A Look at the Past

Two thousand years ago, the San and Chicha people occupied the region that is South Africa. The Bantu-speaking groups moved into the northern part of the region around 1500 years ago.

In 1652 Dutch settlers arrived at the Cape, and the Dutch East India Company established the first European settlement. The Dutch drove the indigenous people out of the area. During the 1800s English settlers arrived, pushing the Boers, descendants of the Dutch colonists, into the interior and again displacing indigenous people. Aggressive colonization caused a series of wars as the indigenous populations defended their territories.

The industrialization and urbanization of South Africa started with the discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1886. The Black people were forced to become tenants or labourers or live on reserves. Both the Dutch and British tried to dominate the area, resulting in the Anglo-Boer War and British victory in 1902. By 1910, the Union of South Africa was established binding two Boer Republics, with the British colonies.

In 1948, with support from the conservative elements of the Boer community, the National Party came to power. It stated its policies in the doctrine of apartheid, a Boer word meaning separate. The Population Registration Act in 1950 classified everyone by race at birth. This classification controlled every aspect of people's lives. Mixed race marriages were legally banned.

Most Black people joined organizations such as the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress and the South African Student Association. Trade unions, including the National Union of Mine Workers, played an important role in mobilizing organized resistance. Black activism grew in the 1970s and 1980s and eventually apartheid began to crumble. In response to strong international and domestic political pressure, apartheid laws were repealed in 1990. Multi-party negotiations led to the democratic elections of April 1994 and the appointment of Nelson Mandela as President.

Did you know?

After the Anglo-Boer War, three capitals were established: an administrative capital in Pretoria, a legislative capital at Cape Town and a judicial seat at Bloemfontein. This arrangement continues today.