What Do We Know about Southern Africa

Many countries across Africa gained independence in the 1950s and 1960s. For most of the countries in southern Africa, colonialism did not end until much later: Mozambique (1975), Angola (1975), Zimbabwe (1980), Namibia (1990), and South Africa, the largest country (1994).

Most African colonies had few permanent European settlers beyond colonial government officials, missionaries, and businesspeople. However, in the southern African region, most of the colonies were settled by people from Europe who claimed these colonies as their homes. They were attracted to southern Africa because of the region’s good agricultural and mineral wealth. These European settlers were not interested in integrating with the indigenous African peoples already living in this region.

European settlers knew that they would always be a minority in the colonies where they settled, unlike the situation in North America and Australia, where, massive immigration and depopulation of the indigenous native populations, the European settlers soon outnumbered the indigenous populations. In southern Africa the settler populations gained control of the colonial political systems and set up policies that ensured their monopoly of economic prosperity.

First the settler-colonial states passed legislation to guarantee European settler control of the mineral and agricultural resources. Settlers took the most fertile lands for themselves. In South Africa, for example, settlers gained control over 87% of the land, leaving the majority African population with only 13% of the land. African populations were then forced to live in designated areas called “African reserves,” or “tribal trust lands.”

The settlers needed a supply of labor to work in mines and on large commercial farms. In the 18th and early 19th centuries the settler populations in South Africa, Angola, and Mozambique captured or imported slaves to work on their farms. Slavery was abolished by the British colonial power in South Africa in the 1830s and by Portugal in the 1880s.

Settler regimes in south Africa instituted systems of taxation to obtain labor, requiring African families to pay a tax for each adult male or house. It was impossible for Africans to raise money through the sale of agricultural goods that they produced on the poor soil of the reserves. They were forced to work in mines or on settler-owned farms, a form of forced labor based on a system of taxation without representation. In the settler colonies there were many forms of organized resistance to settler rule.

Source: What Do We Know about Southern Africa
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