No community in Botswana has experienced subordination so broadly, deeply and for so long as the San. In a country where poverty is widespread, no group of people is more impoverished. The exploitation and discrimination faced by the San involves their very identity as well as the basic material issues of land, income, health, education, and autonomous political organisation.
They are a people without a self-given name. Those that are appended to them – Khoe, Khoekhoe, Khoesan, Bushmen, Basarwa, San, Remote Area Dweller, RAD – are those of their masters, all to varying degrees derogatory. San history was appropriated by outsiders and replaced by stereotypes connoting backwardness, ignorance, incapacity, landlessness – all justifications for their subordination. Even their numbers are uncertain, owing to the refusal of the government to acquire census data on ethnicity. Official estimates of their numbers have remained largely unchanged over decades at some 40,000.
Conquest, servitude and development
Alhough much remains obscure, research in anthropology, archaeology and history through the 1980s and 1990s suggests that the San were not always and everywhere primordial nomads dependent on hunting and gathering. For Wilmsen, San across the Kalahari over the previous millennium were producers of salt, ceramics and ornaments, with settled communities and some engagement in long-distance trade.