The First Peoples of South Africa
The first peoples of South Africa are collectively called the Khoisan, being made up of the Khoi Khoi and the San peoples separately. Sometime around 3000 and, then again, around 2000 years ago these inhabitants were joined by the Bantus, who spread from west Africa into, what is now known as South Africa. This migration of Ntu-speaking people may have displaced the pre-existing hunter-gatherers and pastoralists. The evidence for this is primarily linguistic and there are those who question the over-reliance on the use of language-based timelines in anthropology, especially in this instance.
European Exploration of Africa
Portuguese explorers began the European outreach into coastal Africa in the 13th century, as they sought an alternative to the well-established silk road for trade. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) established their trading post in 1652, at what had become known as Cape Town by this time. Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, French and English ships stopped here regularly en route to the Indies, trading tobacco, copper and iron for fresh produce. Slaves were imported by the VOC from Indonesia and Madagascar to fill labour shortages at the Cape in the 17th century. These people began the first coloured communities of Cape Town.
The British took Cape Town in 1795, when the Dutch had become the Batavian Republic – a vassal state of the French. It was returned to the Dutch in 1803 via a treaty but was captured by British forces once more in 1806 and became the capital of the South African colony in 1814. In 1910, the Union of South Africa was established by the British after unifying the two defeated Boer Republics with the British colony of Natal. The Anglo-Zulu War was fought between the British and the Zulu kingdom in 1879. The two Boer Wars were fought in 1880-1881 and 1899-1902. The Boers successfully employed guerrilla warfare tactics in the first war forcing the British to return with greater numbers in the second war. The British established concentration camps out of refugee camps to break the guerrilla campaigns being waged by the Boers. It has been estimated that some 27 000 women and children died in these camps from infectious diseases like measles. The captured men were transported out of the country overseas. In this, a brief history of South Africa, this is a very low moment for humanitarian ideals and behaviour.
The Union of South Africa achieved independent sovereignty in 1931. In 1934, a political coming together of Afrikaners and English-speaking whites occurred via the merging of the National Party and the South African Party to form the United Party. A spit between the two factions occurred in 1939 over the entry of the Union of South African into WW2 in support of the British. The National Party adherents strongly opposed this. In 1948, the National Party was elected to govern South Africa. They imposed apartheid by strengthening the racial laws already in place under the colonial administration and institutionalising them. The National Party government categorised all people into three distinct classifications: whites, blacks and coloureds. Whites who were less than 20% of the population were the highest status group, followed by coloureds, and lastly Black Africans. Resistance to this politically and morally unfair system was perpetuated by individuals and activist groups across South Africa. Brutal reprisals by the National Party government resulted in thousands of deaths and imprisonments over some 40+ years. Global condemnation of apartheid and South Africa was voiced loudly, especially by the United Nations. International trade embargoes and sanctions were imposed upon South Africa to spur the nation to change its ways. The African National Congress (ANC) was the largest anti-apartheid group and their most prominent figure Nelson Mandela suffered incarceration for 27 years as a political prisoner.
In 1994, Mandela would become the first black African President of South Africa. Apartheid legislation was repealed in 1991, following lengthy negotiations between F.W. De Klerk’s National Party government and the ANC over 6 years. The ANC won the 1994 election by a landslide and has been in power ever since. Mandela’s presidency was celebrated around the world, as a civilising milestone moment for humanity. Of course, South Africa did not immediately become a perfect place to live on earth and it faces many economic and social challenges. It is a nation that experiences a large number of public protests. It is a nation involved in a transition, which may take many decades and involves multiple groups of people with various racial and tribal allegiances. In 2006, South Africa became the first African nation to legalise same-sex marriage. There have been many hundreds of xenophobically inspired attacks on people within its borders. As of 2015, some 1.4 million higher education students have benefited from a financial support scheme started in 1999. Education is the answer, as it is every where in the world. Violence is most often committed by stupid people holding onto simplistic opinions and beliefs. A brief history of South Africa can illustrate this fact.
South Africa currently faces the global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, and this will test its humanitarian mettle like never before, but its people are resourceful. They have overcome huge obstacles on their journey so far and will continue to triumph in the long run.