The whole of southern Africa includes countries such as Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. However, South Africa is, without doubt, the most prominent of these in economical, social and historical terms. It also features in terms of its status as being the Cradle of Humankind and is home to the World Heritage Site of the same name.
South Africa’s earliest ancestors are believed to have roamed Africa’s vast land 3.3 million years ago. Many significant remains and fossils have been found at the Sterkfontein Caves in Krugersdorp. These caves form part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rock paintings in these and other areas have helped to ascertain the way of life of ancient humans, as well as the time period in which they lived. Hunter-gatherers of the Stone Age (2.5 millions years ago) used rock paintings extensively and these were the early ancestors of the Khoe-khoen (Hottentots) and San (Bushmen) of more recent South African history. The Khoe-khoen farmed along the coast of South Africa, settling in smaller civilisations. The Bushmen were hunters who traversed the region in search of food and safe areas in which to camp and live. These were the conditions in South Africa approximately 2000 years ago and it remained this way for quite some time, as there was little interference from the outside world. It was also at the beginning of our Common Era that the Bantu-speaking farmers from the east and Highveld began moving down into South Africa. These people had had some contact with the East African trading industry and brought with them culture and political ideology that was more advanced than what existed in South Africa at that time.
The European influence was only introduced when, in 1652, the Dutch East India Company (DEIC) was established in Cape Town. Dutch farmers settled and supplied the many passing ships with fresh produce. These farmers needed workers and brought slaves down from Madagascar, East Africa and the East Indies. With the help of these slaves, South Africa became a fertile, productive epicentre for trade. It was only in the 1770’s that conflict with the Bantu-speaking community 700km east of Cape Town began. This warfare lasted approximately 100 years, and resulted in the colonists’ being dominant over the Xhosa-speaking kingdoms. In 1806, Britain took occupation of the Cape and this area became part of Britain’s international trading industry.
Meanwhile, in areas outside of where the Dutch had set up their colonies, the African cultures were in land battles of their own. The Zulu empire rose above the others and became the dominant state. Shaka Zulu was the leader of this empire and, by 1820, had most of southeast Africa under his control. It was only when this power was dissipated as a result of the Zulu subjects splintering into communities of their own, that the Dutch were able to break into this area. The Afrikaans farmers, known as Boere, trekked through Southern Africa and settled in formerly Zulu-dominated areas.
From the time that Britain had occupied the Cape, the Boer Voortrekkers and the European colonialists spread upwards and eastwards through South and southern Africa. In 1838, slavery was eradicated. By the mid-1800’s, the Voortrekkers had established the South African Republic (which became the Transvaal and then Gauteng) and the Orange Free State (now the Free State) as their white-ruled republics. Natal was bound for success as it boasted fertile sugar plantations, and many of the Indian labourers were sent to this area for farming and agriculture. Natal remains a community of many of South Africa’s Indian population.
In the 1860’s, a major discovery changed the prospects for much of South Africa completely. Diamonds were found in Kimberley, just north of the Cape and it did not take long for Britain to annex these diamond fields. Tens of thousands of people had flocked to this area to begin their quest for fortune. Africa had already been in the sites of those seeking imperialism and this discovery just made it one of the most influential sites of that time. All the smaller African kingdoms were swiftly subjugated and put under colonial control. Zulus were brought under imperial control in 1879 in the Anglo-Zulu war. It was in this war that King Cetshwayo’s impis defeated the British at Isandlwana, an event that remains one of Africa’s most celebrated victories.
After diamonds, gold was discovered in 1886, which pushed the immigrants who spoke English to demand franchise rights. This prompted Britain’s attack on the Transvaal and Orange Free State in 1899. At first, the Boer defence was strong but, by 1902, they were defeated. The Boere experienced the cruel wrath of having their farms destroyed, their women and children taken and being imprisoned in concentration camps.
From the earliest 1900’s, white empowerment clashed with black equality ideals. This situation was only righted towards the end of the 20th century, when South Africa became a democracy under free and fair elections. This was after decades of Apartheid, which proved to be a cruel and unsympathetic attempt for whites to dominate all other races.
Certainly then, South Africa has always been one of Africa’s most significant countries on many levels and has earned its commonly accepted title as being the original site of human development and civilisation.
For more information, please view:http://www.info.gov.za/aboutsa/history.htm