).

Ø     Khoequebj – the nobility (of royal descent).

Ø     Humque – an 'appointed or elected lord or governor not of royal descent', e.g. Oedasoa and the Chariguriquas' chief.

Ø     Chamhuma – a co- or vice-chieftain, e.g. Gonnema.

Ø     Khoesanhuma – head of a lesser band such as the Goringhaiqua and Gorachoqua (who may 'arrogate to themselves also the title of Khoeque over their own bands') (50)

Observing the perks which the Dutch assigned to rank, Autshumato had made a case 'to be maintained and recognised as the paramount chief of the tribes at the Cape, and wished that none but the Dutch Commander and himself should be Lords of this land and acknowledged as such. (50)

Elphick based his explanation of the chain of command on Van Riebeeck's hierarchy: In the 1650s Goringhaiqua, Gorachouqua, and other groups near Table Bay …were all united in allegiance to Gogosoa, chief of the Goringhaiqua. All of Gogosoa's followers, along with the 'Chariguriquas,' were subject in some sense to the nearby Cochoqua, the most numerous and powerful tribe close to Table Bay. In turn, the Cochoqua explicitly acknowledged their own subordination to the Chainouqua to their east. Thus, the Chainouqua were the leading tribe among all the Western Cape Khoikhoi, barring perhaps the Hessequa.

But it was often difficult to fit presumed leaders into this scheme: 'Since it is rarely known what title Khoikhoi gave to individual leaders, I use the European terms "chief" and "captain", the former in reference to tribal leaders and the latter to denote heads of clans. (14)

Khoisan Leadership in the Colonial Era

This, then, is where the search begins for accounts of Khoisan leadership in the colonial era. Since the Europeans looked for leaders, their writings abound with references to such persons but are usually less informative about the social systems in which they operated. The following selections from print sources are arranged chronologically.

Ø      1668. Olfert Dapper, who is said never to have left Holland but relied on 'printed sources and on memoranda specially prepared for him (45) believed that some of the Hottentots are governed by kings, like the Kochoquas or Saldanhars, and others by chiefs, like the Gorachouquas or Tobacco Thieves, the Goringhaikonas or Watermen, the Great and Little Karichuriquas and the Hosaas. The other Hottentots living further inland are for the most part either governed by a chief, like the Chainouquas, or, like the Sonquas, live in the wilds without a leader; or, like the Namaquas and Heusaquas, are under a king. (45)

Ø     1673. Willem Ten Rhyne, (45) who was at the Cape for approximately four weeks observed that the Khoekhoen officers they call, after our fashion, Captains. They differ from the rest, so far as dress is concerned, only in the splendour of their kaross. The captains always have five, six, or more of the older men to attend on them. Every little collection of huts recognizes its own chief, and the chief generally recognizes a superior, and all are called by the one name Captain. The Essequas [Hessequas, most important for trade at the time of Ten Rhyne's visit], but only they, have a king. The whole government rests on these Magistrates; the subjects venture on nothing of importance on their own initiative. When they are to move the word is given by the Chief. If they wish to enter on matrimony, they must obtain the permission of the Chief. (45)

Ø     1705-13. Peter Kolb, who has been cited above, said about the relationship between Khoe chiefs Dutch that the chiefs of the Nations often wait on His Excellency, for the Renewal of Friendship, with Presents of Cattle. And such Faith and Affection do these Hottentot chiefs and the Majority of their People bear to the Dutch, that if they discover but the least Design of any of their Countrymen against the Interest and the Quiet of the Settlement, they forthwith seize and deliver them up to the Governour, to be dealt with as His Excellency shall think fit. (21)

Ø     1730. O.F. Mentzel (45) wrote that when news got about of J. de la Fontaine's appointment as governor of the Cape even Hottentots in the most remote districts sent delegates to the new Governor, bearing with them tabeetjes, that is, presents of ivory, oxen and sheep. It is true that the Hottentots always send presents of this sort with an eye to their own interests, hoping to take back with them more than they bring. Their profit, however, exists only in their own fancy for the trifles they receive in exchange – things such as brandy, tobacco, knives, beads and brass buttons - are not worth a twentieth part of their gifts. What they value most, however, is the 'Palangbanger', a big, clumsy stick with a fearful great brass head bearing the Company's arms, which is given in token of chieftainship to the leader of each tribe. A chief leads his tribe either because of seniority or through being chosen by his fellows. Sometimes a Hottentot family or village ('kraal') will send a deputation with tabeetjes to the Cape purely in order to obtain a Palangbanger for their newly elected chieftain.

Ø     1768. Council of Policy stated that when Stellenbosch asked for numbers of Khoekhoen to assist with major public works, the Council of Policy requested the landdrost of Swellendam to call on the captains of 'kraals' in his district to send workers, who would receive 'kost en dranken. (54) The Khoe leaders of (semi-) independent communities were required by the VOC to marshall their followers for non-military as well as military services on its behalf.

Ø     1773. C.P. Thunberg, a Swedish botanist who spent three years at the Cape, reported that the Hottentots generally elect a chief, whom they call captain; and as they pretend to be in alliance with the Dutch East-India Company, the captain whom they have elected, is to be confirmed by the Governor at the Cape. One of these captains was now come to town, attended by a few Hottentots, to be confirmed in his new dignity, and, agreeably to ancient custom, receive some presents. As a token of his authority, he is presented with a stick, mounted with a large brass head, on which are engraved the Company's arms. The captain heads the troops when they take the field, either against their enemies, or for the purpose of hunting wild beasts, on which occasion he also throws the first spear. In other respects, very little more regard is shewn to him than to the rest; and the chief difference between them seems to be, that he commonly wears either a calf's or a tiger's skin, while the rest are clad in sheep-skins. (15)

Ø     1774. [From an unsigned document]: 'I gave over to Adriaan van Jaarsveld, a Hottentot prisoner, with his wife and child. I would have appointed him one of the kraal captains, but he replied that he dared not undertake it, as his tribe would kill him. (26)

Ø      By the 1770s some individuals selected for office by the colonists anticipated personal danger in representing the VOC among the Khoisan.

Ø     1775. Anders Sparrman: In September 1775 Sparrman visited 'Captain Rundganger' near modern Heidelberg. This captain had received a staff of office on 12 April 1752 when he accompanied the A.F. Beutler expedition eastwards from Cape Town. Sparrman was told that the command of a Hottentot Captain extended no further than to his wife and children [and the term was] merely an empty title, formerly bestowed by the authorities at the Cape on some princes and patriarchs of the Hottentots, and particularly on such, as had distinguished themselves by their fidelity to their allies, by betraying their countrymen, or by some remarkable service … it is required of the Captain, that he shall be a spy on the other Hottentots.

Ø     In February 1776 Sparrman met some 'Gunjemans Hottentots' near the Swartkops River:

5. Bibliography

'Reaction and Interaction: A Food Gathering People and European Settlement in Australia', in P. Bohannan & F. Plog eds, Beyond the Frontier: Social Process and Cultural Change, New York, 1967.

'Interaction between Xhosa and Khoi: emphasis on the period 1620-1750', in L. Thompson ed., African societies in southern Africa, London: Heinemann, 1969.

'Between the Lines: Some Remarks on "Bushman" Ethnicity', in P. Skotnes ed., Miscast, Negotiating the Presence of the Bushmen, University of Cape Town Press, 1996, pp. 197-210.

'Western Imperialist Armies in Asia', Comparative Studies in Society and History, XIX, 1977.

'Soaqua and Bushmen: hunters and robbers', in C. Schrire ed., Past and present in hunter-gatherer studies, New York: Academic Press, 1984.

'The social impact of pastoralism in the southwestern Cape', Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 5,1986.

'Making sense of space at Dunefield Midden Campsite, Western Cape, South Africa', in A.B. Smith & B. Mutti eds, Guide to Archaeological Sites in the Southwestern Cape, Southern African Association of Archaeologists.

'Xhosa Expansion before 1800', Collected Seminar Papers on the Societies of Southern Africa in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Vol. 5, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London.

'Pastoralists and pastoralism in the northern Cape frontier zone during the eighteenth century', in M. Hall & A. Smith eds, Prehistoric pastoralism in southern Africa, The South African Archaeological Society Goodwin Series 5, 1986.

'Fated to Perish': The Destruction of the Cape San', in P. Skotnes ed., Miscast, Negotiating the Presence of the Bushmen, University of Cape Town Press, 1996, pp. 81-91.

'Khoi/San Relationships: Marginal Differences or Ethnicity?', in P. Skotnes ed., Miscast, Negotiating the Presence of the Bushmen, University of Cape Town Press, 1996, pp. 249-51.

'Competition, conflict and clientship: Khoi and San relationships in the western Cape', in M. Hall & A. Smith eds, Prehistoric pastoralism in southern Africa, The South African Archaeological Society Goodwin Series 5, 1986.


Belief system - widely held doctrines and opinions

Bushman (see San)

Culture - a type of civilisation

Customs - distinctive practices of a people or locality, e.g. among the Khoisan: communalism; egalitarianism; altruism/sharing; consensus/reconciliation; Humanitarianism

Hottentot (see Khoekhoen)

Khoekhoen (Khoikhoi, Kwena) – 'men of men', or 'the real people'; name by which modern Nama herders refer to themselves

Khoisan – an invented term (Khoi + San) for the aboriginal people of southern Africa, where they are referred to collectively or where their identity is unclear Leadership – act of guiding and/or directing; ability to lead by example and/or exerting control

Philosophy - pursuit of wisdom and knowledge: investigation of the nature of being

Ritual - relating to rites or ceremonies

San (Sonqua, Soaqua, Bushmen) – name by which Khoekhoen referred to people without domestic animals; 'people different from ourselves'

Shaman – priest or priest doctor

Social organisation - pertaining to community life and structures

VOC – Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie/Dutch East India Company

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.