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South Africa - History

While convincing archaeological evidence seems to confirm that South Africa 's history goes back to the dawn of time, our written history is much closer to the present day.

The 15th century Portuguese navigator, Bartholomeu Dias, was the first recorded European to set foot in this part of the world in 1488. However it was the Dutch, very influential in the history of South Africa, who established the first proper settlement in the form of a small refreshment station. The station, set up in 1652 to supply the ships of the Dutch East India Company on their long journeys to and from the spice islands of the East Indies, grew into the city we know today as Cape Town.

Jan van Riebeek

The arrival of the first Europeans at the foot of Africa met with little resistance from the Cape's only human inhabitants, the Khoi-San people. These survivors of mankind's ancient Stone Age childhood were hunter-gatherers and nomadic pastoralists. They were innocent onlookers who by the 18th century had been all but decimated by conflicts and European diseases such as the Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1713 - a dark year in the history of South Africa.

Black tribes, who had been slowly moving down the east coast from further north in Africa, were not encountered until 1702 some 700 km away, when Dutch farmers migrated eastwards and made the first contact with the Xhosa people.

Battle Field

The British, who crushed the tiny Dutch garrison after 150 years of occupation of the Cape, sent hundreds of immigrants up the east coast to the Great Fish River to act as a buffer between the growing European colony and the Xhosas.

The 100 years of ongoing conflict and bloody battles between whites and blacks at the Great Fish River is an important part of South Africa 's history and the battle had consequences which are still unfolding today.

Battles were also fought in what is today KwaZulu-Natal, between the Zulus and north-trekking Dutch farmers (Boers) and later on the British, who had conquered the Boers and made Natal their Crown Colony.

Then came the Anglo-Boer war of 1899-1902, the culmination of bitter feuds between the British and the Afrikaaners, as the Boers now called themselves, who had settled on the grassy plains in the north. Factors leading up to the Anglo-Boer war was the discovery, first of diamonds in 1867 and then the Witwatersrand main gold reef in 1886, both in the areas controlled by the Afrikaaners.

Battle Field 2

The British won this war and in 1910 the Union of South Africa was born - a self-governing dominion within the British Empire.

However, in 1948 the Nationalist party, supported by the white Afrikaans-speaking population, came into power - a position they were to hold for the next 40 years.

Nobel Peace Prize Winners, Nelson Mandela & FW de Klerk.

The 40 years up to the first democratic elections of 1994 were marked by the enforcement of the Nationalist Party's harsh apartheid laws, which stripped black South Africans of their basic human rights, and South Africa's increasing isolation from the international community.

On 27 April 1994 the many years of struggle for freedom achieved its goal.

Free elections were held, South Africa 's apartheid was history and Nelson Mandela became president of this Rainbow Nation. South Africa 's history has been colourful and unique and has resulted in a country that is a melting pot of different races, religions and cultures - a true rainbow nation.

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