Southern Africa Travel Guide
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A brief, brief history of South Africa
Country: South Africa
The history of Southern African started long before Nelson Mandela, Jan van Riebeeck or Bartolomeu Dias were born. The Khoisan have lived here for thousands of years and the “oldest tribe in the world” has left fascinating archeological finds behind. But the history of southern Africa doesn’t start there either as the region was already inhabited long before the first homo sapiens…
THE EARLY, EARLY DAYS
Southern Africa is one large archeological treasure chest: from the first evidence of life (blue-green algae of about 3.5 billion years old) to tons of dinosaur fossils and the oldest remains of modern man, about 100 thousand years old. People interested in prehistory should really consider the World Heritage Site of the Cradle of Humankind (Gauteng) and the West Coast Fossil Park in Langebaan (Western Cape).
Commonly referred to as Hottentots and Bushmen, the Khoikhoi-gatherers and San-hunters are probably the oldest tribes on planet earth! The tribes have co-existed harmoniously for about 40 thousand years. The Khoisan as the two tribes are collectively know, have left rock art all over the region. Some survived over 25 thousand years of harsh erosion. Places of interest: Tsodilo Hills Botswana and the many, many rock art sites of southern Africa.
Around 500 AD the first black people moved into sub-sahara Africa. These so-called Bantu tribes had an advanced Iron Age culture and were seasoned herdsmen. In fact the immigration happened over a long period and involved many tribes that still exist today, like the Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi and Ndebele. Some rock art of the Khoisan display black men, making them the only ‘records’ of this undocumented era. The prevalence of clicks in the Xhosa and Zulu are also an indication of an age old interaction with the Khoisan.
The concept of divine leadership and chieftaincy existed in southern Africa long before the first kings of the world were crowned. Around the year 1050, around what is now called the Limpopo river, a kingdom arose named Mapungubwe. The stronghold flourished due to extensive trade with Muslim merchants. Historical evidence proves that traders from as far as China came to Mapungubwe with valuables like porcelain. Places of interest: the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site.
WHITE EXPLORERS & COLONISTS
Portuguese explorers Bortolomeu Dias and Vasco Da Gama were the first to respectively discover and circumvent the Cape of Good Hope at the end of the 15th century. But the Dutch East India Company (VOC) were the first to show interest in the Cape as a potential settlement. In 1652 Jan van Riebeeck became the first governor of the Cape Colony. In those days Cape Town and surrounds was regarded as merely a restock station en route to the East. Places of interest: Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town (although it was built a few years after Jan van Riebeeck left), Cape Point Nature Reserve and the Dias Museum in Mossel Bay that includes the “Post Office Tree”.
In 1806 the English took over control of the Cape from the Dutch. The nineteenth century saw the abolition of slavery and the consequent “trek” of Afrikaners, the rise of the Zulu military and the settlement of more British in the Cape. The discovery of gold and diamonds at the end of the century resulted in many battles between the “Boers”, British and Zulu. South Africa had become more than a mere port of call. Places of interest: the KwaZulu-Natal Battlefields, Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria.
After lengthy conflicts, “Boers” an “Brits” form the Union of South Africa in 1910. In an electoral landslide the National Party seizes power in 1948 and institutes apartheid, a system designed to segregate races in South Africa. People are forcefully removed from their homes and moved to informal settlements. When police opens fire on unarmed school children in 1976, the world has had enough. With the beginning of the boycotts, apartheid’s days are numbered. Places of interest: Apartheidmuseum in Johannesburg, District Six (museum) in Cape Town, Robben Island.
In 1990 the system is abolished and in 1994 Nelson Mandela is elected the very first democratically elected president of South Africa. Efforts of national building and the Truth & Reconciliation Committee have led to a stable democracy.
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