Experience the Northern Cape, South Africa

The Northern Cape is not just a playground for adventurers and thrill seekers, and those in search of abundant wildlife or simply peace and quiet – it also offers fascinating insights into early human historical records, heritage sites, and ancient indigenous customs and traditions that are still practised in modern-day South Africa.

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A ‡Khomani San family creating beadwork and curios to sell. (Image: Northern Cape Tourism Authority)

The province is home to Khoe-San communities that retain close ties to their nomadic ways of life. Visitors can expect to come across and learn about a range of ancient art and science that's exhibited through song and dance, medicinal plants, game hunting and animal tracking.

Here are some of the different indigenous communities you can meet in parts of the province of contrasts:

The ‡Khomani San and Mier communities of the Kalahari

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The Erin Game Ranch offers authentic interactive experiences for visitors who are keen on exploring the rich culture and history of the San people. (Image: Northern Cape Tourism Authority)

The ‡Khomani San live outside the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, in the Kalahari region of the Northern Cape. They were awarded this piece of land by the South African government in 2002 as compensation for land they lost during colonisation. The ‡Khomani San received 28 000ha of land, while the Mier community received 30 000ha.

For interactive cultural experiences, visitors can head to Erin Game Ranch, 60km south of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Activities here include traditional dancing, guided walks and animal tracking, as well as birdwatching and browsing arts and crafts, all of which have close links to the community’s history and culture.

Another place to visit for a fully-fledged experience in the undulating plains of the Kalahari is !Xaus Lodge (pronounced “kaus” in the Nama language). !Xaus is located in the !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park that was recently declared an international dark sky sanctuary, for its value as one of the world’s darkest places and best areas for viewing pristine night skies. 

Here, you’ll find a recreated cultural village paying homage to the San’s way of life. For breakfast you can expect to indulge in some Northern Cape hospitality with a freshly baked roosterkoek (traditional bread) served with butter, jam and cheese. Afterwards, enjoy activities such as game drives as well as stargazing at night. 

The !Xun and Khwe people of Platfontein

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You can support the people of Platfontein by purchasing some of their distinctive craft items.

The !Xun and Khwe San communities of the Northern Cape live in the Platfontein region, 15km outside Kimberley. Although these two communities coexist in the same area, they each have distinctive languages – !Xun and Khwedam.

The !Xun and Khwe have very vibrant and active customs that they keep alive. For example, at home they speak their indigenous languages and only interact with other languages at school or at work. For entertainment, they will wear their traditional outfits, such as skirts made out of animal skins. Married women wear tops that cover the upper body, while single women do not cover up, except in cold weather.

If you want to experience !Xun and Khwe history and see ancient engravings and paintings of the animals that used to roam the Northern Cape, a visit to the Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre in Platfontein is highly recommended. This is a provincial heritage site with the sole purpose of preserving the !Xun and Kwhe’s history and traditional ways of life.

Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre is located on a small hill that forms part of the land owned by the !Xun and Khwe San people. The area boasts over 400 examples of rock art and engravings. A professional guide takes visitors around the hill on an 800m walk, explaining the meaning behind the rock art. Here, you’ll also find a curio shop where you can purchase beadwork and crafts created by the people of Platfontein, and watch a 20-minute film that takes you on a journey through how the !Xun and Khwe ended up in Platfontein from countries such as Botswana, Namibia and Angola.

The Nama people of Namaqualand

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The Namastap is a traditional dance that the Nama people enjoy participating in over weekends and on special occasions. (Image: South African Tourism)

Namaqualand stretches along the Atlantic Ocean on the Cape west coast and is famous for its annual wildflowers during the start of the spring season. But this is not all there is in Namaqualand, where customs and strong traditions are preserved by the Nama people.

The Nama are a Khoe-Kwadi- and Afrikaans-speaking people with links to the ancient nomads from South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Although the Nama have dwindled in numbers over the years, the Nama people in the Northern Cape are the largest group remaining today. They are still very much in tune with their ancient customs and keep them alive via their storytelling, dancing, warm hospitality and great food.

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Movable matjieshuis huts are constructed using branches and handwoven reed mats. (Image: Northern Cape Tourism Authority)

The |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park in the Northern Cape is one of the few places where visitors can learn more about the nomadic ways of the Nama people first hand. Here, within the folds and valleys of the Richtersveld mountain desert, traditional Nama huts – also known as !haru oms in Nama or matjieshuise in Afrikaans – can still be seen. 

These movable huts are constructed using branches and handwoven reed mats. They are built to serve as portable houses when the Nama (in their previous nomadic lifestyle) would be on the move in search of better grazing grounds for their herds. During the cold winter months, these huts would insulated with animal skin to keep them warm.

Culture, tradition, hospitality and adventure are words that repeatedly come up when describing the Northern Cape. Be sure to meet the local people on your next visit and immerse yourself in the indigenous traditions and customs that make this province one like no other.