South Africa History

Taking a look back into the past of South Africa, you will see a country that was torn apart by segregation of the black and white people.

This was known as the Apartheid era. In recent times the people of South Africa have made huge advances to leave that stigma behind and move forward as a new and united people.

Prior to the Apartheid era, South Africa was largely unknown to the world until the exploits of European explorers such as Vasco Da Gama, Bartholomew Diaz, Antonio de Saldanha and Jan Van Riebeeck. Each of these made their mark in discovering the country mainly on due to the shorter trade route around Cape Point.

The first person to round the tip of Africa was Bartholomew Diaz in 1488. There is a monument to him that can be seen at Cape Point. The next explorer to round the tip was Vasco Da Gama and his journey was even more successful as he managed to reach India, thus establishing a working direct route to the East from Europe, making trade relations much easier. The first Europeans to land on the shores of South Africa at Cape Town were the squadron led by Antonio de Saldanha. They were the first foreigners to climb Table Mountain and to give it its first name of Taboa do Cabo meaning the Table Cape. The next famous of the Europeans to land here was Jan Van Riebeeck from the Dutch East India Company. He was ordered to set up a port base for the Eastern Trade Route vessels and to plant vegetable and fruit gardens for the sailors. He built a castle fort which still stands in Cape Town today and is open for tours.

People had, however, been living on the land for 100 000 years before the Europeans arrived. These indigenous people are called the Khoisan collectively. The Khoikhoi or Hottentot people lived mainly in the Cape regions while the San or Bushmen tribe were situated further inland to the north. When Jan Van Riebeeck arrived in 1652 with the first settlers from the Dutch East India Company, many of the indigenous people were used as slave labor. During the smallpox epidemics that broke out in 1715, 1755 and 1767, the many of the Khoisan people, having no immunity to this disease, died.

On October 12, 1679 a new commander was appointed for the Cape of Good Hope Colony. This was a man by the name of Simon Van der Stel. He was soon made Governor and made great influences on the South African wine industry. He also made the expedition to Cape Point and founded the maritime town of Simon’s Town, now home to the South African Navy. The love of exploration was just as strong in Van der Stel’s son, William Adriaan, and when he took over, decided to expand the frontier further inland to areas like Tulbach in 1700.

After the Dutch East India Company was dissolved, the first British Governor was appointed at the Cape in 1795, with the official cession of the Cape colony to the British Government taking place in 1814. Soon after this the legendary African warrior Shaka is appointed as the leader of the AmaZulu tribe. Thus began the fight for land between the British, the Dutch, now known as the Boers and the original African inhabitants.

One of the most influential parts of South African history began in 1834, known as the Groot Trek or Great Walk. This decision was made by a group of Boer (Dutch farmers) living in the Cape colony to move as far north as they could and colonize their own land outside of British rule. They are known as Trek Boers or Voortrekkers.

Paul Kruger landed in South Africa in 1880 and began negotiations for the Dutch to reject the Cape draft. Soon after, the Anglo Boer War broke out between the British and the Dutch. With the victory of the Dutch, their flag, called the Vierkleuer was flown once again. This flag was also representative of the old Apartheid era. In 1883 the first election was held and Paul Kruger was sworn in as president of the Transvaal. In 1893, he began to establish the first of the non white locations, which was the start of segregation.

Throughout the rule of the Afrikaaner, many came into power as with the thought that segregation was the only way to go. Many more non white areas where established including the famous District Six, Soweto, Langa, and Alexandra and various acts were passed like the Native Land Act and the Anti Indian Legislation that prevented black, colored or Indian people from using the same public facilities as white people, illegalizing non Christian marriages, and allowing this section of people to only buy land that was set aside for them, which amounted to only 13 % of land in the country. In the early 1900’s the call for South Africa to become a republic was becoming intense. This prompted the black, colored and Indian populations to form various political groups that were anti apartheid. In 1912, the most infamous and influential group was formed – the African National Congress or ANC later to be led by Nelson Mandela who would soon deface the Apartheid government and create an awareness of the atrocities being committed to other parts of the world.

Nelson Mandela was first made the leader of the ANC youth league in 1950 to help in the struggle for freedom. They planned peaceful demonstrations, strikes and marches, which were mostly civil. When their peaceful passive resistance was thwarted on many occasions violence became at the fore of the struggle for freedom. The most horrendous day in the resistance was on the 31st of March 1960 when the police opened fire on a crowd of peaceful demonstrators at Sharpeville, killing 69 people including women and children. The Sharpeville Massacre, as it became known, was the bloodiest act of violence by the Apartheid government and the day is now a public holiday remembered as Human Rights Day. This was the beginning of the armed resistance in South Africa and was a turning point towards the end of the apartheid regime. At this time the ANC was outlawed by the Apartheid government and they continued their work as an underground movement.

South Africa at this time was still part of the British Empire being led by a Union Governor for the Cape Colony and Natal, and an Afrikaans President for the Transvaal and Orange Free State.

After months of negotiations in South Africa, England and Holland, the country became a unified republic on the 31st May 1961 with the first State President being Charles Swart, who was the leader of the ruling National Party. The ANC’s underground struggle now became greater. Mandela and various other ANC members adopted a Freedom Charter and formed various disobedience strategies against the newly formed government. In 1961, led by Mandela they formed Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) which was an armed force trained outside of South Africa in the style of guerilla warfare. Mandela explained that they were left with no other alternative as years of peaceful demands had only been met with forceful retaliation. He left South Africa illegally to organize the training camps and upon his return was captured. Originally he was sentenced to 5 years in prison for this, but an added charge of sabotage landed him with a life sentence. He was eventually sent to prison on Robben Island along with other political prisoners. This was where he started his 27 year imprisonment and reflected upon life and his role in it. He wrote a bestselling autobiography whilst there called “Long Walk to Freedom” and studied and read many books, also furthering his law degree.

On the outside, many attempts were made to free Mandela, mostly by his wife at the time Winnie Mandela who also played a vital role in the Apartheid resistance movements. Part of this was making the atrocities of the Apartheid government known to the rest of the world. After sanctions were applied and South Africa became totally isolated from the world, the South African people of all races began to fight even harder to end the oppressive regime. During various discussions with other African leaders as well as under threat of a Civil War, President F.W de Klerk eventually brought an end to the Apartheid era. He also took it upon himself to free Nelson Mandela who had by this time been moved to Pollsmoor Prison in Tokai and then Victor Verster Prison in Paarl. This was in 1990 when Mandela was 72 years of age. He was (and still is) considered a hero who had freed the people, and after much rejoicing and celebration around the world, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was sworn in as leader of the now legal ANC. In 1993 he and F.W de Klerk accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for their respective roles in ending Apartheid and curbing hatred and racism. During the first true democratic election in 1994, where every race was allowed to vote, Nelson Mandela became the first black president in the history of South Africa – the first president of the new South Africa.

South Africa today is still learning, as it is a very new democracy. Many changes have been made and various measures taken to help people forgive and put the oppressive days behind them. The country is growing each and every day and a new time of understanding and compassion, as well as respect, is now felt among the people here, from all races and cultures.

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