APARTHEID in SOUTH AFRICA (Illustration) Biographies Tragedies and Triumphs Censorship Civil Rights Famous Historical Events Famous People Film Social Studies World History

This image depicts a sign which was typically seen in South Africa during the country's years of apartheid.


Although Portuguese sailors first reached the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, Europeans did not settle in South Africa until the seventeenth century.  Before that time, native Africans populated the land:

Members of the Khoisan language groups are the oldest surviving inhabitants of the land, but only a few are left in South Africa today - and they are located in the western sections. Most of today's black South Africans belong to the Bantu language group, which migrated south from central Africa, settling in the Transvaal region sometime before AD 100. The Nguni, ancestors of the Zulu and Xhosa, occupied most of the eastern coast by 1500.  (See "People:  South Africa," in The World FactBook.)

In 1652, the Dutch East India Company needed a provisioning post in the Cape of Good Hope area.  Thus began the first European settlements at the southern tip of the African continent.

During the following decades, other Europeans moved to the region.  French Huguenots (fleeing religious persecution in their own country), in addition to people from Germany and Holland, permanently settled in South Africa.  They are known, collectively, as "Afrikaners."  Afrikaner farmers became known as “Boers.”

By the end of the 18th century, the British controlled the Cape of Good Hope.  As Anglo settlements grew, so did tensions between Afrikaners and English.  Partly to separate themselves from British rule, the Afrikaners began a “Great Trek” north.  In doing so, they came into conflict with African groups - especially the Zulu.

The Boers created two separate republics, the Transvaal (in 1852) - also known as the South African Republic - and the Orange Free State (in 1854).  Relations between the British government and the two republics were already strained when two major discoveries ultimately led to a war between Brits and Afrikaners. 

Diamonds were found at Kimberley (in 1867) - near the confluence of the Orange and Vaal Rivers - and large gold deposits were detected in the Transvaal nineteen years later.  People flooded the areas, to work and/or seek their fortunes. 


Sometime between December 1866 and February 1867, Erasmus Jacobs - the son of a poor farmer - found a beautiful pebble along the southern bank of the Orange River. That discovery led to diamond mining, a new South African industry.  This image depicts workers at the Wesselton Diamond Mines, in the Kimberely area of South Africa.  Online, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Theophilus Shepstone, the British governor of South Africa, thought it a good idea to annex the Transvaal - as another jewel in the British Empire’s crown.  Two Anglo-Boer Wars (of 1880-81 and 1899-1902) were fought to decide the issue. 

During the second conflict, British authorities established "concentration camps" where displaced Africans, together with Boer women and children, endured ghastly conditions and thousands died.  (Emily Hobhouse, a British woman, exposed the situation in a report to the government.)

When the wars were over, Britain controlled both of the Boer republics.  They, together with Britain’s other colonies (in the Cape and Natal regions) would soon become the Union of South Africa - a self-ruling (except for "natives") dominion of the British Empire.

Meanwhile ... it wasn’t just the battle for territory which erupted during the last part of the nineteenth century.  As more and more people came to South Africa, to work in the mines and to staff supporting  industries, the British-controlled government began to enact race-based laws.
One of the more infamous laws required all Indians to be fingerprinted - even people who were not charged with any wrongdoing.  Mohandas Gandhi (who was living in South Africa at the time) refused to obey the onerous laws

In a famous speech to his ethnic brothers, Gandhi urged all Indians to non-violently resist the discriminatory laws.  In the late summer of 1906, he publicly stated he would die defending his beliefs.

Twelve years after Gandhi’s speech, a baby boy was born south of the Transvaal - in the Transkei region.  Although he, too, would ultimately choose reconciliation, Nelson Mandela originally followed a different path as South Africa’s form of discrimination - later called  “Apartheid” - stifled the country’s non-white population.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Dec 01, 2009

Updated Last Revision: Feb 27, 2015

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"APARTHEID in SOUTH AFRICA" AwesomeStories.com. Dec 01, 2009. Feb 21, 2020.
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