Topic: The first farmers in southern Africa

Suggested contact time

One term/15 hours

This content must be integrated with the historical aims and skills and the associated concepts listed in Section 2

Background information: The first farmers in southern Africa were Bantu-speakers and archaeology shows that they entered southern Africa between 2 000 and 1 700 years ago. The study of Iron Age archaeology provides a history for the majority of present-day southern African and South African citizens.

The term ‘Iron Age’ is a convenient label for this period, as people made tools from iron, but all the other facets of these societies should not be ignored. Archaeologists therefore use terms such as ‘agriculturists’ or ‘farmers’.

The entry of farmers did not end the occupation of hunter-gatherers. They in fact shared the landscape – in some instances through intermarriage and also through cultural interaction (all the clicks in the Nguni languages, for example, are derived from Khoisan languages).


Iron Age societies were highly fluid, flexible and had a great capacity for change. People could move, shift and change their affiliation if they were not happy. Bantu-speaking people lived in chiefdoms, however, these chiefdoms were fluid and flexible – they came and went, and political power and citizenship changed constantly.

Indigenous societies were political and were strategically, economically and technologically innovative before the colonial period. The myth that so frequently surfaces is the contrast between societies with writing (‘civilised, progressive, innovative’), with indigenous societies (“tribal, mired in a static traditionalism”). All people all over the world are politically, economically, strategically and technologically innovative, irrespective of when and where they live.

Focus: The way of life of the first farmers of southern Africa and how we find out about them.


Content and concepts


·        When, why and where the first African farmers settled in Southern Africa - 2 hours

§  Attitudes to land

o   Interaction with Khoisan – principles of generous acceptance of other people. (In Iron Age society it was important for political power that leaders accepted strangers and integrated them into their own societies).


·        How early African farmers lived in settled chiefdoms - 10 hours

§  Homesteads and villages

  • Agriculture: crops and livestock
  • Social, political and economic structures

o   Roles of men, women, boys and girls (Children were economically active from an early age and took pride in contributing to the well-being of the community. In their teens they were initiated and educated into the responsibilities of adulthood.)

o   A culture of co-operation, e.g. communal work parties during the ploughing season, helping a newcomer by lending calves for a year or two. This ensured the well-being and good social relations of the community as a whole.

o   The role of the chief.

o   The role of cattle.


·        Tools and weapons made from iron and copper

§  Division of labour: gender-based activity: men.

§  Metal working (iron, smelting and fire technology, smithery).


·        Pottery

·        Division of labour: gendered activity: women.

§  Day-to-day use.

§  Use in ceremonies with the Lydenburg Heads as an example.

§  Trade.

§  Medicine and healing.

§  Hunting.

Revision, assessment (formal and informal) and feedback should be done on an ongoing basis 3 hours

Learners should read and write for part of every lesson. Evidence of learner’s work, including assessments, should be kept in the learner’s notebook.

Note: Societies are never static, but change continuously over time. Change occurred more slowly long ago, whereas today change is usually more rapid. Between 900 and 1300 AD, chiefdoms became bigger, more organised and more complex. Learners will study these changes in Grade 6.








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