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A Brief History of South Africa

A brief history of South Africa brought to you by Conference Venues South Africa including the Trek Boers, The Great Trek in South Africa, The Anglo Boer War, South Africa's Apartheid era and South Africa in the late 1990's.

south africa history

Van Riebeeck's landing at the Cape
Jan Van Riebeeck anchored at the foot of Table Mountain in 1652 after receiving a commission to establish a refreshment station from the Dutch-East Indian Trading Company. The station was to provide the ships going east with meat, vegetables and fresh fruit. They grew the fruit and vegetables, and the meat was obtained through trading with the natives. The need for labour increased as the port developed and slaves were imported. Dutch settlers arrived soon afterwards, followed by settlers from all over Europe.

The Trek Boers
The Cape Settlers were expanding their territory towards the North East by the beginning of the 18th century. This primarily led by the Trek Boers searching for fresh grazing land for their cattle. They came more and more in conflict with Khoikhoi and later Xhosas. Tension was also increasing in the towns between the citizens and the colonial administration as the towns people wanted their independence. Swellendam and Graaff-Reinette were the first to proclaim themselves as independent Republics. This was short lived however, as in 1795, the United Kingdom annexed the Cape Colony.

The Great Trek in South Africa
In 1835, ten thousand Voortrekkers left the Cape Colony and went northeast. Five thousand Voortrekkers settled in the area that would later be the Orange Free State. The rest headed for Natal where they negotiated with the Zulu king Dingaan for land. It was agreed could be granted an area of land in south and central Natal but were killed by the Zulus in an ambush as they left. The new leader prepared the Voortrekkers for a retaliatory attack. The Zulus were finally defeated in the "Battle of Blood River" which led to the founding of the Natal Boer Republic.

The Anglo-Boer War in South Africa
The Voortrekkers in Natal later moved northeast after they were defeated by the British. They settled south and north of the Vaal river and formed the independent Transvaal. The contract of Bloemfontein was signed in 1854, and the Republic of Orange Free State was founded. British sentiment was strongly in favour of uniting their own colonies with the boer republics into one union thus gaining control of the Transvaal gold mines. War broke out between the two boer republics and the two British colonies on the 11th of February 1899. On March 13, 1900 Bloemfontein was occupied by the British, followed by Pretoria and Johannesburg on the 1st of September. The Boers started a guerilla war which was countered by the British through the devastation of their farms and the placing of their women and children in concentration camps. A peace agreement was signed by the British and the Boers on 31 May.

Apartheid Era of South Africa
As early as 1910 laws were passed that curtailed the rights of the black majority in South Africa. With black people having no political rights in South Africa, opposition groups such as the ANC was soon formed. After the 2nd world war conflicts between whites and blacks intensified and black workers went on several strikes. After the 1948 elections the National Party became the ruling party in South Africa. The party was led by D.F.Malan who was the first president to introduce the concept of "apartheid". H.F.Verwoerd took over in 1958, and he instituted several semi-autonomous homelands. Now the government could theoretically call their elections free and fair as the majority of blacks were not officially South African citizens anymore. Black resistance under the leadership of the ANC consolidated and mass protests were organized. The government banned all opposition groups forcing them to go underground. In 1979, some protesting pupils were killed by the police which led to the spread of unrest through out the country. In 1989, the then president of South Africa, Klerk admitted the failure of Apartheid and negotiations for the first general elections was started.

Late 1990's
In 1999, South Africa held its second universal-suffrage elections. In 1997, Mandela had handed over leadership of the ANC to his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, and speculation grew that the ANC vote might therefore drop. In fact, it increased, putting the party within one seat of the two-thirds majority that would allow it to amend the constitution. The NP, restyled as the New National Party (NNP), lost two-thirds of its seats, as well as the official opposition status to the Democratic Party (DP). The DP had traditionally functioned as a stronghold of liberal whites, and now gained new support from conservatives disenchanted with the NP, and from some middle-class blacks. Just behind the DP came the KwaZulu-Natal Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), historically the voice of Zulu nationalism.


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