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South Africa History
South Africa History - TravelPuppy.com
Evidence of human and humanoid occupation of South Africa extends back 2 million years. Stone Age artefacts date from 40,000 years ago, from which time there appears to have been a permanent human culture. This culture has been identified as being related to that of the Khoisan people and it lasted until the arrival of the Bantus and the Europeans, who largely absorbed them. The Bantu population of the region arrived as a consequence of the great southward migrations of Bantu people across central and southern Africa, which occurred approximately 300 BC to the 16 th century AD. This largely displaced the Bushmen (whose aboriginal culture – still surviving in the Kalahari – is rivaled only in Australia) and the Khoikhoi ( ‘Hottentots’ ).

The European discovery of South Africa was roughly simultaneous – the Portuguese navigator, Bartholomew Dias, discovered the Cape of Good Hope in 1488. In 1652, Dutch settlers, under the Commander Jan van Riebeeck, arrived to create a victualling station for the Dutch East India Company. Numbers were increased by French Huguenots in 1688 and again in 1820, by British settlers, after the British occupation of the Cape. During the 18 th and 19 th centuries, British and Boer settlers fought a succession of wars with the local tribes. Control of the Cape region was also a matter of dispute between the British and the Dutch. The British eventually gained control in 1806 and, unhappy with their new rulers, the Boer pioneers, or Voortrekkers, moved northwards to launch the independent republics of the Orange Free State (now Free State) and the Transvaal (now Gauteng), bringing them into contact (and sometimes conflict) with the indigenous Africans – the Nguni and Sotho, in particular.

In 1869, diamonds (and, soon after, gold) were discovered in the Transvaal (now Gauteng), attracting massive numbers of fortune hunters, many of them British. President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal (now Gauteng), fearing British domination, stated strict franchise requirements. Britain’s attempts at intervention resulted in the Anglo-Boer War, the British victory in 1902 ultimately resulted in the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910. In 1948, the National Party came to power and smoothed the policy of apartheid, officially the separate development of all racial groups but in effect the creation of semi-autonomous ‘homelands’ for non whites and the preservation of white supremacy elsewhere. 4 ‘homelands’ (Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Transkei and Venda) were created, comprising 13 % of all land in the country. Although officially styled ‘independent’, the ‘homelands’ were not recognised internationally and were entirely reliant politically and economically on South Africa.

The main black opposition movement was the African National Congress (ANC). The bulk of the ANC’s organisation and resources, including its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, ( ‘Spear of the Nation’ ) worked in exile. The most significant black political force outside the ANC has been Chief Buthelezi’s Inkatha movement, with a power base in the Zulu areas in the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal. Succeeding Governments dealt with black opposition with simple and brutal suppression. Although, in public at least, the international community reacted powerfully against apartheid and maintained economic sanctions against South Africa, there was concurrently extensive and largely concealed support from the West for the South African Government and its economy. The troubles for the South Africans started in the mid- to late 1980's.

In February 1989, the hard line national party President, PW Botha (known as ‘The Great Crocodile’), gave way to his education minister, FW De Klerk, who had an equally stubborn reputation but, in the event, turned out to be relatively flexible and realistic. The new Government faced constant large scale disturbance by the ANC but also growing pressure from the white-dominated business community, who were beginning to realise that the apartheid regime had no long term viable future. The economy had been in near crisis for some time, so South Africa’s foreign creditors were demanding wholesale changes in domestic policy to defend their investments. Over the next 12 months, the De Klerk Government detached the ban of the ANC, the South African Communist Party and 30 other anti apartheid groups, and released the jailed ANC leadership including its leader, Nelson Mandela, after 27 years of imprisonment. Mandela and his ANC colleagues instantly started negotiating a final political settlement with the white Government.

The ANC is not a unitary movement but a coalition of several diverse interests, Mandela has described it as “an African parliament". More important was the deep schism that emerged between the ANC and Inkatha, which recurrently exploded into violence and threatened to destabilise the entire process. Despite many close calls, all 3 main parties (Inkatha, ANC and the National Party) entered into a process, which, by the end of 1993, had laid out a blueprint for a new constitutional future for South Africa. De Klerk kept most of the whites on board. The most dangerous white racist organisation, the Afrikaner Weerstandbeweging (AWB, Afrikaner Resistance Movement) self destructed and hard line whites have since limited themselves to dreaming up improbable projects to establish ‘white homelands’ in remote parts of the country.

The centre piece of the political settlement was the 1st genuinely inclusive national election in South Africa, which was held in February 1994. The ANC won 63 % of the poll, the National Party 20 % and Inkatha 11 %. Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s President with Thabo Mbeki and De Klerk as Deputy Presidents. The fresh Government faced a series of huge tasks in reversing the legacy of a half century of apartheid, including the provision of decent standards of education, housing, health and other basic services for the great majority of the population whose needs had been ignored.

The practical necessity of not estranging domestic industrialists and international financiers meant that the Government could not move as rapidly as it might have wished. The manifold prejudices of the apartheid era were dealt with, for the most part successfully, by the deliberations of the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’, which has exposed much detail about the murkier aspects of that period. Inkatha continues to hold sway in KwaZulu-Natal, where there have been occasional but increasingly occasional outbreaks of political violence. The ANC dominates the political scene in the rest of South Africa. The National Party (now called the New National Party) left the Government after the launch of a new constitution in 1996, since when it has become a marginal force. The leading white dominated party is now the Democratic Party, which ploughed a lonely contract as a white liberal opposition during apartheid.

Before the June 1999 elections, Mandela passed the leadership reins to his heir apparent, Thabo Mbeki, who led the ANC to a snug victory. Inkatha and the National Party were confined to less than 10 % of the vote. Mbeki and the ANC party also won contentedly in the 2004 elections. Mbeki’s administration is struggling with 2 main domestic problems, a huge violent crime wave and an HIV - AIDS pandemic, which afflicts over 10 % of the adult population. Mbeki’s persistent denial to come to terms with the true nature of the HIV virus has drawn huge international criticism as well as being the subject of furious arguments between Mandela and Mbeki.

Abroad, South Africa has pursued an independent foreign policy, dealing with several regimes that are out of favour with the West (Cuba, Iran and, until recently, Libya) but whose support for the ANC during apartheid, when the United Kingdom, United States of America and others were supporting the regime – was not forgotten. It has also engaged in stronger relations with other major developing countries, notably India and Brazil, in an attempt to form some kind of counterweight to the overpowering power of the West. Relations with the Europe and the United States of America are nonetheless stable.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Mbeki, under the rubric of the Millennium Africa Plan, has got involved in many regional conflicts. These include Burundi , Ethiopia / Eritrea, and Congo (Democratic Republic). Closer to home, the Government has shown a sometimes uncertain touch, a blundering involvement in neighboring Lesotho in 1998 was followed by questionable engagements in Angola and Congo (Republic). Most recently, Mbeki has been confounded by the increasingly chaotic situation in Zimbabwe. Here again, the historical heritage of mutual support among liberation movements during the dark days of apartheid and UDI has made Mbeki unwilling to take any measures against the Mugabe regime.