The most important feature of South African history which makes it an immensely interesting and rewarding region to study is the great variety of people (who are these people?) leading very different kinds of lives.

Therefore, the history of these African  communities has been dominated by :

<> The movements of various groups of people

<> The reaction of one community (group) upon another

<> The story of how different groups either accepted or were forced to accept changes.

In most cases every group tried to maintain its traditional way of life. For example:

<> The San fought hard for the survival of their nomadic (hunter-gatherer) existence

<> The Bantu fought hard to defend their land

<> The Boers in their trek (1830s) away from the Cape demonstrated their burning desire to retain a way of life established over a period of two hundred years.

Despite this fight for the retention of traditional ways of life and territory, there has always been a mixing between the different racial groups and from this exchange of cultures, there developed a growth of South African civilization. What does this mean?

Thus, different ways of livingideas of government and administration, and modern scientific and technological knowledge have crossed barriers of color and shown that people can adopt a culture different from the one into which they are born.

Beyond the movements of people and the effect they had on each other, South African history focuses on:

<> The setting up of African states in the 19th century and how after the discovery of precious minerals in the interior, these African states were undermined /eclipsed/ overshadowed by the increased power of the European communities.

<> The different methods of African resistances to European control.

<> How apartheid policy strengthened white domination in the region and African reaction to apartheid policy through the careers of major African leaders such as LithuliMandela and Sobukwe.

Sources of South African History

A variety of sources have greatly assisted in compiling the history of South Africa. The most important ones are:

1. Oral histories; this has provided a way to learn about the South African past from people with first hand knowledge of historical events or their own experiences, which in themselves from the raw data/materials of history.

Historians and other people find out about the lives of ordinary people through spoken stories. Oral histories provides important historical evidence about people, especially minority or marginalized groups (old people, uneducated people, women, children, etc) who were excluded from mainstream histories (written histories).

A good example of this oral history is the “praise poem”  from indigenous South African culture, which predates European contact, and tells us about leaders and events in the time before and during the history writing of white settlers in South Africa.

2. Archaeological evidence, that is the remains of stone toolsbonessticksshelters and fire places found in campsites. These kind of materials have been particularly well preserved in some caves and rock shelters along the southern coast of the Cape. The interpretation of these archaeological remains have provided valuable information for the reconstruction of South African history

3. Paintings, there are paintings made by the San on the walls of their rock shelters. These depict people as well as animalstoolsweapons and other objects. Many fine examples of rock art are to be found in Drankensberg mountains of South Africa and parts of Lesotho as well as in the hills and rock shelters of ZimbabweBotswana and Namibia.

4. Written records of early European travelerstradersmissionaries and colonists who came at the Cape from the 17th century onwards. Their writings often provide useful descriptions about peoples’ life ways.

5. There is evidence of the ways of life of the San’s descendants. Anthropologists have recent years intensively studied those few who still live a hunting and gathering existence, especially in the remote desert regions of Botswana. These studies of modern hunter-gatherer communities can tell the historians much about how their ancestors probably lived many hundreds of years ago.

Brief Historiography of South Africa

Many books written by Colonial historians and Anthropologists have been published on the history of South Africa.

However, most of these suffers from a number of fundamental weaknesses:

<> They were mainly written through the eyes of the white men. These authors were preoccupied with the history of Europeans in South Africa as seen by Europeans and ignored the contributions of Africans to the total history of the country.

<> Due to the official policy of apartheid based on the fiction of the superiority of the  white race, the vast majority of these books are biased against Africans and other non-white .

<> While most books on the history of South Africa tells us a great deal about events in South Africa since white settlement, they tells us little about African societies and states both before and since the coming of the whites. Thus, for most part, Africans are simply mentioned in connection with fiction with whites.

To authors of such books:

The African was merely a passive character who was incapable of initiating change and development or influencing policy, thus, making history.

It was against these serious weaknesses that Nationalist Historians found it important to review and re-write the history of South Africa so as to overcome the weaknesses by portraying developments among Africans and other non-white societies and by emphasizing the roles of Africans as well as that of the whites, in the development of South Africa.

Generally, Nationalist Historians who reviewed South African History have attempted to break away from the European approach which was common to colonial historians, that is, Africans were inferior and  incapable of initiating their own development.

The emphasis of Nationalist Historians became the history of the majority black population of South Africa. As far as possible, attempts have been made to interpret South African historical events in African perspective.


Archaeological evidence suggests that South Africa was inhabited by man many years ago. Between half a million and two million years ago, the country was already peopled by early man. These early men are called australopithecine (Southern apes) , the specie from which modern man descended.

The Australopithecine are said to have had a small brain sizea huge lower jaw with large molars (teeth used for crushing food). In most cases they used born implements.

As man became more advanced, so also his culture and implements for cuttingdefensehunting, and even for digging up roots for food became more and more efficient as they were more refined.

During the late stone age when tools were widely in use, this long process of changeadaptation, and advancement led to the emergence of a group of people similar to the present Bushmen of the Kalahari desert. These people lived by huntingfishing and gathering.

The peopling of South Africa, their economy, social formations and political organization

Factors For State Formation In Southern Africa

1. The Bushmen

These are said to have been the earliest inhabitants of South Africa. In South Africa, they are known by various names:

– Europeans calls them Bushmen ( a name first given to them by the Boers who referred to them as Bosjesmannes, that is “men of the bush

– The Xhosa call them the “Twa”

– The Sotho call them the “Roa”

–  The Hottentots call them the “San” or “Saan”

The Bushmen’s early occupation of the country is partly proved by numerous relics (remains) of their stone toolsrock paintings and sculpture, all these are found in places like Damaralandthe Orange Free States (OFS), the Transvaal and Transkei.

Physical characteristics of the Bushmen

– They are short and yellow or brown skinned

– Their language is characterized by the use of “clicks”, that is, it has click sounds

– They are generally hospitable and peaceful although they hate intrusion by strangers into their privacy and their hunting grounds, for they are great hunters. Any intruders are attacked with poisonous arrows.

– The hair is weak in growth, in age it becomes grey

– A hollowed back and protruding stomach are frequent characteristics of their figure

– The amount of fat under the skin in both sexes is remarkably small; hence the skin is as dry as leather and falls into strong folds around the stomach and at the joints.


– Although the Bushmen had only simple tools, the early Bushmen had no major difficult in getting food. They lived on wild animals , wild rootsfruitslocustwild honeycaterpillars, etc.

– They supplemented their rich diet with fish which they caught in numerous rivers such as the KeiVaalTsomo and Tugele.

– They did not grow food crops and they kept no domestic animals except the dog, which they used for hunting.

– They did not engage in pottery or basketry making. In order to store/ keep their food and water, they used ostrich egg shells.

– They owned little properties collectively, there was no individualism, for example, hunted wild animals were shared among themselves.

– They did not posses iron tools as they lacked iron technology. Their weapons were made up of woodsstone and animal and fish bones.

– In order to survive and have enough food, the Bushmen have developed a division of labor based on genderWomen perform the food gathering and men perform the hunting

Social and political organization

The kind of life the San lived did not encourage a high degree of social and political organization.

–  As there was plenty of land and people lived by hunting and gathering, the Bushmen lived a predominantly  nomadic life .

–  They moved from one place to another looking for animals to hunt depending on weather.

–  They lived in caves or temporary shelters made up of grasses or bushes

The San were very good at rock paintings and stone carvings.

Animals were represented in paintings on rocksstone and ostrich egg shells as well as walls of caves.

–    They made their paints out of animal fats and vegetable dyes and applied it with sticks or feathers .

–    The most common colors  were redorangeyellow and brown.

–    Among the later paintings, the largest antelope, the eland occurs most frequently. It is believed that this was a sacred animal.

–    They lived in small family groups of about 12 to a maximum of 30 people.

  Tenses Exercise and Answers

–    It was common for girls of seven (7) or eight (8) years to be married to boys of 14 or 15 years.

–    Boys underwent initiation which included a test of their skills as hunters.

–    Polygamy (one man with more than one wife ) was widely practiced.

2. The Hottentots/Khoi/KhoiKhoi

The Hottentots originally call  themselves “KhoiKhoi” that is “Men of Men” meaning  real people people people, the term used to show their pride in themselves. Europeans called them Hottentots  and their language Hottentot.

– The Hottentots are taller than the Bushmen, but like the Bushmen, they are yellow skinned and their language is full of clicks.

The Hottentots are also another indigenous people in South Africa who came from Botswana. They moved from Botswana to occupy South Africa around 500 BC.

– Archaeological evidence shows that the Khoikhoi entered South Africa  through two distinct routes:

  • travelling west, dodging the Kalahari to the west coast, then later, down to the Cape, and
  • travelling south-east out into the Highveld and then southwards to the south coast

– When the Portuguese arrived in Southern Africa in 1487, they found the Hottentots living at Table bay(west coast)and Mossel bay(east coast). By the mid of the 17th century they were living around the Cape, along the banks of the Orange river and Natal.


– The Hottentots kept large herds of cattle and flock of sheep, which formed the basis of their life and economy.

– Since they were cattle keepers, the Hottentots had to move from place to place with their herds of cattle and flock of sheep in search of fresh pasture and water.

– Although they kept numerous animals, the Hottentots rarely killed them for food, except when there was an important function such as a ceremony.

– The Hottentots also fed on honeywild fruits and roots and fish. Thus, like the Bushmen, the Hottentots were hunters and gatherers. They did not grow any food crops.

Social and political organization

– The Hottentots had a large and more efficient social and political organization than the Bushmen.

– They lived in large groups or camps, each of which consisted of several related clans.

– Each camp was therefore a large village. The camp also enclosed all the herds of its inhabitants.

– The Khoi society was the earliest unequal society in South Africa. This means that some people managed to accumulate wealth as they owned large herds of cattle than others.

– As a result, they developed a social hierarchy, for example chieftaincy, that is some people became rulers because of their wealth, hence leadership was based on wealth and seniority.

– It was in this ground that each camp had a chief who ruled with the help of the head of clans comprising his territory, that is a camp village.

– Since they were animal keepers who moved from one place to another, they sometimes became competitors with the San.

– The Khoikhoi were more centralized and lived in large communities than the San. At a later stage, the San were in cooperated by the Khoikhoi through intermarriage.

– The Khoikhoi were religious people. They had few religious ceremonies as such, but they believed in the existence of a supreme God. This supreme God was responsible for bringing thunderstorms which refreshed the pasture

– The Khoi also believed that the spirits of their ancestors inhabited natural features of the landscape such as valleysrivers, and mountains.

3. The Bantu

Until at least the 1960s, South African historians and white politicians had a very distorted view of South African early history:

– They believed that black Bantu- speaking, iron working farmers were fairly recent immigrants into South Africa.

– Furthermore it was claimed that, these Bantu migrations first crossed the Limpopo between 1500 and 1600AD, and certainly not earlier than 1000AD.

– The Blacks were said to have swept into South Africa from the North in large successive, and conquering waves of migration.

However, since the 1970s, archaeological research, linguistics evidence  and the use of carbon 14 dating have totally overturned this distorted and biased version of Southern Africa history.

The new evidence suggest that:

<> The first Bantu speaking people seem to havecrossed the Limpopointo Southern Africa by about 200AD. Therefore, the Bantu were not recent immigrants of South Africa as suggested by colonial historians and politicians.

<> By300 ADthey had pushed Southwards into the present day Natal and by 400AD their settlement were evident in the Transvaal. However,  there is no evidence of large scale migrations as suggested by colonial historians. The Bantu travelled and settled in small, and  fairly sized groups.

  • What does the above  arguments imply?

–  The Bantu entered in South Africa earlier than the period suggested by Europeans / colonial scholars (1500-1600AD)

–  The Bantu did not enter in South Africa in large    successive and conquering wave of migrations as suggested by these scholars, but rather in small and fairly sized groups

<> Archaeological evidence recovered very few skeletal remains of the early Bantu in South Africa. This little evidence shows that the Bantu were larger than the Khoikhoi and the San.

<> This archaeological evidence further suggests that, these early Bantu were of a definite Negroid racial type though with signs of intermixing with the local Khoikhoi and San population.

<> Linguistic evidence further suggests that, the earliest iron age immigrants (who are believed to be the Bantu) into Southern Africa were probably speakers of early forms of the Bantu family language. There are today more than 300 Bantu languages between Cameroon in West Africa and the Southern coast of South Africa.

– By studying similarities and differences between them, linguists have concluded that probably all stem from an original parent language somewhere in the region of modern Cameroon.

– The iron age farmers, therefore, were almost certainly the earliest ancestors of the Black Bantu speaking people who forms the vast majority of the population of Central and Southern Africa today.


The Bantu were mixed farmers; their economy was more advanced, combining agriculture with pastoralism and their standard of living was a great deal higher than that of their predecessors ( the San and the Khoi).

– They grew milletssorghummelons, and beans.

– They kept sheepgoat, and cattle.

– They also hunted a wide range of animals of all sizes and gathered wild plants especially fruits.

– From rivers they obtained fish and those near the coast collected shell fish.

  • The Bantu managed to do all these because:

– They knew and introduced the art of iron working. With their efficient tools, they could clear the forests and bushes and cultivate the soil on a large scale. Thus , their  growing population could be sustained by food from the soil and cattle products

– They kept many herds of cattle. Cattle were greatly valued as a source and form of wealth. Cattle were used for important functions such as payment of bride wealth and they valued for their milk , meat and skin.

– Because the Bantu kept cattle and also grew food crops, their population increased fast. The mixed economy of cattle keeping and agriculture supported a fairly high population by contemporary standards. People had enough to eat, more important they had rich and balanced diet.

– The arrival of the Bantu had a negative impact on the Bushmen and the Hottentots economic, social, and political life ways. They were conquered and dispossessed of their favorite hunting grounds by the Bantu.

As a result:

– They were pushed into the remote areas of the country where game and food were scarce and life difficulty, and many of them even had to flee to the Kalahari desert for refuge

– Some were absorbed by the Bantu, living among them as people without their own independenceidentity and intermarrying with them.

– A few other had a worse fate/destiny. They were either killed in clashes with the Bantu or died as a result of social and economic hardship following their defeat and dispossession.

Political organization of the Bantu

–    As time went on there emerged three distinct divisions among the Bantu of South Africa. This division based on language groups:

–  The first group is the Nguni speaking Bantu: these lived in the Eastern coastal area from Zululand and Natal to the border of the Cape colony. Among others, the group consists of the Zulu, NdebeleSwazi, Xhosa, all of whom speaks dialects of the same language.

–  The second group f the Bantu consisted of three main subdivisions. These are:

–  The Tswana or Bechuana who mostly live in Botswana

–  The Southern Sotho who lives in Lesotho

–  The Northern Sotho of Central and Northern Transvaal

  • The third major group of the Bantu is represented by the Herero and Avambo. These live in Namibia and are generally called the South Western Bantu.

Particularly, all these Bantu groups have been influenced by the Bushmen and Hottentots with whom they came into contact. This is why the Nguni languages have clicks, just like the languages of the Bushmen and the Hottentots.

– Each tribe had its own territorycentral clancentral family and a chief. The chief always came the central family and clan.

– In both tribes the chief was very powerful, but an autocratic and unpopular chief could not last longer, his people could desert him and join a friendly and just ruler.

– The chief was highly respected as the symbol of tribal unity and the focus of loyalty in the tribe.

– In addition the chief was the head of the tribe in all matters relating to religionadministration of justice, government and welfare.

Appeals could be made from small courts to his court served as the country’s supreme court and was the only competent to  try murder cases.

  • To enable the chief do his duties properly:

– The whole territory was divided into several subdivisions. The most important of these were the provinces and below them, were the districts.

– The system of administration was strengthened through the appointment of Indunas. These were special state officials in various fields, both military and civil. They were permanent and assisted the chief in his duties.

– The most important was the chief Induna:

  • He   could deputize for the chief in his absence
  • He  could give orders and instructions in the chief’s name.
  • He had the responsibility of keeping the chief well informed about public opinions and about any dangerous developments such as rebellion.
  • No wonder the chief Induna came to be regarded as the eyes of the chief.

–    Head of districts took the title of Izikhulu. These had the responsibility of trying cases at lower levels, and they also received tributes and fines from the inhabitants of the districts they administered within the kingdom. Thus the king ruled in conjunction with this men.


–    Both the king and the Izikhulu formed the council of state. This was called the Ibandia, that is the highest administrative organ in the kingdom.

– Among the Nguni speakers there was a rigid age group system and sexual division of labor. One of the results of such social organization was that, the king was able to have control over the institution of marriage.

  • No youth would get married until he/she had gone through all the tasks demanded of his or her age group.
  • For example, boys were called upon to herd the king’s cattle. Politically, this was referred to as “drinking the King’s milk”

Thus, this meant that one could enter into marriage in an advanced stage of adulthood(when they were already adult).

– The restriction of marriage:

  • Allowed the king to divert labor power from individual homesteads to his own service (this process allowed the king to get enough labor power for his own use)
  • This also allowed the king to have control over the process of reproduction ( birth rate) in his kingdom. By delaying marriage in this manner, the king was able to control the rate of population growth.
Social formation

– Among the Bantu, Crop production and livestock keeping were the major economic activities.

Trade or exchange transactions involved bulls while cows were retained for the purpose of maintaining and increasing wealth.

– The basic unit of production was the homestead.

– The homestead was made up of small segments or units and a homestead head.

– Each segment comprised of the wife and her children

– Each segment was supposed to provide for its own means of subsistence and to be self sufficient

– Majority of the homestead were made up of the homestead headtwo or three wives and children

– The essential goods that could not be produced by the home stead were obtained through barter.

Land on which  the society depended for its production and reproduction belonged to the king. Individuals gained rights over land on the condition that they remained loyal (trustworthy) to the king.

– Occasionally individuals would be called upon to render services to the king or his officials. These services would be in the form agricultural laborherding the king’s cattle or direct military service.

  • Thus theoretically, all adult men were members of the state army, although in practice the standing army was composed of youth.

– The army was used to forcibly appropriate and accumulate wealth for the king.

  • Internally this took the form of tribute and fines for offences (the army was used in the collection of fines and tributes). Thus irrespective of the nature of the offence, part of the fine imposed had to remain in the king’s court.
  • Externally, all the wealth plundered and brought to the state as a result of raiding or war fare, belonged to the state. This practically meant that such wealth was at the disposal or under the control of the king.

The Newcomers

The History Of South Africa Map Of South Africa

Towards the end of the 17th century, South Africa received newcomers from outside the continent. These were:


This group is divided into two sections:

The Afrikaners, that is, the people of Dutch origin who first settled in the Cape in 1652. Another name used to describe the Afrikaners is “Boers”, which should be used more strictly to refer to an “Afrikaner farmer”.

The other major European group is English speaking group and has been associated with South Africa since the beginning of the 19th century (1806)

The people of mixed racial origin. These are called the “Coloreds”. Nearly all of them occupied the Cape province. They were of a mixed race, being the result of the union between the Boers and the slaves (imported from outside i.e. Indonesia and Madagascar), Hottentots, Bushmen, and Xhosa.



The history of South African colonization goes back to the journeys of discoveries organized by the Portuguese. The climax of these dangerous and tiresome sea journeys came in 1497 when the famous Portuguese Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope as far as the present day Natal.

Since then, the route around the Cape of Good Hope became very important in European commercial relation with Asia. These commercial relation between Europe and Asia were dominated by British Dutch, and Portuguese through their  chartered companies. For example

–    In 1600 the English East India company was founded ( British company)

–    Two yeas later, that is in 1602, various Dutch companies amalgamated to form the Dutch East Indian Company, what was financially powerful than the English one.

  • However, for the traders, the journey from Europe to the far East was too long and tiresome. By the end of the journey for example:

–    The traders and crew (all the people who work on the ship) were extremely tired.

–    Quite frequently they run out off fresh water (note that ocean water are too saline to drink)

–    They also run out of fresh vegetable and fruits

–    Many died on the way as a result of diseases

–    Many more suffered scurvy as a result of lack fresh supply of vegetable and fruits.

–    Their ship were greatly wrecked by storm

  • As a result of all these problem, it was quiet clear that there was a need for a calling stationrefreshment stationhalf way life, where:

–    The long journey could be broken down

–    Fresh supplies of food and water could be obtained

–    The wrecked ship could be repaired

–    The sick could be treated

–    The ship could be refueled.

–    The crew  could get refreshments

  • Thus, between 1619 and 1647 several attempts to identify and establish a calling station were made by traders and sailors without success.

–    In 1647, the Haarlem, a Dutch East Indian Company’s ship was wrecked at the Table bay, the region around modern Cape Town. The traders and the crew remained there for six months.

–    To sustain their lives, they had to grow vegetables and bartered /exchanged them with the local people for meat.

–    Throughout that period of their stay, they realized the area had favorable climate and fertile soils, and thus was suitable for settlement.

–    On their return home after repairing their wrecked ship (Haarlem), these traders and the crew who stacked at the Cape for six months, gave a good report about the area (Table bay)

–    Such good news triggered the Dutch East Indian Company to establish a calling station at the Table Bay.

–    The responsibility of establishing a calling station was given to Jan Van Riebeck who  officially arrived at the Cape on 4th June, 1652.

–    Jan Van Riebeck was instructed by the company that the station would serve four important functions:

  • fort called Good Hope was to be built  at the Cape to accommodate a garrison for defensive purposes (to defend and foster Dutch commercial interests)
  • The station was to supply sailors with vegetablesfruits, and meat, and therefore vegetable gardens had to be established . Meat had to be obtained by exchanging European goods for cattle and sheep from Hottentots.
  • The station was to act as a place of refreshment for the sailors following long journeys.
  • hospital was to be built to treat the sick, and here sailors could get treatment and rest.

However the practicality of establishing a refreshment station and running it in a distant and unfamiliar land was a great challenge to Jan Vaan Riebeck and other employees at the station.

Thus, the first ten (10) years were full of disappointments. The common problems that Jan Vaan Riebeck and other employees of the company encountered at the Cape included the following:

–    They arrived during the dry season . Therefore, from the very beginning , the company’s  servants at the Cape suffered from malnutritionscurvy and generally poor health caused by unexpected and prolonged drought and therefore, they were unable to grow food. Thus, most of them were disappointed with the living conditions at the Cape.

–    When the rain season came, it brought a lot of discomfort/ embarrassment. The company’s men lived in old tents and poorly constructed wooden hutsLeaking roofswet floor and cold huts became additional problems.

–    The rain also came with severe dysentery (severe diarrheas with loss of blood)

–    Cattle and sheep for barter / exchange were not always available at the right time as the Hottentots pastoralists were constantly moving with their cattle in search of pasture.

–    Though the settlers were expected to grow some food, they were too few for the task, and they were not experienced farmers

–    They were required to grow wheat and barley which needed much care and money, particularly during the first few years of experimentation.

  • Thus, if the refreshment station at the Cape was to serve the purpose for which it was built, a new policy for overcoming the obstacles had to be adapted. Thus, Jan Vaan Riebeck proposed several recommendations to improve the situation:

–    It was decided to expand the settlement to bring more and more land under cultivation in order increase agricultural production.

–    It was decided to increase the number of workers and more men were also needed

–    The workers should be free men and not employees of the company and then, these workers would be  given plots of land free of charge.

  • These recommendations were accepted  by the company. Thus, in February 1657, the first group of settlers were discharged from company’s service and given plots around the Cape to begin implementing the recommendations.
  • With the establishment of this settlement, the process of European colonization of South Africa began. Generally, progress was so low, however, by 1672, there were only 64 colonists / settlers at the Cape.

Dutch progress at the Cape

As already noted, Dutch progress at the Cape in the early years was so slow. The slow development at the Cape was due to strict regulations imposed by the company, which rigidly controlled the activates of the colonists/settlers.

These regulations made it impossible for individual colonists to prosper/flourish (do well) economically. For example:


–    The colonists were required to remain in the country for 20 years  without leaving the colony. This means that, their stay in South Africa was a 20 years contract.

–    The colonists had to participate in the defense of the colony/country, apart from their normal farming function.

–    The worst restriction was that prices of foodstuff they produced were kept very low by the company, while the facilities for marketing such commodities were severely limited. For example:

o All cattle had to be sold to the company at a fixed price, regardless of cattle health, size, weight or age.

o The colonists were not allowed to pay more money to the Hottentots for their cattle than the price paid by the company ( they were supposed to offer the same price as the one offered by the company)

o In order to protect the company’s monopoly of trade in tobacco, the colonists were not allowed to grow tobacco, and instead, they had to grow sufficient vegetables to meet company’s needs. This aimed at minimizing competition in tobacco production.

o In return for the right of pasturage, the settlers had to pay 10% of their cattle to the company.

  • Thus, by the end of 1650s, the Cape settlement was still very small and temporary in nature. It consisted of small number of fruit growers, gardeners and keepers.
  • In other respect however, the settlement had some improvements:

–    A temporary hospital was built to offer medical service to the traders and crew.

–    Slave labor was introduced. This aimed at making labor abundant , cheap, and therefore, lower the cost of production. The first 12 slaves arrived in 1657 from Java (modern Indonesia) and Madagascar, the following year 185 slaves were imported from West Africa. By 1708 the number of slaves scored 1200.

The use of slave labor had far reaching effects in the history of South Africa:

–    The policy of racial superiority and racial discrimination originated from slave labor policy by the end of the 17 century.

–    The Boers hated unskilled tasks and hard work. Hard work was considered to be the domain of Non-Europeans who were regarded as hewers of woods and drawers of water

ØThe use of slaves in South Africa was the birth of an entirely new community, the Cape colored people. These were people of a mixed race, being the result of the union between the Boers , and the slaves, Hottentots, Bushmen, and Xhosa. By 1820 the Cape coloreds had gradually abandoned their original languages and adapted Afrikaans, the language spoken by the Boers.

Souring / unfriendly relations and wars between the Boers and the Africans

As the number of the Boers grew at the Cape, they found it important to expand further in the interior. Thus, by 1770s the Boers had advanced some 500 miles east of Cape town. The reasons for their expansion further into the interior include the following:

–    In the early years there was plenty of unoccupied  land. This encouraged the settlers to over from one area to another

–    The settlers used superior weapons especially firearms to crush down any attempt made by local population to limit their expansion. In this way, they were able to expand further in to the interior.

–    The Hottentots had been greatly weakened by small pox epidemics of 1713, thus making unable to pose a stiff resistance against Boer expansion in the interior. Following this epidemic, the Hottentots population sharply declined, and they became highly disorganized. This provided a room for the Boers to expand.

–    Apart from the Cape area, most of the lad was a semi desert with scanty and unreliable rainfall. This encouraged the Boers to migrate from one are to another in search of good land with adequate rainfall and water supply.

–    Company’s laws greatly restricted the economic activities of the settlers. Prices of local products were kept extremely low for the farmers to make high profit. This disappointment encouraged the settlers to move away from the Cape to establish new homes in the areas where they would be free from such restrictions and official control.

–    Insecurity of land tenure (occupancy rights) had a negative effect of discouraging improvements.

»  For example:

  • On the death of the owner of the land (farm),the buildings within the farm and any other valuable properties, particularly permanent ones, were sold by auction (public sale).
  • The money obtained from the sale were then divided equally among the heirs/inheritors of the deceased.

Therefore, this company’s land policy made them to move away to areas where they would be free from such restrictions.

  • This expansion made the Boers to come into direct contact with the indigenous African population, especially the Hottentots. This territorial expansion of the Boers therefore, took place at the expanse of the indigenous Africans.

– For example:

  • The khoi were dispossessed  of their grazing land
  • The Khoi were dispossessed of their cattle
  • The Khoi were forced to offer their labor power as laborers and herdsmen.
  • Trading relations and transactions among Africans were greatly interrupted by the Boers expansion.
  • They lost their political sovereignty and dignity.
  • Following massive expansion of the Boers, the Khoi managed to unite in armed opposition several times. Despite their brave attacks, the Khoi, were defeated.
  • Having accepted defeat, the Boers assumed that all Khoikhoi land, no matter where it be, was free and empty land and therefore ,their to take.
  • Thus, by the end of the 18th century, the Cape colony had considerably expanded. It had started as a temporary calling station consisting of a few houses on shores of the Table bay. Gradually it developed into a beautiful small town with the necessary defense systems and basic social services.

British control of the Cape

In 1795 the British troops invaded the Cape colony, and after some minor resistance, the British captured the Cape. British invasion of the Cape aimed at controlling the Cape so as to have a strong foothold over the sea route to India via the Cape.

A number of factors combined to weaken the Dutch, the Dutch East Indian company and the Cape colony Dutch administration, thus, causing the Dutch to finally lose the Cape colony to the British:

–    The Dutch were faced with severe Dutch competition from the French and the British, thus, undermining their commercial and economic position. This weakened the abilities of the Dutch to have a strong control over the Cape.

–    At the Cape, the Dutch suffered from administrative inefficiency, corruption, and commercial restrictions which resulted to severe discontent on the part of the settlers at the Cape. This also weakened the Dutch East Indian company, and in 1794 it declared bankrupt.

This implied then that, company administration at the Cape was financially weak to support its army to resist British occupation of the Cape.

–    Widespread discontent  among settlers. For example:

  • The settlers felt that they were not adequately protected by the Cape government against local Africans some of whom were brave and skilled fighters.
  • They complained that, they, rather than the Cape administration be given the burden of defense in their conflict with the Africans.

These complaints  resulted to settler rebellion of 1795.          these settler grievances and the rebellion was  clear        indication that the Dutch administration at the Cape was     weak.

–    British desire to prevent the Cape fro falling into the hands of the French who also aimed at controlling the Cape. By this time, British was getting a lot of wealth from India. For this reason, British control of the sea route to India was important.

If the Cape  fell under the French, then, the French would prevent British ship from calling at the Cape on their way to off from India. So it was necessary for the British to gain control of the Cape.

British reforms at the Cape

After capturing the Cape, the British tried to win the confidence of the settlers. In so doing, they introduced a number of social, economic, and political reforms.


–    They introduced new paper money to replace the old Dutch notes which greatly fallen in value.

–    They reduced official salaries

–    The government reduced the number of public projects and the amount of money spent on them.

–    The policy of giving financial assistance to new immigrants of the Cape was stopped.

The church

–    The Dutch reformed church which was dominant at the Cape was now given a certain degree of freedom and government representatives ceased to attend the meeting of its council. This church was introduced at the Cape in 1652 by Jan Vaan Riebeck, it was almost a state church at the Cape as all the Boers were the followers of this church

–    For the Catholic church, the British government at the Cape decided to pay their priests, a privilege already enjoyed by the Dutch reformed church. This meant then, that, during British era, the Catholism dominated at the Cape and replaced the Dutch Reformed Church.

–    Generally, the position of the church improved and freedom of worship was extended to all denomination at the Cape.


–    The British made a proclamation to replace Dutch language by English language as official language. Thus, in 1828 English language became the official language of the Cape.

The press

–    The new British government removed some of the restrictions on the press which restricted the freedom of press. The press was given more freedom than it was before. As a result, the number of papers increased and printed both in Dutch and English.

The Judiciary

–    A supreme court was introduced, and judges were to be appointed by the British queen

–    The Judges were supposed to be independent, in other words, they could hold offices for as long as their conduct was proper and the Governor could not dismiss them. This aimed at making the judiciary more reliable and just.


–    The Dutch settlers were not allowed to any important say in the running of the state. They were the conquered people and had to be governed strongly.

–    The advisory council was set up in Cape town. It consisted of the Governor, chief Justice, and Colonial Secretary. Its functions were mainly advisory, that is, to advise the Governor, although the Governor could reject the advice.


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