Khoisan Consciousness

An Ethnography of Emic Histories and Indigenous Revivalism in Post-Apartheid Cape Town


The Khoisan of the Cape are widely considered virtually extinct as a distinct collective following their decimation, dispossession and assimilation into the mixed-race group ‘coloured’ during colonialism and apartheid. However, since the democratic transition of 1994, increasing numbers of ‘Khoisan revivalists’ are rejecting their coloured identity and engaging in activism as indigenous people. Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Cape Town, this book takes an unprecedented bottom-up approach. Centring emic perspectives, it scrutinizes Khoisan revivalism’s origins and explores the diverse ways Khoisan revivalists engage with the past to articulate a sense of indigeneity and stake political claims.

Prices from (excl. shipping):

Add to Cart
Rafael Verbuyst has a PhD in Anthropology from University of the Western Cape (2021) and a PhD in History from Ghent University (2021), where he is currently a postdoctoral fellow. He previously published in Anthropology Southern Africa and Social Dynamics.
[...] With the acts of identity reclamation—specifically Khoisan ethnic self-assertion—reverberating in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, this monograph is timely and pertinent. It will appeal to academics and students of history, heritage studies, ethnicity and/or subaltern studies, and postcolonial theory. Khoisan Conscious is a particularly invaluable resource for San studies and explorations of the notion of indigeneity. It will be of interest to researchers working in the space of race and ethnic identification, memory and memorialization, and emic historicization.

Connie Rapoo, University of Botswana, in Research Africa Reviews Vol. 7 No. 1, April 2023, pp. 53-55


List of Figures

List of Abbreviations


1Defining a Phenomenon, Navigating a Field Studying Khoisan Revivalism through Reflexive Ethnography
 1.1 Ethnography and the Interpretation of Emic Perspectives

 1.2 Gathering Data on an Elusive Phenomenon: Heterogeneous Interlocutors, Reflexive Methods, and Eclectic Sources
 1.2.1 Sources

 1.2.2 Methods and Wider Implications of the Research

part 1
Lost in Categorization? The Khoisan Extinction Discourse, and the Intellectual Roots and Aspirations of Khoisan Revivalism
2(Re)Thinking the ‘Khoisan’ The Fate of a People, the Career of a Concept
 2.1 Dispossession, Assimilation, and the ‘vanishing native’: A Brief Overview of Khoisan History
 2.1.1 Dutch Colonialism Settles on South African Shores: Frontier Settlers and Expendable Natives (1652–1806)

 2.1.2 British Colonialism, Assimilation, and Salvage Ethnography (1795–1910)

 2.1.3 Union, Apartheid, and Coloured Citizens (1910–1970s)

 2.2 Black Consciousness, Khoisan Revisionist Historiography, and the Origins of Khoisan Revivalism (1970s–1997)
 2.2.1 Black Consciousness and the Reinvention of Coloured Identity in the Anti-apartheid Struggle

 2.2.2 Henry Bredekamp and Khoisan revisionistRevisionist Historiography

 2.2.3 Towards a New Khoisan Agenda in the Post-apartheid Era

3The Political Accommodation and Diversification of Post-apartheid Khoisan Revivalism
 3.1 Joseph Little, Traditional Leadership, and the Politicization of Khoisan identityIdentity (1997–2012)
 3.1.1 From the Cape Cultural Heritage Development Council to the National Khoisan Council: Traditional Leadership and Indigenous Rights on the Agenda

 3.1.2 Khoisan politicsPolitics in the Aftermath of the 2001 National Khoisan Consultative Conference: From Peak to Stagnation

 3.2 Khoisan Revivalism in the 2010s: Towards a Broad-Based Identity Movement?
 3.2.1 A New Cohort of Khoisan Revivalists

 3.2.2 Land Reform, the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act, and the Advent of a Broad-Based Identity Movement

part 2
Ethnographic Encounters with Khoisan Revivalism in Cape Town
4The Khoisan Identity Discourse (i) Reclaiming History and Remedying the ‘identity crisis’
 4.1 ‘Khoisan forever, Coloured never’: Khoisan Identity as the Answer to the Identity Crisis
 4.1.1 Identities Lost and Found: Khoisan Identity as a Spiritual Experience

 4.1.2 An Eye-Opening Experience: Diagnosing and Healing the Identity Crisis

 4.2 Reclaiming Khoisan History: Coloured Indigeneity and Indigenous Colouredness
 4.2.1 Khoisan Revivalist Perspectives on the Past: Exposing Historical Continuity

 4.2.2 Rewriting the Khoisan Past

 4.2.3 Recuperating Khoisan Heroes: The Case of Krotoa

5The Khoisan Identity Discourse (ii) Entitlement, Land Claims, and Traditional Leadership
 5.1 Empowerment, Discursive Land Claims, and the Boundaries of Khoisan Indigeneity

 5.2 On Khoisan Revivalist Traditional Leadership

6Reviving Khoisan Culture Between Continuity and Change
 6.1 ‘Like stepping into a time machine’
 6.1.1 Plants, Rituals, and Inspiration from the North

 6.1.2 Tourism, Mending the ‘broken string’, and Reviving Khoekhoegowab

 6.2 21st Century Interpretations of Khoisan Culture: Hip-hop, Jazz, and Fashion

part 3
Theoretical Perspectives on Khoisan Revivalism
7Khoisan Revivalism and the Therapeutics of Emic History
 7.1 Therapeutic History, Heritage, and the Case of Khoisan Revivalism

 7.2 Subverting ‘repressive authenticity’? The Khoisan Revivalist Guide to Reclaiming History and Authenticity
 7.2.1 Authenticity after Colonialism: Repressive Authenticity and the Khoisan Extinction Discourse

 7.2.2 ‘Subversive authenticity’: Repressive Authenticity Turned Inside Out?

 7.3 Closing Reflections on the Therapeutics of Emic History

Conclusion Khoisan Consciousness and Its Discontents in a Post-transitional South Africa



Academics, activists, journalists, and ((post-)graduate) students interested in indigenous people’s issues, history, anthropology, activism and Khoisan Studies. Particularly when based in South Africa, North America, Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium.
  • Collapse
  • Expand