Because South African is an “African” country, the country was inhabited by black natives. However, the first Europeans (the Portuguese) came in 1488. Years later, in 1652, the Dutch East India Company established a small settlement at the Cape of Good Hope. Over time, many more Europeans came over, including Germans, French, and Dutch settlers. These settlers became known as the Afrikaners.
In 1795 the British captured the Cape Colony. They gave it back to the Dutch in 1803 but then took it again in 1806. It went to and fro, but this is basically how South Africa was both a British and a Dutch colony.
In 1948 the National Party was voted into power (by white South Africans. Non-white South Africans could not vote until 1994). The National Party started a policy called apartheid, where people were separated based on their race (Whites, Blacks, Colored, and Indians).
Below is a basic outline of South Africa’s history from the time of its discovery by Europeans, until the end of the Truth and Reconcilliation Commision (1998).
- Bartholomeu Dias (Portuguese navigator) is the first European to travel around the southern tip of Africa.
- Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama discovers the Natal coast (east).
- Jan van Riebeeck, from the Dutch East India Company, dscovers the Cape Colony at Table Bay.
- British forces seize the Cape Colony from the Dutch. The territory is returned to the Dutch in 1803 but ceded again to the British in 1806.
- Shaka Zulu expands the Zulu empire. He creates a formidable fighting force.
- The “Boers” (who were predominantly Dutch, German and French settlers) leave the Cape Colony in the ‘Great Trek.’ They move north and found the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.
- The British government grants limited self-government to the Transvaal.
- Natal (which is Kwazula Natal today) separates from the Cape Colony.
- The “boers” proclaim the Transvaal a republic.
- Thousands of laborers and traders from India arrive in South Africa. This is why there are many Indians in South Africa today.
- Diamonds are discovered in Kimberley.
- Britain annexes the Transvaal.
- The British defeat the Zulus at the Battle of Isandlwana (Natal).
- The Boers rebel against the British government. This sparks the first Anglo-Boer War. The conflict ends with a negotiated peace and Transvaal is restored as a republic.
- Gold is discovered in the Transvaal. This discovery triggers the gold rush.
- British troops gather on the Transvaal border. They ignore an ultimatum to disperse, and this starts the second Anglo-Boer War begins.
- The Treaty of Vereeniging finally ends the second Anglo-Boer War with Transvaal and the Orange Free State being made self-governing colonies of the British Empire.
- The formation of the Union of South Africa. They include the former British colonies of the Cape and Natal, plus the Boer republics of Transvaal, and Orange Free State.
- The Native National Congress is founded. It is later renamed the African National Congress (ANC).
- The South African government introduces the Land Act, which prevents blacks from owning land or buying land outside reserves, except those living in Cape Province.
- The National Party is founded.
- The Secret Broederbond (brotherhood) is formed to advance the Afrikaner cause.
- South West Africa (Namibia) comes under the South African administration.
- Britain passes the Statute of Westminster, thereby removing the last vestiges of British legal authority over South Africa.
- The Union of South Africa parliament enacts the Status of the Union Act. This declares the country to be “a sovereign and independent state”.
THE BEGINNING OF APARTHEID
- The National Party (NP) takes power. They enact a policy of apartheid (separateness).
- The population is classified by race. The Group Areas Act is passed to segregate whites (also known as “Europeans” or “blankes” in Afrikaans) from non-whites.
- The Communist Party is banned. Led by Nelson Mandela, the ANC responds with a campaign of civil disobedience.
- March 21st – the Sharpeville Massacre, where seventy black demonstrators are killed. This day is now observed as Human Rights Day in South Africa.
- The ANC is banned.
- South Africa leaves the Commonwealth.
- Nelson Mandela heads the ANC’s new military wing – uMkhonto we Sizwe, (spear of the nation). They launch a series of sabotage campaigns.
- International pressure against the South African apartheid government begins, and South Africa is excluded from the Olympic Games. (As part of a sporting boycott against the South African government for their Apartheid policy, South Africa did not compete at the Olympics from 1964 to 1988).
- ANC leader Nelson Mandela is sentenced to life imprisonment.
- In September, South Africa’s Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd is assassinated.
- 3+ million people are forcibly resettled in black ‘homelands’.
- During an uprising (which started in Soweto), more than 600 people are killed in clashes between black protesters and security forces.
- There is revolt in the Townships. South Africa declares a state of emergency.
- FW de Klerk replaces PW Botha as president.
- De Klerk meets with Nelson Mandela.
- Public facilities are desegregated.
- Many ANC activists are freed.
- The ANC is unbanned by the South African government.
- Nelson Mandela is released after 27 years in prison.
- Namibia becomes independent.
- It is the start of multi-party talks. De Klerk repeals remaining apartheid laws and international sanctions are lifted.
- There is an agreement on an interim constitution.
- April – South Africa holds its first democratic, non-racial elections. The ANC wins.
- May 10th – Nelson Mandela becomes the first black president and delivers his internationally televised inaugural speech.
- A Government of National Unity is formed.
- The remaining sanctions are lifted.
- South Africa takes its seat in UN General Assembly after a 20 year absence.
- The Commonwealth membership is restored.
SOUTH AFRICA’S TRUTH AND RECONCILLIATION
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu begins hearings on human rights crimes committed by the former government and liberation movements during the apartheid era.
- Parliament adopts the new constitution.
- The National Party withdraws from the coalition, saying it is being ignored.
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission report brands apartheid a crime against humanity and finds the ANC accountable for human rights abuses.
Today, South Africa is a different country. No longer do we see overt racism, but the scars of apartheid run deep and people are still struggling through it.