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The Khoisan had no natural immunity to these imported diseases, and were hit hard by epidemics.In 1713, for example, an estimated 90 percent of the Khoisan population is thought to have been wiped out by smallpox.The Khoisan people, who at various points have been referred to using the derogatory terms ‘Bushmen’ and ‘Hottentots’, as well as Kung, Kxoe, Khoi Khoi, Ovahimba, San, Vatua and !Xu, are an ethno-linguistic group that has traditionally been marginalised throughout South African history.Indeed, the use of the term ‘Khoikhoi’ meaning ‘men of men’ or ‘people’ actually came to prominence in opposition to the offensive label of ‘Hottentot’ applied to herding communities by white colonialists.‘San’ as a term came to be used to denote the hunter-gathering communities who did not speak Khoi languages – known to white settlers as ‘Bushmen’ - in contradistinction to the Khoi-speaking herders.In a similar way to that in which Chief Hendrik ' Hennie' van Wyk has more recently come to assert his identity as a Khoisan leader, Khoisan identity in a wider sense has undergone a revival in recent years, most notably since the end of apartheid in 1994.
In addition to this, Khoisan communities also underwent a sharp decline in population with the arrival of European settlers, largely due to warfare and diseases such as smallpox which arrived with the colonialists.
Increasingly, some San communities, claiming the ultra-marginalisation of their people, even in comparison to the Khoi Khoi, are beginning to assert a distinct identity, encouraging the use of ‘Khoi and San’ as opposed to ‘Khoisan’ or ‘Khoi-San’ in official references to these populations.
Officially, however, the ‘Khoisan’ as an ethno-linguistic group remains a recognised identity.
The Khoisan community was not neatly categorised within one of these groups, but instead individuals with slightly different heritages were categorised as belonging to different subgroups.
Those of Khoikhoi and Afrikaner descent, for example, often classified themselves as Griqua, whilst those with a stronger slave heritage tended to be classified as Cape Malays.