South Africa is home to some of the world’s most fascinating and diverse wildlife. It is the 9th largest, and 5th most populated of all 54 African countries. It borders 6 other countries, including Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland (Eswatini), and the enclave of Lesotho, which is a small country entirely surrounded by South Africa. Geographically, it is a sensationally diverse country, with grasslands, savannas, deserts, forests and majestic mountain peaks. It is the country with the third longest coastline in Africa (2, 850 km/1770 miles), and at the southernmost tip of the country, and the entire continent, at Cape Agulhas, is where the Indian Ocean in the East, meets the Atlantic Ocean in the West. The history of South Africa is a story of division and reuniting, reaching back thousands of years.
It has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, and isiXhosa. Most people grow up bi- or even tri-lingually by default. It is the only country in the world that has three capital cities, namely Cape Town (legislative), Pretoria (executive) and Bloemfontein (judicial), none of which are the countries biggest city by population. The title here goes to Johannesburg, with a population of about 5.6 million, which ultimately places it in the top 10 most populated cities in the entire continent of Africa.
Africa, and more specifically Eastern Africa, is considered the place where the humans first evolved. The first inhabitants of South Africa are collectively referred to as Khoisan, which were a group of indigenous peoples including the Khoekhoen (or Khoikhoi) and the San. The Khoisan peoples were direct descendants of anatomically modern humans, which, according to records, expanded into South Africa over 150, 000 years ago, possibly as early as 260,000 years ago. Spreading from an original nucleus around West- and Central Africa, humans migrated into different regions of the continent. This is known as the Bantu expansion, which is believed to have taken place in at least two waves between about 3,000 to 2,000 years ago. The Bantu peoples were comprised of several hundred indigenous ethnic groups, including the Zulu and the Xhosa, and to this day there are over 500 Bantu languages. As different Bantu peoples moved further and further south, the Khoisan peoples were encroached and ultimately forced to move to more arid areas. The Bantu people, who had advanced agriculture and metalworking technologies, settled in different parts of the tip of the continent, while some Khoisan communities were pushed further south and remained predominant in some regions.
Due to its geographical position in the globe, the cape of South Africa ultimately became a major point of interest for European explorers and tradesmen, who were attempting to discover trade routes to the Far East. Over the course of hundreds of years, the population of the Bantu and Khoisan people were subject to frequent attacks by Portuguese and Dutch explorers and suffered from exposure to unfamiliar diseases brought by the Europeans such as smallpox. Societal structures were broken down further and further during the period of Dutch Colonization in the 17th century. The Dutch East India Company, a massive global trading corporation founded in 1602, established a permanent settlement at the Cape, initially with the idea to establish a secure base camp where passing ships could find shelter and be serviced, and where sailors could stock up on fresh supplies of meat, fruit and vegetables. The farms that were established by the Dutch expanded further and further north, and in order to keep up with the demand, the VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie) enslaved about 71,000 individuals from India, Indonesia, East Africa and Madagascar.
When the United Kingdom took over from the Netherlands as the colonial power, more and more Dutch-speaking inhabitants of the Cape colony trekked inwards and began forming small independent, self-governed republics, known as “Boer Republics”. The British and the Dutch clashed over language, separation of church and government and the legality of slavery.
Another wave of displacement speared throughout southern Africa due to the rise of Zulu militarism and expansionism. In 1818, the Zulu formed a powerful state under the leader and King Shaka, building a powerful militarized system and uniting a confederation of different tribes. As the Zulu kingdom grew it eventually clashed with the British empire, who had formed settlements bordering Boer Republics and various other native African kingdoms and settlements. The war lasted just over 5 months in 1879 and resulted in the British victory and the British annexation of the Zulu kingdom. The British continued to expand, and after two Anglo-Boar wars, by June of 1900, the last remaining major Boer towns had surrendered.
After several years of negotiation, all remaining colonies were consolidated, and in 1910, were unified in the Union of South Africa, an Independent Dominion of the British Empire, governed under a form of constitutional monarchy. Tensions continued, however, between the British and members of the original Boer republics and the indigenous population of South Africa, who were discriminated against under harsh segregation laws, including denial of voting rights and possession of land.
In the early 20th century, the National Party, also known as the Nationalist Party, was formed, originally to promote the interest of “Afrikaners”, a term used for South African ethnic group that descended predominantly from the Dutch. While it claimed to represent all South Africans, the party son began implementing its policy of racial segregation and white supremacy. Even though many forms of racial segregation were already in place before the founding and the rise of the National Party, it was in 1948 after the party officially took power after the general election, that it was able to an to legally implement intensified laws and stern penalties for ‘non-Whites’. Under Apartheid policy, all relations between the white minority and the nonwhite majority were based on racial separation and all South Africans were dictated where, on the basis of their race, could live and work, what type of education they could receive and what relationships they could have. Interracial relationships were against the law, and members of different ethnic groups and races were barred from living, operating business or owning land in specific areas of the country, with the goal of setting aside more than 80 percent of South African land to the white minority.
Over the course of the next 50 years, frequent violent protests ensued in rebellion against the policies implemented, many under the leadership and recruitment efforts of many activists, including Nelson Mandela, who was apprehended and imprisoned for 27 years for his involvement in the movement rebelling against Apartheid. After a series of negotiations between 1990 and 1993, between the National Party, the African National Congress and several other political organizations, a historic General Election was held, in which citizens of all races were allowed to take part. The African National Congress, under the political leadership of Nelson Mandela, won more than 62 percent of the votes, ending segregation and introducing a fully democratic, multiracial, majority ruled democracy.