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South Africa

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South Africa. It is an extremity, the extremity of an extremely large continent. There is nowhere more South for voyagers seeking passage in the hemisphere. And, as such, surmounting this southmost latitude was equivalent to surmounting the final obstacle to a further destination. Geographically it is wonderful in its extremities; sociopolitically it had become extreme too. Perhaps it is the relative sociopolitical isolation of its geographic extremity that allowed such a thing.

Earliest Portuguese Explorations …

Sea-going explorations are rumored by the Greeks to have occurred earlier, much earlier;1 but the earliest rounding of the tip of the continent, of the so-called scientific era, would be by the Portuguese. The geographical feature now known as the Cape of Good Hope, was the point where sea navigators began to sail east of southeast, that is, more East than South. The actual southernmost point of continental Africa is Cape Agulhas, about a half degree south and one and a half degrees west of the Cape of Good Hope. Encylcopedia Britannica states it this way: “It [that is, the Cape of Good Hope] was first sighted by the Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias in 1488 on his return voyage to Portugal after ascertaining the southern limits of the African continent.”2  Dias named it the Cape of Storms. It was some time after the voyage of Dias that John II renamed it the Cape of Good Hope, this geographical feature, perhaps, being the early signal, as the dawn before the day, that the sea route between Europe and India was truly viable.3,4

The story of South Africa is essentially the amalgamation of the original inhabitants, Dutch settlers and then subsequent British settlers.

The Dutch Colonial Enterprise … The Boers … The Afrikaaners

As Portuguese maritime power began to wane in the early 1800s, that of the Dutch, and then of the British, increased. Journeying between the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans, later day Dutch and British merchants traded with the indigents of the southern African region, primarily the “Khoesan pastoralists”,5   In 1652 the Dutch East India Company established a settlement for supplying ocean going vessels both under their own flag and those of other countries together with a fortress.  The settlement replenished their supplies by trading with the indigents.  A little later the Company released some of its military support from their contracts to become freeburgher Boers which established on Khoesan grazing grounds.  Around this time Dutch settlers began to refer to the native peoples as Hottentot, and the term soon entered the vernacular.6 As demand for products to support the voyagers increased, so did demand from the settlement from the indigents who reached further and further inland and after a time found their own stock of produce and cattle diminishing. The Dutch encourage d settlement and soon a thousand people from the Netherlands had relocated into southern Africa.  These became known as the Boers, Dutch for “farmer”.

The increasing trade together with increasing settlement pushed the demand for products inland even further and soon the Boers were importing slaves from Madagascar at the rate of 200 to 300 per year for the next one hundred years.

The British first seized control of the Cape of Good Hope in 1795 and possessed it for good within a decade. Numerous political and social changes were introduced that tended to alienate the Dutch, particularly, restrictions upon slavery. The Dutch began to abandon the Cape and move northwards and, a generation later, in the 1830s and 1840s, what has become known as The Great Trek was in full motion.7 Boer states emerged northward as the British state solidified in the south.

The Boers moved northward and inland.

In 1843 the British annexed Natal, the trekker republic.  Subsequently “the British recognized the political independence of the Boer republics north of the Vaal and Orange Rivers.”8

The Boers were resisted mightily by Moshoeshoe I, now equipped with guns and the famous ‘Basuto pony’.  But through the 1850s and 18602, the Boers from Orange gradually occupied Sotho’s valuable and productive lowland regions.  Moshoeshoe sought British annexation.9

In 1870 diamonds were discovered and by 1871 the British colony of Griqualand West had been established.  Cecil Rhodes’ company, De Beers, grew to dominated the diamond industry in the 1880s.  By 1889 he had bought out all his rivals and thus had the monopoly on the diamond industry. 

Kimberley rapidly grew into a town of 30,000 people and the mines employed 50,000 in the 1870s.10

The “mineral revolution”11

led to a renewed aggressive white colonialism which met with a much better armed African resistance.12

In 1886, gold was discovered in central Transvaal at the Witwatersrand (sometimes known simply as the Rand).13

  The following industrialization was larger than that initiated by the discovery of diamonda.  Johannesburg rapidly grew to the largest city in sub Saharan Africa.14

The government of Transvaal gained much money through taxes and field a powerful army which was used to extend their land northwards eastwards and westwards.

The Boer Republics, Transvaal, the First Boer War and the Second Boer War …

The Boer Republics were several latter-half 19th century polities descended from earlier15 Dutch settlers and colonists.16 They were located in the northern and northeastern regions of the country now known as South Africa. Two of these polities, the Orange Free State and the South African Republic, also known as Transvaal,17 achieved international recognition. 18

The First Boer War (1881-1882), also known as the Anglo-Boer War and the First Transvaal War of Independence,19was fought between the United Kingdom and the Boers of Transvaal.20Britain was defeated resulting in the acknowledgement of the independence of Transvaal, as it had been since 1852.21

The Second Boer War (1899-1902), also known by various names, pitted Great Britain against two Boer states, The Transvaal and the Orange Free State.22Great Britain won and by 1910, the two states were incorporated into the Union of South Africa,23 and, the British Empire.24

The British Colonial Enterprise … The Boers … Apartheid

The British arrived with concern for Dutch possessions as the Netherlands had been invaded by the First French Republic.

Diamonds were discovered in 1867 and gold in 1884.25

The Long Process to Independence … and … separation from Britain …

“Within the country, anti-British policies among white South Africans focused on independence. During the Dutch and British colonial years, racial segregation was mostly informal, though some legislation was enacted to control the settlement and movement of native people, including the Native Location Act of 1879 and the system of pass laws.”26 Visions of independence began to solidify with the 1909 South Africa Act granting nominal independence. Independence was complete with the 1931 Statute of Westminster dissolving all remaining British powers in South Africa.

The National Party opposed unity with Great Britain in the war for survival in 1939.27 The republic renounced Queen Elizabeth II in 196128 and withdrew from the Commonwealth of Nations.29 South Africa was independent and charting its own course.

Apartheid …

Apartheid, apartness,30 was a system of institutionalized segregation. It is a solidified emotion, and institutionalized prejudice. The origins of hate are much older, of course; but the South Africa’s institutionalization might be said to begin in 1948.

1948 saw the nationalist party elected to power,31 and, the beginning of what has come to be known as Apartheid. They passed legislation that segmented peoples in three races assigning levels of rights and limitations distinct to each race.32

Ten homelands, or Bantustans,33were established in South Africa. These were regions explicitly designed to remove Blacks from the White politics and society.34

An interesting story on a sidelight of the process of dismantling apartheid specifically in regards to the homelands.35 Hilary Lynd, Secret details of the land deal that brought the IFP into the 94 poll, Mail&Guardian August 7, 2019/efn_note]

Backroom deals in the 1994 election in hopes of success. 36 Hilary Lynd, Secret details of the land deal that brought the IFP into the 94 poll, Mail&Guardian August 7, 2019/efn_note]


  1. see the tale told by Eudoxus of Cyzicus of the vessel from the Iberian Peninsula found in the Indian Ocean, wikipedia
  2. Cape of Good Hope, Encyclopedia Britannica
  3. Note the word after in the Encyclopedia article quoted above (the basis of which, I have not searched). The word suggests that Dias was returning from a successful rounding of the tip of Africa, that is, he had discovered also the southernmost point of continental Africa. He named one prominent geographical feature the Cape of Storms, likely in recollection of an experience, rather dramatic it seems, in that region. It seems possible he did not even sight the Cape in that vicious storm, but only afterward on his return journey. The King, John II, later, in reviewing the charts of the journey, realized the significance of this feature. when his navigators would begin to sail more east then south.
  4. the Cape of Good Hope and its discovery were immortalized by the Portuguese poet Luis Vaz de Camoes in his epic Os Lusiadas, or, The Lusiads, frequently compared too Virgil and Homer.
  5. Kevin Shillington, History of Africa, Third Edition, (Palgrave MacMillan), page(s) 219
  6. Hottentot (racial term), wikipedia
  7. Kevin Shillington, History of Africa, Third Edition, (Palgrave MacMillan), page(s) 271
  8. Kevin Shillington, History of Africa,
    Third Edition, (Palgrave MacMillan), page(s) 277
  9. Kevin Shillington, History of Africa, Third Edition, (Palgrave MacMillan), page(s) 278-279
  10. Kevin Shillington, History of Africa, Third Edition, (Palgrave MacMillan), page(s)328-329
  11. Kevin Shillington, History of Africa, Third Edition, (Palgrave MacMillan), page(s) 330
  12. Kevin Shillington, History of Africa, Third Edition, (Palgrave MacMillan), page(s) 330
  13. Kevin Shillington, History of Africa, Third Edition, (Palgrave MacMillan), page(s) 331
  14. Kevin Shillington, History of Africa, Third Edition, (Palgrave MacMillan), page(s) 331
  15. “The Dutch East India Company first issued land to the Free Burghers in 1657”. “The introduction of Free Burghers to the Cape is regarded as the beginning of a permanent settlement of Europeans in South Africa and the inception of the Boer People.’ Boer Republics, wikipedia
  16. Boer Republics, wikipedia
  17. Transvaal, across the Vaal, refers to its location on the northern shore of the Vaal River.[Transvaal (province), wikipedia
  18. Boer Republics, wikipedia
  19. South African History Online, First Anglo-Boer War
  20. First Boer War, wikipedia
  21. The British had annexed independent Transvaal a few years earlier, hence, some call this war Transvaal Rebellion. First Boer War, wikipedia
  22. Second Boer War, wikipedia
  23. “the historical predecessor to the present-day Republic of South Africa.”Union of South Africa, wikipedia
  24. Second Boer War, wikipedia
  25. South Africa, wikipedia
  26. South Africa, wikipedia
  27. South Africa, wikipedia
  28. South Africa, wikipedia
  29. South Africa, wikipedia
  30. literal meaning of the word apartheid is “apartness”, Apartheid, wikipedia
  31. South Africa, wikipedia
  32. South Africa, wikipedia
  33. a Bantustan was an area designated for Black inhabitants in South Africa and Namibia. It derives from the name Bantu. The ten (in all) Bantustans were a key part of the apartheid system erected in South Africa. Bantustan, wikipedia
  34. The Homelands, South Africa History Online,