Southern Africa

Angola Lesotho Mozambique South Africa  Zambia
Botswana Malawi Namibia Swaziland Zimbabwe

 Before colonialism the whole area was affected by Shaka who ruled directly much of eastern South Africa and disturbed the peoples of the surrounding areas as refugees and rebel armies fought as far north as southern Tanzania.

The history of the whole area is complex. Before the Europeans arrived the main theme was the movements of peoples. The original inhabitants, the San, probably as anciently established as the Aborigines of Australia - if not even earlier - were displaced by the Bantu speakers who entered the area from the North, probably within the last 1000 years. There are two main groups of Bantu speakers: in the East are the Click language users, the Nguni peoples. Probably the clicks in their languages were acquired from the original San inhabitants of the area. These include the Zulus, the Swazi, the Xhosa (whose name includes one of the clicks).

To the west are the Tswana speakers represented by the peoples of Botswana and the neighboring areas of South Africa, and Lesotho. These probably entered via the west coast route from Angola.

When the Europeans first arrived at the Cape of Good Hope and began to settle there, the Nguni Bantu were still moving south into the western part of what was to become the Cape Colony. During the period of of settlement by Dutch and British people there was the rise of the Zulu Empire of Shaka and the mfecane. Was this provoked by an imitation of the European armies, or was it just another example of the rise of a psychopathic military leader seen in many parts of the human world? (Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot would seem to be similar personalities). Whatever the cause the events have left behind a powerful quasi-kingdom in the Zulu and a pattern of settlement as left by the expansion of the Zulus. Click speakers can be found in Zimbabwe, Malawi and even in southern Tanzania.

Several of the countries in this area are suffering from Bad Government. Swaziland has an Absolute Monarchy; Malawi also has had the rule of a single leader until recently, leaving behind a devastated economy. Zimbabwe has a contracting economy, going back to barter with a would-be totalitarian leader.

Present day
This area is centered on the industrial and mining power of South Africa. Since the beginning of industrial mining in the 19th century the Gold, Coal, Diamond, Platinum and other mines have imported labor from all the surrounding countries using the migratory labor system.

This has affected the popular culture and economy of the whole area. Most of the unskilled and semi-skilled labor in the mines has been done by poorly paid people from the villages who until recently lived in large single-sex barrack blocks and went home to their families only on holidays once a year. The custom grew up in the beginning when industrial work was a novelty but continued because it suited the mine owners to have a supply of workers who were not in contact with the mass of people in the permanent black townships. The people from the rural areas would not be likely to wish to form unions or learn that their work was paid less than it could earn in other places.

One result is rural areas where most of the population is either old people, women or children with most of the young men away from home. In the time of Apartheid it was very difficult to get permanent residence permits to live in the cities, so that temporary contracts to work in the mines were the only way of earning money. The whole family and community structures of the black population has been undermined by the migrant labor system. This may well be one of the principle reasons for the high level of violence in South African cities and also of AIDS.

Another result has been a poorly trained work force which had a high rate of accidents. Most of the skilled work was reserved for "White" employees, who were paid at a much higher rate. This system came to an end as skilled workers were needed in larger numbers than could be supplied by the "White" population.

(While travelling in South Africa in 1969 the author noted that the policy of giving "whites" privileged access to such industries as the Post Office resulted in many people filling these positions who seemed to be illiterate and unsuited to the position.)

Now that South Africa has achieved a non-racial government it is possible to imagine a Southern African Economic Community integrating the economies of the whole area. The Southern African Development Community (SADEC) is so far little more than a consultative organisation.

 Global warming brings future drought: BBC report

Central Africa


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Last revised 18/04/11

Since 16/04/10

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