About South Africa
Archeologists and historical researchers note that the San and Khoekhoe peoples (a.k.a. Bushmen and Hottentots or Khoikhoi) were the original indigenous residents of South Africa (in particular, the western part of the country – now known as Cape Province). In addition, the Bantu-speaking people who had moved into the north-eastern and eastern regions from the north, starting at least many hundreds of years before the arrival of the Europeans.
The first European settlement in South Africa was established by Dutch trader Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 at the Cape of Good Hope (on behalf of the Dutch East India Company, to build a fort and produce vegetables to supply trade ships coming in and out of the Eastern trade routes). By the early 1700s, independent settlers (known as trekboers) went north and east of the Cape to establish farming communities. Eventually, not only Dutch, but German and French Huguenot immigrants also settled in this Dutch African colony, developing a separate people called the Afrikaners (developing the Afrikaans language – a spinoff of Dutch, along with words from Portuguese, the Bantu and Khoisan dialects, and Malay).
Due to political developments in Europe, the British took possession of the Cape in 1795, returning to Dutch rule seven years later, and repossessed by the British in 1806 (because of Holland’s alliance with Britain’s enemy, Napoleon). After 470 Afrikaner settlers (known as Voortrekkers) fought against Zulu warriors and won during the Battle of Blood River in 1838 (at the bank of the Ncome River, KwaZulu-Natal province), they established there – expanding the European presence in South Africa.
Another expansion of the Europeans in South Africa occurred when the British established Port Natal (now known as Durban) at KwaZulu-Natal. In time, the British developed sugar cane fields there, and brought in indentured workers from India to work the land (these individuals were the ancestors of South Africa’s present-day Indian community). Further to the north of Natal, on the highveld, two Boer republics were formed: the central Orange Free State and South African Republic (Transvaal or ZAR – Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek) to its north.
One economic trend that expanded the European presence in South Africa was the discovery of diamonds in 1871 in the vicinity of present-day Kimberly, with De Beers Consolidated Mines coming into being under the leadership of British settler Cecil John Rhodes. This, and the discovery of gold became a game-changer for the country, converting it from an agrarian economy to an industrialized one.
As a result of the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 (triggered in part by the British drive for gold discovered in Boer-controlled Transvaal), the Union of South Africa came into being in 1910 (uniting all the country’s provinces under British rule). With the National Party government putting into force the country’s racially-divisive Apartheid policies in 1948, South Africa became a republic and withdrew from the British Commonwealth in 1961. With opposition against Apartheid’s policies growing by this time, the South African government cracked down on the resistance movement, led by the African National Congress (ANC) – arresting and imposing life sentences upon its leadership, including Nelson Mandela (who, along with ANC colleagues like Walter Sisusu, were sent to the infamous Robben Island prison off the coast of Cape Town).
By the 1980s, South Africa, whose economy was starting to feel the impact of an international boycott against Apartheid, was under siege by growing local multiracial resistance to its repressive policies (invoking a state of emergency in an effort to maintain order). Under such pressure, the South African government released Mandela and other ANC leaders from prison in 1990 (while lifting restrictions on the ANC itself, as well as other political parties). After tough negotiations, the country’s first democratic elections were held in 1994, with Mandela becoming the first black president of South Africa.
The country has since rejoined the world community, with tourism gradually growing. Among the country’s attractions are its natural assets – Cape Town’s Table Mountain, world class beaches (especially near Cape Town), fine wine production in the Western Cape, Kruger National Park and other game reserves, and cultural & historical sites (from Robben Island to Voortrekker Monument).
South Africa also got an international boost from it hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup football games, as well as its profile being raised in December 2013 when Nelson Mandela passed away, and much of the international community (including U.S. president Barack Obama). With tourism generating as much as 7.9% of GDP, visitors are flying in mainly from UK (438,023 visitors in 2012), USA (326,643 visitors in 2012), with other arrivals from China, Brazil, India, and neighboring African countries.