History of South Africa

Published on 4th October 2005

If the history of South Africa is in large part one of increasing racial divisiveness, today it can also be seen as the story of - eventually - a journey through massive obstacles towards the creation, from tremendous diversity, of a single nation whose dream of unity and common purpose is now capable of realization.

The earliest representatives that we can name - were the San and Khoekhoe (otherwise known as the Bushmen and Hottentots or Khoikhoi; collectively called the Khoisan). Both were residents in the southern tip of the continent thousands of years before its written history began.

The hunter-gatherer San ranged widely over the area; the pastoral Khoekhoe lived in those comparatively well-watered areas, chiefly along the southern and western coastal strips, where adequate grazing was to be found. So it was with the latter that the early European settlers first came into contact - much to the disadvantage of the Khoekhoe.

As a result of diseases such as smallpox imported by the Europeans, of some assimilation with the settlers and especially with the slaves who were to arrive in later years, and of some straightforward extermination, the Khoekhoe have effectively disappeared as an identifiable group. Other long-term inhabitants of the area that was to become South Africa were the Bantu-speaking people who had moved into the north-eastern and eastern regions from the north, starting at least many hundreds of years before the arrival of the Europeans.

The Thulamela site in the northern Kruger National Park is estimated to have been first occupied in the 13th century. The ruins of Mapungubwe, where artifacts from as far away as China have been found, are the remains of a large trading settlement thought to stretch back to the 12th century.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach the Cape of Good Hope, arriving in 1488. However, permanent white settlement did not begin until 1652 when the Dutch East India Company established a provisioning station on the Cape. In subsequent decades, French Huguenot refugees, the Dutch, and Germans began to settle in the Cape. Collectively, they form the Afrikaner segment of today\'s population. The establishment of these settlements had far-reaching social and political effects on the groups already settled in the area, leading to upheaval and subjugation.

By 1779, European settlements extended throughout the southern part of the Cape and east towards the Great Fish River. It was here that Dutch authorities and the Xhosa fought the first frontier war. The British gained control of the Cape of Good Hope at the end of the 18th century. Subsequent British settlement and rule marked the beginning of a long conflict between the Afrikaners and the English. 

Beginning in 1836, partly to escape British rule and cultural hegemony and partly out of resentment at the recent abolition of slavery, many Afrikaner farmers (Boers) undertook a northern migration that became known as the \"Great Trek.\" This movement brought them into contact and conflict with African groups in the area, the most formidable of which were the Zulus. Under their powerful leader, Shaka (1787-1828), the Zulus conquered most of the territory between the Drakensberg Mountains and the sea (now KwaZulu-Natal). 

In 1828, Shaka was assassinated and replaced by his half-brother Dingane. In 1838, Dingane was defeated and deported by the Voortrekkers (people of the Great Trek) at the battle of Blood River. The Zulus, nonetheless, remained a potent force, defeating the British in the historic battle of Isandhlwana before being conquered in 1879. 

In 1852 and 1854, the independent Boer Republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State were created. Relations between the republics and the British Government were strained. The discovery of diamonds at Kimberley in 1870 and the discovery of large gold deposits in the Witwatersrand region of the Transvaal in 1886 caused an influx of European (mainly British) immigration and investment. Many blacks also moved into the area to work in the mines.

Boer reactions to this influx and British political intrigues led to the Anglo-Boer Wars of 1880-81 and 1899-1902. British forces prevailed in the conflict, and the republics were incorporated into the British Empire. In May 1910, the two republics and the British colonies of the Cape and Natal formed the Union of South Africa, a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. The Union\'s constitution kept all political power in the hands of the whites.  

In 1912, the South Africa Native National Congress was founded in Bloemfontein and eventually became known as the African National Congress (ANC). Its goals were the elimination of restrictions based on color and the enfranchisement of and parliamentary representation for blacks. Despite these efforts the government continued to pass laws limiting the rights and freedoms of blacks. 

 

In 1948, the National Party (NP) won the all-white elections and began passing legislation codifying and enforcing an even stricter policy of white domination and racial separation known as \"apartheid\" (separateness). In the early 1960s, following a protest in Sharpeville in which 69 protesters were killed by police and 180 injured, the ANC and Pan-African Congress (PAC) were banned. Nelson Mandela and many other anti-apartheid leaders were convicted and imprisoned on charges of treason. 

The ANC and PAC were forced underground and fought apartheid through guerrilla warfare and sabotage. In May 1961, South Africa relinquished its dominion status and declared itself a republic. It withdrew from the Commonwealth in part because of international protests against apartheid. In 1984, a new constitution came into effect in which whites allowed coloreds and Asians a limited role in the national government and control over their own affairs in certain areas. Ultimately, however, all power remained in white hands. Blacks remained effectively disenfranchised. 

Popular uprisings in black and colored townships in 1976 and 1985 helped to convince some NP members of the need for change. Secret discussions between those members and Nelson Mandela began in 1986. In February 1990, State President F.W. de Klerk, who had come to power in September 1989, announced the unbanning of the ANC, the PAC, and all other anti-apartheid groups. Two weeks later, Nelson Mandela was released from prison. 

In 1991, the Group Areas Act, Land Acts, and the Population Registration Act the last of the so-called \"pillars of apartheid\" were abolished. A long series of negotiations ensued, resulting in a new constitution promulgated into law in December 1993. The country\'s first nonracial elections were held on April 26-29, 1994, resulting in the installation of Nelson Mandela as president on May 10, 1994.

During Nelson Mandela\'s 5-year term as President of South Africa, the government committed itself to reforming the country. The ANC-led government focused on social issues that were neglected during the apartheid era such as unemployment, housing shortages, and crime. Mandela\'s administration began to reintroduce South Africa into the global economy by implementing a market-driven economic plan (GEAR). In order to heal the wounds created by apartheid, the government created the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) under the leadership of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. During the first term of the ANC\'s post-apartheid rule, President Mandela concentrated on national reconciliation, trying to forge a single South African identity and sense of purpose among a diverse and splintered populace, riven by years of conflict. The lack of political violence after 1994 is testament to the abilities of Mandela to achieve this difficult goal. Nelson Mandela stepped down as President of the ANC at the party\'s national congress in December 1997, when Thabo Mbeki assumed the mantle of leadership. Mbeki won the presidency of South Africa after national elections in 1999, when the ANC won just shy of a two-thirds majority in parliament. President Mbeki shifted the focus of government from reconciliation to transformation, particularly on the economic front. With political transformation and the foundation of a strong democratic system in place after two free and fair national elections, the ANC recognized the need to begin to focus on bringing economic power to the black majority in South Africa, as well as political power. In this progress has come somewhat more slowly. 

Below is an analysis of South Africa according to The 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal:

Rank: 56

Score: 2.78

Category: Mostly Free

Population: 4534500

Total area: 1,219,912 sq. km

GDP: $182.2billion

GDP growth rate: 3.0 %

GDP per capita: $4,019

Major exports: metal and metal products, gold, diamonds, machinery and transport equipment

Exports of goods and services: $45.5 billion

Major export trading partners: UK 13.3%, US13.2%, Germany 9.0%, Japan 8.7%

Major imports: machinery and appliances, mineral products, chemicals, transport and equipment

Imports of goods and services (fob): $ 39.8 billion

Major import trading partners: Germany 15.6%, US 9.6%, UK 9.2%, Japan 6.0%

Foreign direct investment (net): $754 million

REFERENCES

www.historyofnations.net/africa/southafrica.html -

www.safrica.info/ess_info/sa_glance/history/history.htm

The 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal

 


This article has been read 1,968 times
COMMENTS