South African History

European contact

The first European settlement in southern Africa was established by the Dutch East India Company in Table Bay (Cape Town) in 1652. The settlement supplied passing ships with fresh produce. Dutch farmers began to settle there and grow crops. Shortly after the establishment of the colony, slaves were imported from East Africa, Madagascar and the East Indies.

The first British Settlers arrived in 1820.


From the 1770s, colonists came into contact and conflict with Bantu-speaking chiefdoms, beginning a century of intermittent warfare. The colonists gained control over the native chiefdoms.

In the 1820s, a Zulu leader, Shaka, established control over a vast area of south-east Africa. States and Sotho-Tswana chiefdoms were established.

This disruption led Dutch settlers (Boers) to expand northward.


In 1806, Britain reoccupied the Cape. As the colony prospered, the political rights of the various races were guaranteed, with slavery being abolished in 1838. Throughout the 1800s, the boundaries of European influence spread eastwards.

The mineral revolution and gold

In 1867, diamonds were discovered in South Africa. These diamond fields became a major sources of gem-quality diamonds.

The discovery of the Witwatersrand goldfields in 1886 was a turning point in South Africa’s history. Britain went to war to gain franchise rights for English-speaking immigrants. The Anglo-Boer/South African War was a long, bloody war.

Union and opposition

In 1910, the Union of South Africa was created out of the Cape, Natal, Transvaal and Free State. It was to be essentially a white union. The African National Congress (ANC) was founded in 1912 to protest the exclusion of black people from power. More discriminatory legislation was enacted. Afrikaner nationalism was on the rise.


By the early 1980s, protest and opposition had swelled. The government began a series of limited reforms.

In 1983, the Constitution was changed to allow colored and Indian minorities limited participation in separate and subordinate houses of parliament.

In 1986, the pass laws were overturned. The international community strengthened its support for the anti-apartheid cause.

Eventually the white government recognized that apartheid could not be sustained.

Apartheid's last days

Afrikaner elite openly started to call for a more inclusive society, with a number of businesspeople, students and academic leaders meeting publicly and privately with the ANC in exile.

Petty apartheid laws and symbols were openly challenged and eventually removed.

Apartheid eventually fell due to a repressed economy, increasing internal dissent, and international pressure.

Source: South African History
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