The tip of Africa has been home to the Khoisan (collective name for Hottentots (Koi) and Bushmen (San)) for thousands of years. Their rock art can still be found in many places in South AfricaAccording to some estimates, the Bantu tribes gradually began to spread into what is now the most northern part in southern Africa approximately 2,500 years ago. By about 500 AD, the various cultural groups as we know them today had established themselves in the lush areas north and east of what is now eastern South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The desert and semi-desert areas of the Western and Northern Cape Provinces, as well as the western parts of the Eastern Cape Province, remained unsettled by the Bantu because the dry climate, limited seasonal rainfall, sparse vegetation and lack of natural water sources did not allow for large migrations of people and livestock, Cattle were the primary livestock raised by the Bantu and fulfilled numerous cultural and economic functions within tribal society (cattle served as a rudimentary currency and basic unit of exchange with a mutually agreed value between exchange partners, thus fulfilling the function of money). The “Khoisan” existed in these areas as nomadic hunters, unable to settle permanently as the movement of desert game in search of dwindling water supplies during the winter months determined their own migration. It was only when the “Boers” (see next paragraph) moved into these areas and created boreholes and catchment ponds that permanent settlements could be established in these areas. Today, with more reliable water sources and modern methods of water management, agricultural activity remains mainly limited to sheep and ostrich farming, as these animals are better adapted to the sparse forage and limited water.
The first permanent European settlement was established in Cape Town after the Dutch East India Company reached the Cape of Good Hope in April 1652. In the late 1700s, the Boers (the settling farmers) slowly began to expand, first westwards along the coastline and later upwards into the interior. In 1795, the British first took control of the Cape as a result of the Napoleonic wars against the Dutch. A large group of British settlers arrived in 1820. In 1835, a large number of Boers set off inland on the Groot Trek (the Great Migration) after becoming dissatisfied with British rule. In the interior, they established their own internationally recognised republics.
Two wars for control of the region were fought between the Boers and the British in 1880 and 1899. The second war occurred after British settlers flocked to the area around Johannesburg known as the “Witwatersrand” in response to the discovery of gold in 1886. The Second Boer War (Afrikaans: Die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog or “Second War of Independence”) was particularly unpleasant as the British administration confined Boer civilians in concentration camps, resulting in one of the earliest recorded genocides.
After peace was restored by the Treaty of Vereeniging in 1902, the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, bringing together the various Boer republics and British colonies into a unified state as a member of the British Commonwealth. In 1961, the Republic of South Africa was established and SA withdrew from the Commonwealth. Non-Europeans were largely excluded from these political changes, having been given sovereign land in which to live under self-government, in accordance with their own tribal legal system and hierarchical form of government.
In 1948, the National Party came to power. The NP introduced numerous apartheid laws that were initially intended to give each of the various tribes within South Africa, which were often engaged in raids and border wars against each other, a national/tribal, independent and sovereign “homeland”. This was a move that was initially welcomed by the majority of the various tribal kings and chiefs, as most tribes sought self-government. Since then, South Africa has become virtually synonymous with fascism, racism and many other pejorative terms. The African National Congress (ANC) was banned and forced into exile for carrying out and planning terrorist activities against the civilian population. Other political parties considered “dangerous” and “subversive” were also banned by the South African parliament during this period, as South Africa became increasingly involved in a war against communist insurgencies in the former German colony of “South West Africa” on the border with Angola. This war was fought in accordance with the post-World War II mandate of the “League of Nations” (now the “United Nations”), which gave South Africa the protectorate of the seized former German colony of “South West Africa” (now the Republic of Namibia).
Although the Republic experienced rapid infrastructure development and strong economic growth until the late 1980s, there were also repeated domestic uprisings in response to apartheid laws. During this period, the international community imposed an arms and trade embargo on South Africa and banned South Africa from participating in the Olympics and most other international sporting events.
In the late 1980s, many white moderates began to realise that change was inevitable as international sanctions and internal unrest began to take a heavy toll on South Africa. So moderates within the security services and the National Party itself began to quietly approach ANC leaders to negotiate how apartheid could be dismantled, beginning with the release of political prisoners in 1990.
Political violence increased sharply in the early 1990s as extremists of all kinds tried to derail the ANC-NP peace talks in favour of their own visions of South Africa’s future. In 1992, 73% of the voting white population voted in a referendum to abolish the apartheid system. This was followed by a new constitution in 1993 and the first truly democratic elections in April 1994, in which all adult South African citizens were allowed to vote, regardless of their ethnic and cultural background. Nelson Mandela, a former political prisoner, is elected as the country’s first democratically elected president. The ANC received a 63% majority and subsequently formed a government of national unity with the NP.