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Traditionally, the San were an egalitarian society.Villages range in sturdiness from nightly rain shelters in the warm spring (when people move constantly in search of budding greens), to formalised rings, wherein people congregate in the dry season around permanent waterholes.Despite some positive aspects of government development programs reported by members of the San and Bakgalagadi communities in Botswana, many have spoken of a consistent sense of exclusion from government decision-making processes, and many San and Bakgalagadi have alleged experiencing ethnic discrimination on the part of the government.Various terms—including San, Bushmen and Basarwa—have been used to refer to them collectively.Women are mainly involved in the gathering of food, but may also take part in hunting. Droughts may last many months and waterholes may dry up. To get water this way, a San scrapes a deep hole where the sand is damp.Into this hole is inserted a long hollow grass stem. Water is sucked into the straw from the sand, into the mouth, and then travels down another straw into the ostrich egg.The San are one of 14 known extant "ancestral population clusters".That is, "groups of populations with common genetic ancestry, who share ethnicity and similarities in both their culture and the properties of their languages".

From the 1950s through the 1990s, the San switched to farming because of government-mandated modernisation programs.

The ancestors of the hunter-gatherer San people are considered to have been the first inhabitants of what is now Botswana and South Africa.

The historical presence of the San in Botswana is particularly evident in northern Botswana's Tsodilo Hills region.

Each of these terms has a problematic history, as they have been used by others to refer to them, often with pejorative connotations.

Representatives of the people from WIMSA and the South African San Institute attending the 2003 Africa Human Genome Initiative conference held in Stellenbosch reiterated that they prefer to be described by either their individual group names or the collective term San.

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