For thousands of years
before South Africa existed, this southernmost part of the African continent
was populated by hunter-gatherer people known collectively as the San.
c. 100 CE
The Khoikhoi people and
many Bantu-speaking peoples began migrating from the north into present-day
South Africa, bringing with them iron technology, agriculture, and cattle
herding. As more and more migrants arrived, the San retreated further south.
The first Dutch settlement
is established at the Cape of Good Hope to be a provisioning station for ships
of the Dutch East India Company. Initially the Dutch planned to keep their
settlement small and rely upon trade with the indigenous population to obtain
cattle, sheep, and vegetables. When it grows apparent that the native peoples
are not interested in sustained trade, the Dutch turn to farming, importing
Asian and African slaves to perform the necessary labor. These settlers became
known as the "Boers," the Dutch word for farmer.
Wars between the Khoikhoi
and the Dutch end with the Dutch greatly expanding into what were previously
Khoikhoi pasture lands.
In response to European
expansion by the Dutch, and later, the French, most of the San and some of
the Khoikhoi migrate north to inaccessible, arid regions to avoid the settlers.
Intermarriage of Europeans and Khoikhoi produces what South Africa will later
label its "Colored" population.
By 1730, repeated smallpox
epidemics have killed most of the Khoikhoi and destroyed their cattle economy.
European settlers expand further to meet their own farming and herding needs.
Land titles were vague or non-existent as both the remaining Khoikhoi and
white cattle herders migrated seasonally in search of pasturelands.
The Boers move into areas
in the east occupied by the Xhosa, a Bantu-speaking people, who had been living
there for at least 250 years.
The latter part of the
18th century and most of the 19th century, saw numerous Frontier Wars fought
between the Xhosa and the Europeans. The result of these wars was further
expansion of Dutch claims on territory.
As a result of wars being
fought in Europe, the British permanently take over Cape Province from the
Dutch and begin actively encouraging immigration from England.
The great military leader
Shaka unites the Zulu Kingdom using revolutionary fighting techniques. Large
numbers of people migrate to escape the fighting. The Ndebele move to present-day
Zimbabwe, the Sotho to Zambia, and the Nguni to Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania.
The Mfengu people flee west into the British Cape Colony.
In a migration that becomes
known as the "Great Trek," 12,000 Boers depart Cape Province, traveling east
and north to escape British rule. As they move beyond the Orange River, the
trekkers battle with the black people living there. Major battles with the
Zulu occur at the Blood River and with the Ndelebele at Marico. The trekkers
establish the independent republics of Natal, the Orange Free state, and the
Transvaal, and assign black Africans separate reserves within the states,
where they live separately from the white settlers, but are still available
to work for them when the need for labor arose.
Diamonds are discovered
in South Africa. In 1870, gold is discovered there as well. Mineral wealth
greatly increases the value of southern African lands in the eyes of colonial
powers and spurs three decades of great economic development. This development
vastly increases the demand for cheap, unskilled, and semi-skilled African
labor. The majority black population was forced to give up independent farming.
From 1899 to 1902, the
British and Boers fight the Boer War (also called the South African War).
Since the 1870's, Britain had stepped up efforts to control the land and resources
of the southern African region, battling the Boers, Xhosa, and Zulu peoples.
With British victory, all the former Boer territories are combined with British
colonial territories to form the Union of South Africa. At the turn of the
century, the population of European ancestry living in South Africa numbers
The Union of South Africa
becomes an independent nation. Afrikaners (descendents of Dutch settlers)
form the majority white population within this new majority black nation.
In the first national elections, the overwhelming majority of black citizens
are not allowed to vote. Blacks and coloreds, with large enough property holdings,
who reside within the former Cape Colony, do however temporarily retain voting
rights. Over the years, the amount of land owned in order to vote steadily
increases as the black population's ability to own land decreases. In 1911,
the first national census finds that 21.3% of the population of South Africa
is white. That percentage has declined steadily ever since.
Following the formation
of the Union of South Africa, the dispossession of the black population from
their traditional lands was increasingly effected by law rather than by warfare.
The Natives' Land Act set aside a tiny fraction of South Africa's territory
as the only places where blacks could own land. It also forbade blacks from
renting land, except in exchange for their labor.
The Afrikaner National
Party came to power in South Africa and intensified the forced relocation
of black South Africans to all black homelands, called "Bantustans." Under
this policy, known as apartheid, the few black freehold farming communities
that still held legal deeds to their land were destroyed in a massive police
operation. This policy continued for nearly 50 years, with black Africans
being forcibly removed from their lands and crowded onto small land reserves
which were often poorly suited for agriculture, resulting in impoverishment.
These black South Africans formed a large pool of cheap labor for white-owned
industrial and agricultural enterprises.