South Africa

Pretoria/Cape Town

Currency unit














The country is a result of two main strands of history: that of the European settlers; and the movements of the Africans. Before the ending of apartheid the name Azania was used by several African organizations, although historically the term was first used in the ancient Greek Periplus of the Erythraean Sea for the pre-colonial culture of the East African coast - Kenya and Tanzania.

The whole area is populated mainly by people speaking two groups of Bantu languages: the Sotho group in the west; and the Ngoni in the east. The languages of the latter group are characterized by click sounds believed to be derived from the original inhabitants, the San (Bushmen). Both Bantu groups are believed to have migrated from the north in distant times, probably as early as the 10th century. The Bantu speakers occupied the eastern coast and hills, as well as some of the western plains. The San occupied most of this area before the arrival of the Bantu and had a similar culture to that of the early Australians.

The bases of the economy and culture of the Bantu speakers were cattle herding and agriculture. The Transvaal area was part of the empire of the Mwenumatapa based on Zimbabwe. The other areas formed small states based on the clans.

From the late 18th century new crops came to the area and allowed the population to increase - the local example of the worldwide changes caused by the arrival of maize and potatoes from the Americas. This increase was the underlying cause of the changes which occurred in the 19th century.

The most important event in modern southern African history is the Mfecane (the Crushing), the disruption to traditional life which occurred when Shaka the Zulu (1787-1828), introduced the innovation of mass armies of warriors and total war in 1816. It is not known whether he was imitating the European way of organizing armies or whether he made an independent discovery. (It is speculated that the mysterious Zimba people who devastated the Swahili coast in 1587 might have been a similar example of sudden militarization.) It was an event comparable with Jengis Khan and the explosion of the Mongols in the 13th century and one of the great human political disasters.

Shaka turned his Zulu clan (initially with about 1500 warriors) into a kingdom which became a relative great power as it conquered large parts of southern Africa and released disturbances to traditional life which reached as far north as southern Tanzania where eventually one group of Ngoni warriors disturbed by Shaka ended up. The political legacies include: the kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland, and the presence of the Ndebele in Zimbabwe, as well as the present pattern of settlement in Botswana. Groups of Angoni settled in Malawi. In Tanganyika it is possible that the militarized kingdoms made possible the Maji-Maji resistance to the Germans when they colonized the area. By the time he was murdered as an obvious psychopath in 1828, the Mfecane had left the area now called Transvaal and the Orange Free State depopulated because people had fled from Shaka's armies and never became permanently re-established. The area now called Natal was disorganized and weakened so that it was more easily conquered by the British who began arriving from the 1820s. Gangs of brigands remained in the disturbed lands. The Inkatha Freedom Party appear to have been nostalgic for the past, hoping for a separate state.

The other history is that of the Europeans. The Dutch established a base at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 in order to service the ships of the Dutch East India Company. A small settlement was planted there under Jan Van Riebeck as the first governor, to provide fresh meat, vegetables, water and repairs. The people living there at the time were a nomadic cattle-herding group known nowadays as the Khoikhoi and then as the Hottentots. They were the furthest south cattle herders. There were also the San (Bushmen). The small colony grew to become the ancestors of the people now known as Afrikaners. The British called them the Boers (Dutch for farmers). Their language developed from Dutch to become what is now known as Afrikaans (altered spelling, new vocabulary and simplified grammar). Linguists now classify it as a Creole language, showing influence from African and Asian languages as well as the original Dutch. With them there came into being - "nine months after Jan Van Riebeck's arrival" , as they say - a community of mixed race people who also came to speak Afrikaans, but who were never allowed political and social equality. The Dutch brought as slaves Malays from Indonesia. These are the ancestors of the Muslim community at the Cape. Together these people were called the "Cape Coloureds" during the Apartheid period.

There was also a group of French Protestants following the prohibition of their religion in France in 1685. These have become assimilated into the Afrikaner group but their family names remain common among Afrikaners.

The British captured the Cape in 1795 during the Napoleonic War, left in 1802 and captured it again in 1805. At the Treaty of Amiens in 1802 the Cape settlement was transferred to the control of Britain. When in 1833 slavery in the British Empire was outlawed some of the Dutch settlers decided to escape from British law into territory not controlled by Britain. This was the Great Trek in the 1830s when with their ox wagon carts they traveled into what are now the northern Cape Province, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal where they formed republics. A few reached as far as southern Angola.

When they entered these lands they found the population much less than it had been fifty years earlier because the Mfecane had cleared it. From this arose their myth that they were not taking the land from its owners but were competing with the Africans for settling new land.

Indians and British settlers
In 1820 a deliberate settlement of English speaking people began at Port Elizabeth, along the lines of the contemporary settling of Australia and New Zealand. Another settlement took place at Port Natal, later Durban in Natal. Much of Natal was suitable for sugar growing and the British did what they practiced in the rest of their empire - they brought Indians to work the sugar plantations. Their descendants are still there. Mahatma Gandhi the Indian leader worked there first as a lawyer.

Gold Rush
The next important event was the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley in 1868 and gold in 1886 on a farm in the South African Republic (the Transvaal) at what is now Johannesburg. During the nineteenth century gold discoveries anywhere in the world attracted large numbers of gold seekers from Europe and America. The result was that there was soon a large community of English speakers in the heart of the Afrikaans speaking area.

As the number of English-speakers grew the Afrikaner inhabitants and their government resented their presence. The pro-imperial policy in Britain and at the Cape Colony led to the belief that the gold ought to be controlled by Britain. The treatment of the foreign miners by the South African government was used as an excuse to start a war.

There were several Anglo-Boer wars but the last began in 1899 and lasted till 1902. It was one of the first modern total wars1 and, as the Afrikaners frequently point out, included the invention of the Concentration Camp when the British rounded up the wives and children of the fighting Boers. Many died of disease in the camps. The British won and incorporated the two Boer republics, Transvaal and Orange Free State, as British colonies alongside the Cape Colony and Natal.

Dominion Status
In 1910 the four colonies were put together by the British as the Union of South Africa to form a state similar to the federations of Australia and Canada, known as Dominions, a state in which the British government was responsible for external relations and defense but which gradually moved towards independence. The head of state was a Governor General with the same relation to the elected Prime Minister as the British Monarch had to the British Prime Minister. The Governor General was appointed by the British Monarch, eventually on the advice of the South African Prime Minister.

This new state had one important difference from Canada and Australia. There were two populations and only the immigrant Europeans had the vote in it (except for the Cape where the so-called Coloured Community had the vote and there were four elected representatives for the Africans). This fatal flaw contained the seeds of the future. Although the existing voters' roll in the Cape (not entirely European) was entrenched in the constitution there was no provision for extending it to the other provinces.

In 1912 the Africans formed a representative organization, the African National Congress, to demand representation in the new state (they were emulating the Indian National Congress in British India). Their demands were refused and Africans were compelled to obey laws which they had no part in forming. These included restrictions on the right to own land, to live where they chose and do the jobs they wished. Certain work was reserved for "Whites" (especially after White Trade Unions led strikes against Africans doing skilled work in the mines).

Along with the other dominions South Africa was recognized as fully independent in 1931.

The defeated Afrikaners in 1910 found themselves in theory equal citizens (with the English) in a British designed state. They spent the next thirty eight years trying to take it over. They formed a Nationalist Party which finally won the election in 1948 with a platform of cutting all links with Britain, making Afrikaans the national language, and dealing firmly with the African majority. Some of the new ministers had been members during the second world war of the pro-Hitler Ossewabrandwag - Ox Wagon Sentinel, banned by the Smuts government with John Vorster imprisoned under Defence of the Realm legisltation.

There were then two Prime Ministers, D F Malan, and Johannes Strijdom (from 1954 until 1958). Strijdom removed the "Coloured" voters in the Cape Province from the voters' roll.

The most important changes came about when Dutch-born Hendrick Verwoerd became Prime Minister. He came to power with a comprehensive plan (Apartheid=Separateness) to segregate the "Whites" from Africans at all levels of society. This was an extension of traditional customary segregation but much more rigorous. Separate facilities were to be provided in all aspects of life. The theory was said to be that every cultural group would have its own state (even in these terms Verwoerd never worked out what to do with the Indians and people of mixed race who lived in every area). Some of the most extreme proponents of the theory of Apartheid wanted to see the Whites do all their own work in their own all-white state. However, as far as the Africans were concerned it amounted to much the same as before, the Whites were to remain in charge and a condition of quasi-slavery continued.

After Verwoerd was assassinated (in Parliament) in 1966 he was succeeded by J B Vorster who had been a sympathizer with Hitler and his racist theories during the second world war and was imprisoned during the war for his membership of the Pro-Hitler Ossewabrandwag.

In 1961 the Nationalist government declared a republic with the intention of removing the symbolic link with the British Crown. SA was then expelled from the Commonwealth (strictly, was not invited to rejoin).

Under the Population Registration Act all residents of the Republic were to be classified into one of the several racial classifications (White, Coloured, Bantu, Indian, Other Asian, Cape Malay). (Japanese, because their money and trade were needed, were classified as "Honorary White" .) As the genetic origin of the population is in reality very mixed - many so-called Whites have African ancestors - this caused immense suffering when members of one family might be classified into different racial groups and be forbidden to live in the same area. Inter-marriage and extra-marital sex between "Whites" and other races were also forbidden, a law which gave rise to a certain amount of blackmail. These laws were apparently based on similar laws passed by the Nazis prohibiting marriage between Jews and non-Jews. Although racial discrimination is also found in several other societies, such as India, Fiji and Japan, South Africa was the only modern society, apart from Hitler's Germany, to pursue it so fanatically and thoroughly with all the resources of a modern police state.

Vorster was followed by P W Botha who became Executive President (instead of Prime Minister.

His successor was F W de Klerk who, although at first appeared to be a hardline supporter of Apartheid accepted the calls of the businessmen(De Beers-Anglo-American, the real power in the country) for the need to change.

Some of the rural areas where many of the Africans lived were declared to be independent states: Transkei, Ciskei, Boputhatswana, Venda, Kwandebele. These had previously had a similar status to Indian Reservations in the United States. However, no state other than South Africa recognized the independence of these Bantustans and they were reincorporated into South Africa after democracy was agreed, and Apartheid came to an end.

Throughout the Apartheid period the ANC organized resistance and began to organize a low key guerrilla war, after many years of attempting non-violent resistance. Other countries imposed sanctions on South Africa, refusing sporting contacts and many types of trade. A banking boycott prevented investment in the country. These sanctions weakened the white government by inducing a recession and preventing the economy growing sufficiently to employ the mass of urban workers. Eventually the ruling group appears to have realized that Apartheid could not be maintained in isolation from the rest of the world.

In 1990 with the release of Nelson Mandela and the legalization of the African National Congress South African history entered a new phase. Will it become a country like Brazil where race is less rigidly determined,? Or will most of the people of European descent leave, causing the economy to decline due to the poor education and training which has been allowed to the majority?

The immediate result seems to have been a great increase in violence probably by the young men who had been denied education under the former regime. There were rumors of white death squads formed by admirers of Hitler who wished to return to Apartheid. Others were formed by members of the security forces: police and army.

Does the West still need South Africa?
South Africa was part of the Cold War western alliance. Until the ending of communism in the Soviet Union, South Africa was the only source of certain important minerals, such as Chromium and Platinum, to the western countries. But Russia also has many of these minerals and could replace South Africa as a supplier. Western governments also wanted to control the use of the Cape sea route and prevent Soviet fleets using it during a war. The end of the Cold War might have allowed the majority to gain political control, but of an economy starved of investment and no longer considered vital to the western industrial powers.

The most important sign of the end of apartheid was the repeal of the Group Areas Act partitioning land into areas allowed for ownership and settlement by the different racial groups.

The Population Registration Act was repealed in June 1991. Thus, no further racial classifications of new born people were to be made, though the existing population register remained in force and the voters' roll remained restricted to those classified "White" until 1994. One of the first of the Apartheid laws to be repealed was the Sexual Immorality Act, in 1985. But families of mixed races still could not legally live in "White" areas. However, the law ceased to be enforced from about 1990 and blacks began to move into the former white areas.

An increase in violence during 1992 suggested the danger that neither the white government nor the ANC would be able to maintain control. The "Third Force" of police death squads and provocateurs caused violence to get worse. Yugoslavia has shown how quickly a peaceful state can deteriorate if there are strong political hatreds. South Africa was not peaceful to start with. Following the election political violence reduced but crime increased.

A power-sharing agreement was signed between the National Party and the ANC on 12 February 1993. A new interim constitution was signed in November 1993 to lead to elections on 27 April 1994 and a power sharing Transitional Executive Council in the interim to supervise the government. Nelson Mandela was sworn in as president on 10 May 1994. His successor Thabo Mbeki was elected in the second General Election. He was succeeded by Jacob Zuma, a Zulu.


Bantu click languages mill

  • Xhosa 6.58
  • Zulu 8.48
  • Swazi 0.954
  • Ndebele 0.606

Bantu non-click languages

  • Sesothu 6.31
  • Tswana 3.32
  • Venda 0.16

Indo-European langs.

  • Afrikaans 5.8
  • English 3.5

Various Indian languages including non Indo-European Tamil







Interim Constitution
A draft constitution was announced on 26 July 1993 which provided for a national assembly elected by proportional representation, a Senate chosen from regional parliaments - many new provinces replaced the previous four - and a common voters' roll. The first step was the election of a Constituent Assembly on 27 April 1994 to write a new constitution or approve the existing one.

7 December 1993
A Transitional Executive Council, including representatives of the ANC and the National Party was inaugurated to supervise the government. Buthelezi and the Zulus demanded a restoration of "the historic Zulu state" . Following some concessions on the status of the Zulu king, Buthelezi only agreed to take part one week before the elections.

However, Shaka's legacy is not yet dissipated.

New Politics
The election of 27 April 1994 brought to an end the apartheid system of the country, which had lasted since introduced in 1948. It also brought to an end the domination of the group of European origin which had begun in 1642.

Until 1994 the government was formed by members of the white race - a group classified by law as the descendants of the immigrants from Europe and defined by legislation on racial classification. Within this group - less than 20% of the population - there was a party system and an elected assembly which purported to be democratic. However, its main policy goal was to maintain the difference between the whites and the mass of the population. In so far as it was a democracy the politicians favored their constituents and spent public money on the white group, even though others also paid taxes (which they couldn't vote for). Could it be described as a version of fascism? In favor: the ruling group, organized as the National Party, had a racist theory, that humans are divided into separate groups defined genetically (in this case by skin color and hair type). Also they believed that force was the determinant of political power. This included a political police apparatus with imprisonment without trial (Preventive Detention). The police used torture and death squads to terrorize the majority population into submission without resistance. Against: there was no single leader with all power. Thus the system was an oligarchy rather than a dictatorship.

Politics in those days within the white group was about the rigor of the apartheid system, with an extreme right which supported no relaxation. These were the Conservative party and the more extreme AWB (Afrikaner Weerstands Beweging).

The government party was the National Party, formed in the 1920s to advance the interests of of the Afrikaans speakers against the English speakers. When it came to power in 1948 it followed a program intended first to make the Afrikaans group dominant within the white group and then to entrench the power of the white group as a whole. There were also a minority of white parties which favored non-racial democracy. The first was the Liberal party influenced by Alan Paton. The last of these was the Democratic Party.

After the interim constitution was agreed white politics resolved into those who accepted the elections: National and Democratic parties, and those who rejected them: Conservatives and overt fascists (AWB). A faction of the Conservatives formed the Freedom Front to campaign for a "white" homeland. Their results were too small to give them any leverage.

The result of the elections was a victory for the ANC with more than 60% of the vote. The National Party gained 30%, based mainly on the white and "coloured" voters who gave it control of the Western Cape province. The Zulu Inkatha party gained support only from Zulu voters and gained control in Kwazulu-Natal province.

For the future politics becomes more 'normal' in the sense that the ANC-NP government of National Unity must be judged by its success in fulfilling the wishes of the new voters for social and economic development: education, housing and other public services. If it doesn't, it may be challenged by more radical groups such as the Pan Africanist Congress, a more overtly socialist party, hostile to the privileges of the mainly white group.

In the 1994 election the National Party changed its appeal to include the Coloured people in the Cape Province, so successfully that it won a majority of seats in the Provincial assembly. It presents itself as a conservative non-racial pro-business party. Will it now fade away, or will it gradually establish itself as a center right party in the new state? No-one can tell. It may be the main obstacle to forming a one party state, found so often in Africa (but which Mandela does not want).

The interim government formed after the elections was a Grand Coalition of almost all parties. It had been agreed that any party gaining 5% would have a seat in the cabinet. Thus the main parties represented were: ANC, National Party, Inkatha and Democratic Party.

In 1996 De Klerk announced that the NP was leaving the coalition.

The main problem was expected to be the Inkatha Freedom party which was widely regarded as having gained its place by fraud, as the election in Kwazulu-Natal is believed to have been won by stuffing of ballot boxes in a very loosely controlled election. Mandela presumably preferred even this to having Inkatha organizing violence. The violence lessened but did not stop.

The test of democracy was perhaps the second election. It seemed to be honest though somewhat badly organised. The ANC was returned to power under Mandela's successor Thabo Mbeki.

Is this genuinely a democratic system? The ANC is so dominant that in some ways it is a one-party system with token representation of other parties. At present it does not look possible for an election to bring about a change of party. All experience shows that in such cases the single dominant party will become corrupt. There are some signs of this already - though the court system is still independent enough to try even such people as Mbeki's vice president and presumed successor Jacob Zuma for rape and taking bribes - though not finding him guilty. The former National Party has dissolved.

Mbeki was much criticised for his aloofness and for the increasing division between rich and poor as in other countries that follow Milton Friedmanite economic prescriptions (Neo-Conservatism). At the ANC party conference in December 2007 Mbeki was rejected as party leader and Jacob Zuma, despite the accusations of rape and corruption, was elected party leader, though Mbeki was expected to continue in office until 2009. Zuma has a gift of rhetoric unlike Mbeki and likes to sing about his machine gun - a rather violent metaphor which many will compare with Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

Mbeki was forced to resign in September 2008 and was succeeded by Kgalema Motlanthe, the deputy leader of the ANC as interim president until elections are held in 2009.

There are now (October 2008) reports that the ANC may split, between a party of Zuma's supporters and those of Mbeki. It is too soon to be sure what this means. For example Mbeki is a Xhosa and Zuma a Zulu. Is this the significant difference?

To maintain a democracy in South Africa two large parties would be much better than a single overwhelming party, which would tend to produce the unfortunate corruption and stagnation found in the rest of Africa, and already showing in South Africa itself. On the other hand there is a danger that the split would be ethnic between Zulus and Xhosas - both from the Nguni click language group. Where would that lead the Tswana speakers? Outside observers would hope that the parties would still consider the interests of the nation as a whole.

In December 2008 a new party has been formed by dissident ANC members. It will be called Congress of the People (COPE). Commentators don't think it will win a majority of seats. If it did would a COPE government be a continuation of Mbeki's? Would it be better than a Zuma government, a man already accused of corruption and worse crimes?

Elections in April 2009 resulted in the election of Jacob Zuma and the ANC with a majority in parliament.

Interesting reading

Alan Paton - Cry, the Beloved Country

Cry, the Beloved Country: A Story of Comfort in Desolation (Vintage Classics)

Denn sie sollen getröstet werden. Roman.

Alan Paton. Pleure, Ô pays bien-aimé Traduit de l'anglais par Denise Van Moppès

Nelson Mandela -Long Walk to Freedom

A Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Der lange Weg zur Freiheit Un long chemin vers la liberté
Brian Bunting - The Rise of the South African Reich

Rise of the South African Reich

Article about Israel and South Africa
A film about the working of the apartheid racial classification laws
The main character Sandra Laing is born to "white" Afrikaner parents but looks "coloured" (with African genetic inheritance). She is rejected by the "white" community and laws


When She Was White: The True Story of a Family Divided by Race

L'enfant noire aux parents blancs : Comment l'apartheid fit changer Sandra Laing trois fois de couleur







South Africa is the only industrialized state in Africa. The industry was based on the extraction of minerals, especially gold, diamonds, coal and iron ore. Much of the mineral production is exported. The price of gold on the international market is an important governor of the economy. During 1997 it decreased. In 2007 it is increasing.

Before the elections the economy was doing badly.

The GNP per head was shrinking as a result of lack of investment from abroad and within the country. Unemployment was rising. Political uncertainty and overseas sanctions prevented long term planning by businesses and government.

The strength of the economy is that South Africa has the only fully developed industrial economy on the African continent. The weakness is that apartheid denied it the skills and abilities of the majority who, until recently, were denied training for skilled work. Moreover this resulted in many jobs being done by Whites with less ability than their equivalents in other countries. Its trading strength derives from the sales of gold and other minerals. During the Cold War South Africa had the only supplies of some militarily important minerals. These are now potentially available from Russia which will need to sell them in order to finance the changeover to a market economy. Since the end of the USSR Russia has been selling gold which depresses its price.

If the country goes through a period of civil war the economy will suffer, and even the high crime rate has its effects.

Prior to the end of apartheid the economy suffered from international sanctions, restrictions on trade.

After the change the economy is changing too. The former economy was run in the interest of the minority community and foreign financial interests. The result was riches for them and poverty for the majority. This caused a desire for change. The ANC says that although it no longer wants to nationalize all business the ownership must change. If political change results in training for the majority and opening up of skilled positions on merit rather than race, the economy may well grow rapidly. On the other hand if it results in corruption and nepotism, as elsewhere in Africa, the economy may get much worse. The 1992 drought caused a shortage of food.

It is estimated that one conglomerate, Anglo-American De Beers, controls nearly half of all industrial production. Will the new ANC government press for Anti-Trust legislation to break up this company? And would it succeed? Some have said that this company is the real power in the country. Will it try to buy the ANC government? Who owns it? Conspiracy theorists flourish. It controls the world's diamond industry, keeping diamond prices high. Will this continue?

Strikes in Aug 1994 showed that workers expected a redress in the wealth imbalance.

Crime is an important deterrent to economic growth.

The economy now (2006) is reported to be growing rapidly, but not fast enough to dent the huge level of unemployment. It has something in common with Brazil where similarly a modern developed economy coexists with subsistence and there are masses of very poor people alongside a few very rich.

The worldwide financial catastrophe of the rest of the world is affecting South Africa. The rise in gold price makes mines more profitable.







South Africa has a rapidly rising population: though AIDS is known to be spreading fast. Thabo Mbeki has notoriously not believed in the orthodox medical explanation of AIDS, that it is caused by HIV. As a result medical services have not been available to many of those affected.

The land on which the Africans were confined is badly eroded and drying out. The European farms also have eroded in the same way as land in United States has lost much of its topsoil. Considerable growth of desert has occurred, even without the effects of global warming.

The former government admitted having built 6 nuclear weapons and probably tested one in 1979 (with Israel) but claims to have dismantled them now (to prevent the new Black government inheriting them). Hard to assess rumors suggest many more devices, perhaps sent to Israel or western countries, or even in the (private) hands of rightwing extremists.






Human Rights

The events of 1990 have improved human rights. Political prisoners have been released and many of the exiles have returned home.

The ANC in exile also practiced imprisonment without trial and executions and torture. Will it stop now?

There were many restrictions on the press and media. During the transition period these have relaxed. But will they return later?

The judiciary sometimes behaved in an independent way, even during the Apartheid period but its rights were restricted. Black judges are beginning to be appointed.

In most post-colonial states human rights follow the example created by the colonial power: imprisonment without trial, states of emergency. South Africa may well follow the same pattern. Long periods of suspension of civil rights for the majority created a habit of unconstitutional action by the former government. The ANC contains people with a similar attitude. There is a real danger that the bad habits will be passed on to the new government, especially considering the serious unrest in Natal, where a State of Emergency was imposed in April 1994, before the elections.

Crime has risen and the police are too weak and underfunded to catch even a fraction of the criminals.

Climate effects

There is a danger that the deserts of the Kalahari and Namibia may expand into areas that are currently agricultural, increasing the already frequent droughts.

Last revised 4/05/12

Southern Africa


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