History of South Africa

History of South Africa

Early Africa

It`s here, where it all began. If we believe the paleoanthropologists, South Africa is the Cradle of Humankind. Found fossils and rock paintings date back to 40.000 BC. These were made by San people who are South Africa`s first residents and one of the world`s oldest traditional cultures. San people lived a nomadic, hunter-gatherer life-style.
Around AD 500 Bantu-speaking people arrived from West Africa`s Niger Delta. Their way of living, having a set home, holding cattle and having some farming and iron working skills differed a lot from how the San people lived. Most modern-day South Africans are descendants from the Bantu-speakers, also known as Khoekhoen.


In 1487, the Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias named the Cape ‘Cabo da Boa Esperanca’ (Cape of Good Hope). He was trying to find a route that connected Europe with India and the East. In the following years, many Portuguese travelled this way. Vasco da Gama was one of them. No one really was interested in the country itself though.
It was only in 1647, when a Dutch vessel capsized near what today is Cape Town Table Bay. The crew built up a fort to their protection and had to wait for a year until they were rescued. These Dutch became the first European people to stay in South Africa for a longer time. This was the starting point of the Dutch immigration. The Dutch East India Company wanted to establish a strategic shelter for travelling sailors on their way to India and the East. To supply them with fruit, vegetables and meat, an expedition headed by Jan van Riebeeck, first tried to collaborate with the indigenous. However, the relationship hasn`t been a friendly one. Out of necessity, the Dutch, and amongst them a lot of Germans began setting up their own farms, growing the food they needed. These farmers became known as burghers.
This operation became so successful that they needed more staff. The lack was filled by importing numerous slaves from Madagascar and Indonesia. The growing population and the mix of different nationalities caused problems: more land was needed and the newly arrived expanded the settlement further north and east which lead to a lot of fights and a decreasing Khoekhoen population.

British influence

In the end of the 18th century, the Dutch power became less and the British saw and took their chance to build up a new colony in South Africa. In 1814, they gained sovereignty over the Dutch. By this time, a population of about 25.000 slaves, 20.000 white colonists, 15.000 Khoe-San (indigenous people) and 1.000 freed black slaves lived in the Cape region. Power was already in the hands of the whites and racism was deep-seated within the people. Under the pretext that they wanted to mediate between the fighting African people, more British were brought into the country. In reality however, they ended up only increasing the number of British immigrants and hence augmenting the British power.
The Dutch disliked this development and that is why, in 1836, the Great Trek started. Several groups of Boers, that is how the Dutch farmers were called, began to trek off inland, for more space and more independency. Entering Zululand, they faced violence and a strong resistance. In 1838, murders on both sides resolved in the Battle of Blood River in which many Zulus were killed and their blood is said to have turned the water in the river red. After this victory, the Boers continued their way through the country until diamonds were found near Kimberley. Kimberly was originally not British territory, but it was very quickly annexed. The setting up of diamond mines and the rich existence of the diamonds increased again the number of people coming into South Africa, mostly Europeans and black labourers. The different races being mixed was something the Boers did not want to tolerate and they started the first Anglo-Boer War. They won it very quickly and the country became the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (South African Republic). Paul Kruger became president. After gold was discovered in 1886 on the Witwatersrand (near Johannesburg), there once more was a wave of immigration and Johannesburg`s population exploded.
The Boers went through a difficult time, seeing their jobs being done by black people. At the same time, the British demanded the voting rights for the white people in South Africa, but Kruger denied it and demanded that the British army should leave the borders of the South African Republic. The second Anglo-Boer War broke out in 1899 but this time it took much longer and in the end it was the British who won. Only in 1902 did the Boer republics acknowledge the British sovereignty with the Treaty of Vereenigiung (Treaty of Union). However, this was only a superficial peace.
In the years after the war, the white people became wealthy thanks to the good mining industry. South Africa produced almost a third of the world`s gold. On the other hand, the Afrikaners did not profit from this ascension and they suffered from the British aim to anglicise the indigenous people.
Blacks` and coloureds` wages were cut.

Act of Union

In 1910 the Act of Union was signed and united Cape Colony, Natal, Transvaal and Orange Free State as the Union of South Africa. English and Dutch were made official languages. Only white people had the right to be part of the parliament. The first government was led by General Louis Botha from the South African National Party which was later called the South African Party (SAP). They followed white and pro-British policies.
This government and the Act of Union made life really hard for black people. Voting was highly restricted, in some states even impossible, their salaries were smaller than the whites`. In 1913, the Natives Land Act was enacted which gave the black people only 8% of the land to live on. By then, the black population made up over 75%. Whites on the other hand, had over 90% of the land, but they made up only about 20% of the population.
The increasing injustice forced the suppressed people to do something. They formed the SAANC which was later known as ANC (African National Congress) and represented the black population.

National Party

In 1924 the NP (National Party) got more power and made Afrikaans the official language next to English.
In the following years, due to the booming wartime economy, the work of black people was extremely needed which led to a rising urban population. These blacks settled in the outskirts of South Africa`s major cities. They had to face very bad conditions there.
Before the 1948 elections, the NP made an extensive campaign about their policy of segregation, or ‘apartheid’, which is the Afrikaans word for being apart. They won the election and this was the point when apartheid was institutionalised. Within short time, new rules were declared: prohibition of mixed marriage, illegalisation of interracial sex, division of every person by race. The Group Areas Act of 1950 forbid the non-white population to live in the cities, they had to move into the townships. Another crucial law was the Separate Amenities Act which separated places like beaches, buses, hospitals, schools and even park benches into a white and non-white zone. Blacks and coloureds were not allowed to carry IDs and needed a special reason to enter the cities.
The death of Steve Biko, a very effective anti-apartheid activist, in 1977, caused a huge outcry – not only in South Africa but all over the world. Police said that he had died from a hunger strike, but this was not what the public believed and it was much later rectified to be wrong.
The white government was not willing to cooperate with the ANC and could not help itself other than with fighting violently against the rebellious blacks. The rest of the world started to avoid the South African government and began having talks to the black leaders.
The development of racism very slowly began to change in the 1980s when some whites started to demand the ending of apartheid and the segregation. Also the international pressure increased and South Africa had to face economic sanctions which resolved in a very weak rand.
However, apartheid was not the only terrible development. In 1982, the two first AIDS cases were recorded in South Africa and by now, the unofficial number of HIV-positives lies around 19% of the population.

End Of Apartheid

In 1986, President Botha declared that apartheid had ended and slightly changed some laws towards equality of races but still the media was extremely censored. A new era began when de Klerk became president. In his first speech he promised that ANC and other anti-apartheid parties were going to be legalised and he released political prisoners who hadn`t really committed a crime. On 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela was freed from prison after he has been there for 27 years.
Of course, the whites didn’t want to resign for good. In the years that followed, there were many massacres and brutal battles, sometimes even set up by high-ranking government officials and politicians.
Changes were made and finally, in April 1994, the new flag and national anthem were introduced and the first election for everyone after apartheid took place. The election went peacefully and the ANC gained 62.7% of the votes. Nelson Mandela became president. After, the main goal was to create a South Africa that everyone liked to live in. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission took place from 1994 to 1999 where victims could tell their stories and criminals could do their statements to get some lighter punishments. A very famous sentence from Archbishop Desmond Tutu was: ‘Without forgiveness there is not future, but without confession there can be no forgiveness’.
In 1999, the ANC won the second democratic elections and Thabo Mbeki was the new South African president. Critics are polarised about his legislation period but he had a very high economical knowledge. The black middle class increased a lot but still, there is a very big gap in between the poor and the rich people. In the election of 2009, the ANC won again and Jacob Zuma became president, after corruption charges against him were dropped. South Africa`s reputation further increased not only because he has a very strong personality.


Today`s main problems in South Africa are the crime rate that is a result of the unequal distribution of income, economic inequality, the insufficient school system and HIV/Aids.
The FIFA soccer world championship in 2010 has increased the prices but it has not only improved the infra-structure, it has also made the places safer because there is more police patrolling.
Now, almost 20 years after the official end of apartheid, the country still has a lot to do, but it is a beautiful spot on the world map with extremely friendly people, an abundant wildlife, breath-taking nature and a lot to discover.
We will take you by the hand and help you find the most interesting spots for every taste.