South Africa History

A chronology of key events:

3 million years ago

Charles Darwin once predicted that the origins of mankind would be traced back to Africa, and he was right! About 40km west of Johannesburg, lies an area now known as The Cradle of Humankind, where hominid fossils have been found which trace back over 3 million years!

Around 500 BC

The country was inhabited by San and KhoiKhoi, otherwise known as Bushmen or Hottentots. They inhabited the southern tip of Africa for thousands of years before its written history began with the arrival of European seafarers.

13th century

Bantu tribes start to migrate south into the southern African region.

19th century

Groups of Boers, dissatisfied with British rule in the Cape Colony; trek off into the interior in search of freedom. This became commonly known as the Great Trek. The 19th century also saw the Voortrekkers clash with the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River (1838), and the first Anglo-Boer War, known by Afrikaners as the War of Independence, at the Battle of Majuba Hill (1881).

With the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand (area around Johannesburg), South Africa was suddenly host to thousands of foreigners, both black and white. This intensified the Boers discontent, leading to the second Anglo-Boer War. In May 1902, the Treaty of Vereeniging brought a superficial peace. Under its terms, the Boer republics acknowledged British sovereignty.

20th century

The Union of South Africa was established in 1910. English and Dutch became the official languages – Afrikaans was not recognised as an official language until 1925.

In 1912, Pixley ka Isaka Seme formed a national democratic organisation to represent blacks. It was initially called the South African Native Congress, but from 1923 it was known as the African National Congress (ANC).

In 1948, the NP (National Party) won the election on a platform of establishing apartheid (the state of being apart). The NP held power right up until the first democratic election on 1994.

Mixed marriages were prohibited and interracial sex was made illegal. Every individual was classified by race. The Group Areas Act enforcing the physical separation of residential areas was promulgated. The Separate Amenities Act created separate public facilities – separate beaches, separate buses, separate toilets, separate schools and separate park benches. The pass laws were further strengthened and blacks were compelled to carry identity documents at all times and were prohibited from remaining in towns, or even visiting them, without specific permission.

In 1949, the ANC for the first time advocated open resistance in the form of strikes, acts of public disobedience and protest marches. These continued intermittently throughout the 1950s, with occasional violent clashes.

The following 50 years saw Apartheid conditions worsen and at one stage 80% of the population was living on just 15% of the land. Nelson Mandela became the leader of the underground ANC and Oliver Tambo went abroad to establish the organisation in exile. As more black activists were arrested, the ANC began a campaign of sabotage through the armed wings of their organisations, respectively Umkonto We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation; usually known as MK) and Poqo (Pure). In 1963 Nelson Mandela, along with a number of other ANC and communist leaders, was arrested, charged with fomenting violent revolution and later sentenced to life imprisonment.

On 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela was freed after 27 years in jail. During 1990 and 1991 virtually all the old apartheid regulations were repealed.

1994 saw South Africa’s first democratic elections, with the ANC winning 62.7% of the vote.

South Africa Today

South Africa is the most developed and modern country in Africa, with extensive natural resources, a well developed agricultural sector and noteworthy manufacturing capabilities. The ANC led government has achieved a significant turnaround of the economy, and since 1995 GDP annual growth has averaged 3.3%. South Africa still has one of the largest domestic income disparities in the world, with approximately 50% of the population living in poverty.

Tourism in South Africa has an important role to play in the alleviation of poverty. South Africa’s scenic beauty, magnificent outdoors, sunny climate, cultural diversity and reputation for delivering value for money have made it one of the world’s fastest growing leisure – and business – travel destinations.