Start main page content

The Origins of Livestock in South Africa

- Wits University

Twenty-five years ago the conventional view was that the first herders in South Africa were an immigrant Khoe-speaking, this view has been challenged.

Professor Karim Sadr based in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, has been working on the question of the origin of livestock herding in South Africa ever since he arrived in Africa a quarter of a century ago. Worldwide, farming and herding are seen as the precursors of 'civilisation' or better said 'complex societies,' so studying how, when and why hunters, gatherers, foragers and fishers decided to grow their own food rather than extract it from nature is important.

In South Africa, the oldest evidence for food production, sheep bones to be precise, is only 2 000 to 3 000 years old; relatively recent compared to places like the Near East and China, or even South America.

Sadr, an archaeologist, delivered his inaugural address on 24 August titled: The Origins of Livestock in South Africa drawing on various fields such as archaeology, genetics, and linguistics among other disciplines of study.

Twenty-five years ago the conventional view was that the first herders in South Africa were an immigrant Khoe-speaking population from farther north who brought sheep and cattle with them. It seemed clear what route the foreign herders took and how they interacted (or did not) with the local indigenous people, the San hunter-gatherers. Today it is acknowledged that the matter was a bit more complex. In his inaugural lecture, Professor Sadr described some of this complexity.

One of his recent research paper entitled Livestock First Reached Southern Africa in Two Separate Events was published in the prestigious journal PlosOne.


Prof. Sadr in brief:

Sadr was born in Tehran, Iran in 1959. He began his studies at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he read for his doctorate in anthropology. His thesis was titled: The Development of Nomadism in Northeast Africa” under the supervision of Professor Anthony Marks. 

He joined Wits in 2001 and served as head of school in 2008 – 2013. He has authored two books, more than 80 journal papers and book chapters.


Giving to Wits

School of Public Health Building

Whether you invest in a promising young student, or contribute towards vital research or new buildings and facilities – giving to Wits brings great personal satisfaction and lasting results you can be proud of for years to come.

Give to Wits