When people think of South African history, their minds usually go to things like Apartheid, Nelson Mandela, and Christaan Barnard, but today, I'm not going to be talking about those, instead, I'll be talking about what happened before South Africa's independence in 1910, the age of Shaka Zulu, Paul Kruger, and Cecil Rhodes, events that would shape South Africa into what it is today. This is a very general overview that will lead a lot of interesting stuff out, but it's a nice start for understanding South African history during this time period.
The first South Africans: South Africa's story began millennia ago, the first people to settle in what is now South Africa, in about 23,000 BC, were the San, or Bushmen, one of the oldest cultures still around in the world today. The San were nomadic hunter-gatherers, who left very little evidence of their activity in prehistoric South Africa, with the exception of ancient Rock paintings found throughout the region. Sometime around when AD turned to BC, the ancient San way of life was changed dramatically when cattle and oxen were introduced from further north, and many of the northern San began to adopt herding as a way of life, and with this change, concepts such as wealth and property made their way into San society. Over time, the hunter-gatherer San in the south and herding San of the north became distinct groups, with the herders now being known by the new name Khoikhoi. The Khoikhoi moved southward, and their some intermarrying with the San, others keeping to their own communities. Eventually, it came to be that the Khoikhoi settled along the coast, and the San lived more inland. But, the Khoisan (the collective term for the San and Khoikhoi) would not be alone for too long. The Bantu people, originating from the Niger Delta, had been expanding all across the African continent, and by about 500 AD, they had reached South Africa. The Bantu were culturally incredibly different from the Khoisan, as they had not only domesticated animals, but agriculture and metalworking, and unlike the nomadic Khoisan, settled in villages. Over time, the Bantu would split into different groups to become the modern ethnic groups of Africa we know today. The Bantu and Khoisan had interactions, likely co-existing peacefully most of the time, and the two would influence each other in some ways, such as the Bantu languages Zulu and Xhosa adopting the Khoisan click consonant. As Bantu people continued to arrive, they actually began to outnumber the Khoisan, becoming the dominant peoples of the area. Our next chapter of South Africa's story takes us to long after the first Bantu met the Khoisan, to when a whole new people would make their presence known in South Africa: the Portuguese.
Early colonization: Portugal had been a rising power for some time now, and a leader in exploration and colonization. Vasco de Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1497, paving the way for the Age of Imperialism. However, the Portuguese had little interest in colonizing the area, since the treacherous shores and conflict with the Khoikhoi made the region unattractive to them, but it still held crucial importance as a route to the Indies, source of spices and silks that spurred the discovery and colonization of new lands in the first place. Throughout the early 16th century, the Cape had been little more than a marker and occasional stop for European ships to gather fruit to ward off scurvy, until a Dutch ship named the Haarlem found itself wrecked at the Cape in 1647. The crew of the Haarlem found the area to be an ideal place for a base to be established, and so, with the Dutch East India Company's (VOC) support, on April 6 1652, a Dutch expedition under Jan Van Riebeeck landed and the first Cape Colony was founded. For this critical moment in South African history, Van Riebeeck has gained a reputation as South Africa's founding father, a title he shares with Nelson Mandela. The small base was meant to be a stopover for passing ships, but also traded with the Khoikhoi, although relations were not exactly amiable, with contact outside of trading very limited. Partly because of hostility between the Khoikhoi and Dutch, the little base on the Cape began to suffer a supply shortages, to solve this, a number of VOC employees were allowed to establish farms outside of the base, which produced plentiful supplies, and began the transformation of the Dutch settlement on the Cape from just a stopover to an actual colony. These farmers, known as the "free burghers" expanded their farms outside of the area of the base, paving the way for large-scale colonization. New colonists, as free burghers began to arrive in the growing colony, along with small numbers of Germans, Scandinavians, and French Huguenots, the population grew further with the addition of Khoisan indentured servants and Malagasy and Malay slaves, who often intermarried with white settlers, leading to the birth of South Africa's mixed-race population, including the Griqua, who will play a large role in South African history. As the colony expanded further, conflict with the Khoisan became inevitable, and would continue intermittently, usually with Khoisan defeat, until the 1800s. In addition to colonial expansion, settlements were carved out further into the interior by free burghers, who came to be known as Trekboeres (wandering farmers) who lived in isolated homesteads, and the Griqua, who came to be a powerful force militarily as they made their way into what would become the independent states of Griqualand West, Griqualand East, and Philippopolis. Even as people began to live independently of the colony in their homesteads, the Dutch still held a firm grip on the region, until problems in the homeland lead to the loss of the important colony.
Rule, Brittania: As the Cape Colony continued to grow and develop, Europe was facing the fallout of the French Revolution, and when a French puppet state, the Batavian Republic, was proclaimed in Netherlards proper, the British took it upon themselves to protect the Cape from falling into French hands, and ordered the Dutch governors to surrender, which they did in 1795. The British held onto the Cape until 1803, when fears of a French takeover had subsided, and the colony was returned to the Dutch. This was not to last though, for as part of the Napoleonic wars, they captured the Cape once more from Dutch puppets of the French. This time, they wouldn't be giving it back. Like the Portuguese and Dutch before them, the British saw the Cape as nothing more than a strategic outpost, and even let the Dutch laws stay in place. In 1815, with Napoleon safely sitting on St. Helena and far away from Europe, the Congress of Vienna officially recognized British rule in the Cape, but at the price of 6 Million pounds from London to Amsterdam as compensation. Although during the war, the British had left the Cape as-is, now that it was officially theirs, it was time to meddle. They tried to Anglicize the Cape by outlawing the Dutch language, and importing 5,000 English colonists to pressure the Colony to conform. This led to great resentment from the Dutch-descended settlers, and many of them wanted to make like the Trekboeres and leave their old home for a new life of Freedom. As the people now known as Voortrekkers packed their wagons to head into the interior, a new power was rising on the other side of the country that would change the face of the region forever, the Zulu.
From this point onwards, since we've got so many regions and peoples to cover, the next sections will go by subject rather than chronologically up until the First Boer War.
The Zulu: The Zulu were originally a minor clan of the Nguni tribe, but they rose from the status of small community to imperial power starting in 1818, under their new king, Shaka. Shaka, originally a commander, came to hold power of the whole of the Zulu people, and launched them on a massive campaign of expansion. Shaka introduced a number of political reforms to consolidate his power, turned the army into an unstoppable fighting machine with tactics and weapons of his own invention, and suppressed the formerly-prominent Zulu witchdoctors to ensure that he was above the church. Shaka's expansionism and ruthlessness as he and his Impi spread across the East, millions and millions of conquered tribes fled, lest they be killed or enslaved by Shaka's growing empire. To the Sotho, this period of mass migration and murder is the difaqane, the "forced migration", but the Zulu called it mfecane, meaning "crushing". By the time of Shaka's death in 1828, his empire stretched over 11,000 km2. Shaka's conquests also had the effect of birthing two new kingdoms that still survive to this day, Lesotho and Swaziland, who founded their kingdoms as a way of resisting Shaka's power. Shaka was murdered by his half-brothers Dingane and Mhlangano who wanted to seize power, but, Mhlangano was killed by Dingane shortly after Shaka was killed, making him the sole leader of the Zulu. It was during Dingane's reign that saw the first interactions between the Voortrekkers and the Zulu. In 1837, a Voortrekker leader named Piet Retief met with Dingane, hoping to negotiate for some land for his party of settlers, and Dingane agreed, but the Boers had to retrieve some stolen cattle for him in exchange. Retief and his men did just that, and Dingane agreed and the two drew up a deed. Celebrations were held to commemorate the friendship between the Boers and Zulus, but as Retief and the men who helped him find the cattle were invited by Dinagne to dance, the Zulu king ordered his guards to seize them and had them killed. Dingane claimed it was because they had withheld some for the recovered cattle, but it is speculated that the whole deal was planned by Dingane from the beginning to disarm the Boers for what came next. Dingane and his men ambushed a camp of around 250 Voortrekkers, and killed them all. The site of the massacre is known as Weenen, Afrikaans for "to weep". The remaining Vootrekkers, under their new leader, Andires Pretorius, were attacked by the Zulu at the Battle of Blood River, but unleashed a crushing defeat on Dinagne, leading for him to burn his palace and try to flee north. Dingane's half-brother, Mpande, defected as Dinagne fled, and forged an alliance with the Boers, who helped to kill Dingane as he tried to escape to Swaziland. Mpande then grnated the Boers the land they were promised, which became the Republic of Natalia (more on that in the Boers section), and the two nations had friendly relations. In 1842, Natalia fell to the British, prompting Mpande to ally with them, with no consequences for his previous alliance with the Boers. The next year, Mpande began a purge of dissidents in Zululand, and even attempted to conquer Swaziland, but pressure from the British convinced him to stop. As Mpande grew old in the following decades, pressure grew between his sons Cetshwayo and Mbuyazi over who would inherit the throne. This culminated in violence at Ndondakusuka, where Cetshwayo and his faction killed Mbuyazi, so that when Mpande finally died in 1872, Cetshwayo's place on the throne was secured. In 1878, the British invaded Zululand, and despite initial heavy losses at Isandlwana, the British captured Ulundi, the Zulu capital, and effectivley defeated the Zulus, sending Cetshwayo into exile and installing 13 puppet kings ruling autonomous British protectorates in his place. Cetshwayo traveled to London where he appealed to Queen Victoria herself to have his kingdom back, she supported him, and forced the British government to return Cetshwayo to his throne, albeit with only about half of his original kingdom in 1883. Cetshwayo was Zulu king again, but not for long. Zibhebhu, one of the puppet kings, upset by his loss of power, attacked Cetshwayo, wounding him. Cetshwayo died in early 1884, possibly poisoned by an envious ex-king. His son, Dinuzulu became the next, and last, Zulu king. Dinuzulu forged an alliance with the Boer general Louis Botha to defeat Zibhebhu and the other possible rabblerousing ex-kings. The renewed alliance with the Boers alarmed the British, prompting them to war and annex the Zulus in 1897, this time, Dinuzulu wouldn't be given a chance to speak with the Queen. The Zulu Kingdom was incorporated into the Natal colony.
The Boers: The growing resentment agaisnt the British administration in the Cape led to the Great Trek. Thousands of Afrikaner families left the colony for other lands in Southern Africa, for reasons ranging from the supression of the Dutch language to fear of losing their slaves when Britain outlawed the practice. Wherever the Boers went in their travels, they created Republics. I already mentioned the Natalia Republic gifted to them by Mpande in 1837, so I'll start with that one. The Natalia Republic did not last very long. Tensions with the British immediately began to show when the Natalian government demanded recognition from the UK government. Britain refused to recognize Natalia, but offered a trade deal if the British could garrison troops at Port Natal as part of an alliance agaisnt other European powers. The Natalians were reluctant, but agreed. The government may have been happy, but the other people of the colony were not, they resented having the hated British occupying any of their land, and many opposed the alliance out of loyalty to the Dutch motherland. As anti-British sentiment among the Natalians increased, the British began to wonder if annexation of Natalia was the solution. Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby, recommended to Liutenant George Napier that ending Natalia's independence was a priority. Napier sent a force to occupy Port Natal in anticipation of annexation, which was met with fire by Natalians. The Boers were defeated at the Battle of Congella, and soon, more Natalian ports began to see British ships arrive. On August 8 1843, the Natalian government surrendered, and most of the regions Boer population fled Natal. These exiled Natalians would become some fo the founders of the other two major Republics, The Orange Free State, and The Transvaal. The Orange Free State emerged from a short-lived British colonial venture called the Orange River Sovereignty, which had a growing Boer populace. In 1854, Britain allowed this region to become independent so that British soldiers there could be recalled to fight in the Crimean War, and the Orange Free State was born. Despite occasional conflict with Transvaal and Lesotho, the OFS proved itself to be a quite sucessful state, with diamonds were discovered in the 1870s, the OFS saw an economic boom, ironically, partly thanks to British miners. The Transvaal Republic, officially known as the South African Republic, was the other of the three major Boer states, founded in 1852. Like the OFS, Transvaal benefited greatly from gold and diamond resources, but unlike the OFS, Transvaal would be attacked and annexed by the British in 1877, leading to the first of what is known as the Boer Wars. In addition to these three republics, there were a few smaller republics, such as Stellaland, Goshen, the New Republic, and the Little Free State.
The Griqua: The Griqua, led by a former slave named Adam Kok, began their trek from the Cape in the 1790s, and by 1800, they arrived in an uninhabited area that became Griqualand West. Like the Boers, the Griqua created nations in their travels, and Griqualand West was the first of the three. In 1825, A British Missionary, John Philip, helped the Griqua establish their second state, in what later became a part of the OFS. Philip had originally brought the Griqua there to defend the mission at Philippopolis from attack, but the Griqua became rulers of the area, and the state of Philippopolis, or Adam Kok's Land, was created. In 1861, with a growing military threat from the Cape Colony, many of the Philippopolis Griquas left for a third trek southwards, where Griqualand East was created. Back in Griqualand West, their leader, Nicolaas Waterboer, wanted to claim some of the diamond fields the area as Griqua Territory, but Britain won the disputed territory, and in 1871, captured the whole of Griqualand West. Waterboer would attempt to lead a rebellion to regain independence in 1878, but this failed. Griqualand East held out a bit longer than it's northern counterpart, but had the same fate, and was annexed by Britain in 1874.
The British: The British Cape Colony continued to prosper throughout the 19th century as one of Britain’s most important colonies, however, the Anglicization that the British tried to push on the colony that led to the Great Trek proved to be mostly unsuccessful outside of Cape Town, with most of the Cape continuing to speak Afrikaans and Khoisan languages. Through the late 1840s and early 1850s, the Cape’s governor Sir Harry Smith, helped the colony expand considerably outside of the frontiers of the original British and Dutch settlements, this expansion led to a series of wars with the Xhosa people who live around what is now Eastern Cape Province, culminating in the ultimate defeat of the Xhosa and the annexation of their lands into the Cape Colony. The Cape Colony steadily began to exercise greater autonomy from Britain, being granted their first colonial parliament in 1854, and achieving self-government in 1872. Interestingly for the time, unlike other Southern African colonies and the Boer Republics, the Cape during this time was actually fairly egalitarian, with there being no racial restrictions on elections, allowing near-universal male suffrage. As the Cape developed into the crown jewel of Britain’s African possessions, the Natal colony, where the Natalia Republic had once been, began a process that would have a surprisingly huge effect on a faraway place, India. With the Boers abandoning Natal, the British colony faced a labor shortage, for which they turned to another colony, the British Raj, Britain’s massive Indian Empire. Over the next few decades, nearly 200,000 Indian indentured servants would be brought to Natal, creating the largest Indian community outside of India, one that actually outnumbered British and Africans in the area. Unlike in the Cape, Indians in Natal were subject to heavy discrimination, which remained in place until 1994. One notable Indian who endured this unfair treatment was lawyer Mohandas K. Gandhi, who attempted to form the Natal Indian Congress to bring equal rights to the Indians of Natal, which failed, but, his experiences in South Africa led Gandhi to join the Indian independence movement when he returned home, where he became its most important figure. The Natal Colony didn’t prosper as much as the Cape, but did expand a little bit when it was given the remnants of the Zulu Empire once that was defeated.
The Boer Wars: In 1877, the Transvaal republic was forcibly annexed by Britain to take control of the gold mines, but as always, the Boers resented British rule, and in 1880, a rebellion broke out that would become the First Boer War. Britain capitulated in 1881, after a defeat by Boer forces at the Battle of Majuba Hill, and allowed Transvaal to regain independence. One of the rebellion’s leaders, Paul Kruger, became Transvaal’s new president, and would become an icon of Afrikaner resistance to British Imperialism, in Afrikaans, he’s affectionately called “Oom Paul”, meaning Uncle Paul. In 1890, a new Governor came to power in the Cape, the hardliner Imperialist and wealthy mining magnate Cecil Rhodes, for whom Rhodesia is named after (who, also repealed the equal rights laws in the Cape and introduced segregation there). Rhodes wanted to crush the Boer Republics to unite South Africa under British rule, and acquire their rich resources for his company. In 1895, he sent a group of Rhodesian mercenaries into Transvaal to try and overthrow Kruger, in what is known as the Jameson raid, after the mercenary leader, Lelander Starr Jameson. The potential coup was prevented when Boer commandos captured Jameson and his men, and brought them to the attention of President Kruger. Kruger, rightfully so, suspected Rhodes was behind this, and recognized that his country was in serious danger, Kruger made an alliance with the Orange Free State, under President Martinus Theunis Steyn, in the hopes that a united Boer alliance would keep the Boer Republic safe from British expansion. Unfortunately, Kruger and Steyn’s alliance would prove failed. In 1899, in response to British demands for Kruger to enfranchise British nationals in Transvaal and worried by British soldiers stationed on the Transvaal’s borders, Kruger declared war, and Steyn joined in, starting the Second Boer War. Britain, having already been defeated by the Boers once, supllemented their South African forces by importing more soldiers from Southern Rhodesia, Canada, India, Australia, and New Zealand, there were more British Empire soldiers than the entire population of Transvaal and the OFS combined. It wasn’t too long before Pretoria, the last Boer city, surrendered, but the war was not yet over. Many Boers were unwilling to surrender, Boer holdouts, known as bittereinders (bitter enders), kept up the fight attacking the British with guerilla warfare. The British responded with Scorched-Earth tactics, and by imprisoning Boersand their Black African allies in concentration camps, where over 26,000 died from disease and neglect, many of them children. The British suffragette Emily Hobhouse visited a camp and reported on the suffering there, that, coupled with a photograph of the emaciated Lizzie Van Zyl on her deathbed, a 6-year old Boer girl who died in a camp, helped to turn the British public against the war. On May 31 1902, the British and Boers signed an agreement to end the fighting, with both parties at a stalemate. In all, about 62,000 people died as a result of the way, the majority of them in camps. With the signing of the peace, the Transvaal and OFS became British colonies. From the end of the war, Britain sought to unify the Cape Colony, Transvaal, Natal and Orange River Colony into one entity, and after years of negotiations between British and Boer representatives of the colonies, and on May 31 1910, the four colonies were unified into the independent Union of South Africa.