History – Southern Africa


Southern Africa comprises several countries, each with a rich and varied history. These include:


Angola is on the western side of southern Africa and was ‘discovered’ by Portuguese explorers in the 1500’s. However, it was long before the 16th century that humankind descended on areas such as Luanda, Congo and the Namib Desert. These are the sites at which remains and fossils of these prehistoric humans have been found. A written record of the history of this area, however, only came into being millennia later. These earliest records began when people from other lands discovered Angola and made it their home.

The first arrivals were the Bushmen, famous for their hunting and gathering skills. Then, at the beginning of the sixth century of our Common Era (CE), the Bantu arrived from the north (near Cameroon). The Bantu were more advanced than the Bushmen and dominated them immediately. During centuries of Bantu domination, different ethnic groups arose. The Kingdom of Kongo was the most prominent of these and stretched from Gabon to Kwanza during the 1200’s. From 1482, Portuguese caravels began to arrive, introducing a brand new culture and system into the area. In 1575, Paulo Dias de Novais and the Portuguese colonists accompanying him officially established Angola.

Since this time, the country has experienced much political upheaval, as well as a civil war in the 1970’s. Finally, in 1975, Angola was declared independent of Portuguese rule.

Image of Southern Africa map
Southern Africa map


Botswana was inhabited by the San or Bushmen of prehistoric times. It was only in the 17th century CE that they were displaced by the Tswana, or Bantu Batswana, who migrated into Botswana from South Africa during the Zulu wars. Before this, the Batswana had been tribal farmers until the Europeans descended on South Africa and began to claim land and rights. This caused major conflict between the Batswana and the Boere (from Dutch descent). Cecil Rhodes was instrumental in establishing the Bechuanaland Protectorate of 1885. Bechuanaland was the entire northern region of the South African area. The northern part of it is now known as Botswana, while the southern part is South Africa’s northwest province. However, despite this protection, Botswana only gained independence in 1966.


Malawi has yielded some very interesting remains and fossils of hominids, thought to be 1 million years old. Human beings are believed to have lived approximately 55 000 years ago in the area around the grand Lake Malawi. The remains that have been dated back to 1500 BCE (Before our Common Era) display definite African and Bushmen characteristics in terms of features and bone structures. The Portuguese colonists had entered Malawi in the 1500’s, but it was only when David Livingstone arrived in 1859 that Malawi felt the effects of colonisation. Christianity was introduced and the slave trade became the object of their attack as they fought to abolish it. The political history of Malawi is abundant and fascinating and, towards the end of the 20th century, Malawi became a democracy.


Many tools and implements from the Stone Age (the period that began approximately 2.5 million years ago) have been found scattered throughout Zimbabwe. Even ruins of ancient buildings built of stone have testified to the existence of prehistoric civilisations inhabiting the plains of this country. Just outside Masvingo lie the ruins after which the country was named, built by the indigenous people and dated to between the ninth century and the 13th century.

Zimbabwe also felt the effects of the Europeans’ arrival in southern Africa, as well as that of the migrating Bantu speakers. These Bantu people eventually replaced the locals and are now the ancestors of the Zimbabwean race. Zimbabwe came to be under British administration in the late 1800’s (when it was called Rhodesia after Cecil Rhodes) and gained complete independence in 1980.

Although only a small portion of the southern African countries have been covered in brief detail, it is clear to see that this region is, indeed, abundant in valuable artefacts from prehistoric Africa. It is for this reason that many scientists term southern Africa the Cradle of Humankind.

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Effects Of Climatic And Environmental Changes On Ancient African Civilisations

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the entire planet earth looked very different to what modern man experiences today. Continents were not yet divided, and the vegetation and animals were different. Significantly, the climate was also vastly different to what it is today. Climate plays an integral role in determining the plants and animal that live in a certain areas, as well as how habitable a place is for human beings.

In fact, even the theory of the evolution of man was dependent largely on the climatic influences on our ancient ancestors. It is hypothesised that the ancient versions of man were forced to walk upright, lose body hair and develop their coordination for survival in a changing environment. New skills also needed to be learned as farming techniques and living habits had to be adapted.

Ancient Africa experienced major vacillations between mega-droughts and Ice Ages, although these fluctuations occurred over thousands and thousands of years. As humans continued to develop and evolve through these phases, they needed to make major adaptations, not only to their ways of life, but also to their personal body structure. Prior to 135 000 years ago, the whole of Africa was lush and fertile, with a tropical climate. Then, the most intense mega-drought ever to occur hit the continent in the period referred to as the early part of the Late Pleistocene epoch. This is believed to have led to the migration of most of our human ancestors into other areas that were more habitable and fertile. Lake Malawi has been used by scientists as a rain gauge to ascertain water levels in ancient times. Research has shown that, during this mega-drought, the lake’s level dropped at least 1968 feet, or 600 metres! Evolutionists claim that this severe lack of water not only pushed ancient man from the area, it also forced aquatic animals (such as fish) to develop the facilities to be able to survive on dry land, thus evolving into land animals.

As people flocked out of the continent, only a very small proportion of this specific generation remained. Humankind as we know it is widely believed to have come from these few remaining on the continent, who evolved significantly and in response to the climatic changes.

These conditions continued until about 70 000 years ago, when the climate was again characterised by wetter conditions. These led to the growth and renewal of fresh vegetation, as well as an increased water supply to the region. More people were in the area during this time of abundance, and the population grew. This increase in numbers eventually led to migrations due to space limitations and the ownership of land.

Then, about 20 000 years ago, an Ice Age overcame the entire earth. This meant that the planet underwent a long-term period of cold temperatures over most of its surface. In places like North America and Eurasia, giant ice sheets covered enormous proportions of the land, making it impossible to farm and, sometimes, even live in these areas. This final Ice Age lasted for about 9 500 years. It forced most of the populations to migrate to the highlands, where they would be relatively protected from the ice sheets. Again, these civilisations had to adapt their farming methods, and change their diet, social habits, clothing and migratory patterns. This forced an evolution to a certain extent. Body hair was necessary to keep people warm, their skin lightened due to a lack of the harsh rays of the sun that they experienced during the mega-droughts, etc…

When this Ice Age came to an end 10 500 years ago, areas like the Sahara were left fertile and healthy. This made it and the other areas like it the ideal spots in which to settle as ancient man began to descend from the highlands. Animals and plants thrived in this environment, which made it very desirable in the eyes of mankind. The abundance of food, water and sunshine again changed the habits and physical structures of our earliest forefathers.

These conditions lasted for some time, but the Sahara in particular continued to experience fluctuations between humid and dry conditions. These eventually left the entire area unable to yield crops or sustain life for any extended period of time. Today, it remains a large stretch of desert. Then, approximately 2500 years ago, the group of people who had made their home in the Sahara began to follow the direction of the Nile River, which held promise of a rich water supply. The arid conditions of the Sahara and its surrounds continue to the present day.

Africa has, since prehistoric times, proven to be a place of fascination, life and evolution. Changes in the climate were often dramatic, and these were, to a great extent, responsible for determining the ancient civilisations that inhabited this vast continent. It is no wonder that many researchers and scientists maintain that Africa is the Cradle of Mankind, and research continues to yield fascinating evidence of this theory.