People have inhabited southern Africa for thousands of years. Members
of the Khoisan language groups are the oldest surviving inhabitants of
the land, but only a few are left in South Africa today--and they are located
in the western sections. Most of today's black South Africans belong to
the Bantu language group, which migrated south from central Africa, settling
in the Transvaal region sometime before AD 100. The Nguni, ancestors of
the Zulu and Xhosa, occupied most of the eastern coast by 1500.
The Portugese were the first Europeans to reach the Cape of Good Hope,
arriving in 1488. However, permanent white settlement did not begin until
1652 when the Dutch East India Company established a provisioning station
on the Cape. In subsequent decades, French Huguenot refugees, the Dutch,
and Germans began to settle in the Cape. Collectively, they form the Afrikaner
segment of today's population. The establishment of these settlements had
far-reaching social and political effects on the groups already settled
in the area, leading to upheaval in these societies and the subjugation
of their people.
By 1779, European settlements extended throughout the southern part
of the Cape and east toward the Great Fish River. It was here that Dutch
authorities and the Xhosa fought the first frontier war. The British gained
control of the Cape of Good Hope at the end of the 18th century. Subsequent
British settlement and rule marked the beginning of a long conflict between
the Afrikaners and the English.
Beginning in 1836, partly to escape British rule and cultural hegemony
and partly out of resentment at the recent abolition of slavery, many Afrikaner
farmers (Boers) undertook a northern migration that became known as the
"Great Trek." This movement brought them into contact and conflict with
African groups in the area, the most formidable of which were the Zulus.
Under their powerful leader, Shaka (1787-1828), the Zulus conquered most
of the territory between the Drakensberg Mountains and the sea (now KwaZulu-Natal).
In 1828, Shaka was assassinated and replaced by his half-brother Dingane.
In 1838, Dingane was defeated and deported by the Voortrekkers (people
of the Great Trek) at the battle of Blood River. The Zulus, nonetheless,
remained a potent force, defeating the British in the historic battle of
Isandhlwana before themselves being finally conquered in 1879.
In 1852 and 1854, the independent Boer Republics of the Transvaal and
Orange Free State were created. Relations between the republics and the
British Government were strained. The discovery of diamonds at Kimberley
in 1870 and the discovery of large gold deposits in the Witwatersrand region
of the Transvaal in 1886 caused an influx of European (mainly British)
immigration and investment. Many blacks also moved into the area to work
in the mines. The construction by mine owners of hostels to house and control
their workers set patterns that later extended throughout the region.
Boer reactions to this influx and British political intrigues led to
the Anglo-Boer Wars of 1880-81 and 1899-1902. British forces prevailed
in the conflict, and the republics were incorporated into the British Empire.
In May 1910, the two republics and the British colonies of the Cape and
Natal formed the Union of South Africa, a self-governing dominion of the
British Empire. The Union's constitution kept all political power in the
hands of whites.
In 1912, the South Africa Native National Congress was founded in Bloemfontein
and eventually became known as the African National Congress (ANC). Its
goals were the elimination of restrictions based on color and the enfranchisement
of and parliamentary representation for blacks. Despite these efforts the
government continued to pass laws limiting the rights and freedoms of blacks.
In 1948, the National Party (NP) won the all-white elections and began
passing legislation codifying and enforcing an even stricter policy of
white domination and racial separation known as "apartheid" (separateness).
In the early 1960s, following a protest in Sharpeville in which 69 protesters
were killed by police and 180 injured, the ANC and Pan-African Congress
(PAC) were banned. Nelson Mandela and many other anti-apartheid leaders
were convicted and imprisoned on charges of treason.
The ANC and PAC were forced underground and fought apartheid through
guerrilla warfare and sabotage. In May 196 1, South Africa relinquished
its dominion status and declared itself a republic. It withdrew from the
Commonwealth in part because of international protests against apartheid.
In 1984, a new constitution came into effect in which whites allowed coloreds
and Asians a limited role in the national government and control over their
own affairs in certain areas. Ultimately, however, all power remained in
white hands. Blacks remained effectively disenfranchised.
Popular uprisings in black and colored townships in 1976 and 1985 helped
to convince some NP members of the need for change. Secret discussions
between those members and Nelson Mandela began in 1986. In February 1990,
State President F.W. de Klerk, who had come to power in September 1989,
announced the unbanning of the ANC, the PAC, and all other anti-apartheid
groups. Two weeks later, Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
In 1991, the Group Areas Act, Land Acts, and the Population Registration
Act--the last of the so-called "pillars of apartheid" were abolished. A
long series of negotiations ensued, resulting in a new constitution promulgated
into law in December 1993. The country's first nonracial elections were
held on April 26-29, 1994, resulting in the installation of Nelson Mandela
as president on May 10, 1994.
During Nelson Mandela's 5-year term as President of South Africa, the
government committed itself to reforming the country. The ANC-led government
focused on social issues that were neglected during the apartheid era such
as unemployment, housing shortages, and crime. Mandela's administration
began to reintroduce South Africa into the global economy by implementing
a market-driven economic plan (GEAR). In order to heal the wounds created
by apartheid, the government created the Truth and Reconciliation Committee
(TRC) under the leadership of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. During the first
term of the ANC's post-apartheid rule, President Mandela concentrated on
national reconciliation, trying to forge a single South African identity
and sense of purpose among a diverse and splintered populace, riven by
years of conflict. The lack of political violence after 1994 is testament
to the abilities of Mandela to achieve this difficult goal. Nelson Mandela
stepped down as President of the ANC at the party's national congress in
December 1997, when Thabo Mbeki assumed the mantle of leadership. Mbeki
won the presidency of South Africa after national elections in 1999, when
the ANC won just shy of a two-thirds majority in parliament. President
Mbeki shifted the focus of government from reconciliation to transformation,
particularly on the economic front. With political transformation and the
foundation of a strong democratic system in place after two free and fair
national elections, the ANC recognized the need to begin to focus on bringing
economic power to the black majority in South Africa, as well as political
power. In this progress has come somewhat more slowly.