(Khoikhoi dismantling their huts, preparing to move to new pastures. Aquatint by Samuel Daniell (1805)
pastoral agriculture in the Cape region, with large herds of Nguni cattle. The European immigrants labelled them Hottentots, in imitation of the sound of the Khoekhoe language, but this term is today considered derogatory by some.
Archaeological evidence shows that the Khoikhoi entered South Africa from Botswana through two distinct routes—travelling west, skirting the Kalahari to the west coast, then down to the Cape, and travelling south-east out into the Highveld and then southwards to the south coast. Most of the Khoikhoi have largely disappeared as a group, except for the largest group, the Namas)
Khoikhoi people have lived in the region for millennia. Most of the population, however, trace their history to immigration since. Indigenous Africans in South Africa are descendants of immigrants from further north in Africa who first entered what are now the confines of the country roughly one thousand seven hundred years ago. White South Africans are descendants of later European settlers, mainly from the Netherlands and Britain. The Coloureds are descended at least in part from all of these groups, as well as from slaves from Madagascar, East Africa and the then East Indies, and there are many South Africans of Indian and Chinese origin, descendants of labourers who arrived in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The history of South Africa is taken here more broadly to cover the history not only of the current South African state but of other polities in the region, including those of the Khoisan, the several Bantu kingdoms in the region before colonisation, the rule of the Dutch in the Cape and the subsequent rule of the British there and in Natal, and the Boer republics, including the Orange Free State and the South African Republic. South Africa was under an official system of racial segregation and white minority rule from 1948 known as Apartheid, until its first egalitarian elections in 1994, when the ruling African National Congress came to dominate the politics of the country.
Starting from around 500 BC, some San groups acquired livestock from further north. Gradually, hunting and gathering gave way to herding as the dominant economic activity as these San People tended to small herds of cattle and oxen. The arrival of livestock introduced concepts of personal wealth and property-ownership into San society. Community structures solidified and expanded, and chieftaincies developed. These pastoralist San People became known as Khoikhoi ('men of men'), as opposed to the still hunter-gatherer San People, whom the Colonialist Settlers referred to as Bushmen. At the point where the two groups became intermarried, mixed and hard to tell apart, the term Khoisan arose. Over time the Khoikhoi established themselves along the coast, while small groups of San continued to inhabit the interior.
Around 2,500 years ago Bantu peoples started migrating across sub-Saharan Africa from the Niger River Delta. The San People of Southern Africa and the Bantu-speakers didn't have any method of writing, so researchers know little of this period outside of archaeological artefacts
The Bantu-speakers had started to make their way south and eastwards in about 1000 BC, reaching the present-day KwaZulu-Natal Province by 500 CE. The Bantu-speakers had an advanced Iron Age culture, keeping domestic animals and also practising agriculture, farming sorghum and other crops. They lived in small settled villages. The Bantu-speakers arrived in South Africa in small waves rather than in one cohesive migration. Some groups, the ancestors of today's Nguni peoples (the Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, and Ndebele), preferred to live near the coast. Others, now known as the Sotho–Tswana peoples (Tswana, Pedi, and Basotho), settled in the Highveld, while today's Venda, Lemba, and Shangaan-Tsonga peoples made their homes in the north-eastern areas of South Africa
Bantu-speakers and Khoisan mixed, as evidenced by rock paintings showing the two different groups interacting. The type of contact remains unknown, although linguistic proof of integration survives, as several Southern Bantu languages (notably Xhosa and Zulu) incorporated many click consonants of earlier Khoisan languages. Archaeologists have found numerous Khoisan artefacts at the sites of Bantu settlements
In Mpumalanga, several stone circles have been found along with the stone arrangement that has been named Adam's Calendar.
From around 1200 AD a trade network began to emerge just to the North as is evidenced at such sites as Mapungubwe. Additionally, the idea of sacred leadership emerged – concept that transcends English terms such as “Kings” or “Queens”. Sacred leaders were elite members of the community, types of prophets, people with supernatural powers and the ability to predict the future.
Through interactions and trade with Muslim traders plying the Indian ocean as far south as present day Mozambique – the region emerged as a trade centre producing gold and ivory and trading for glass beads and porcelain from as far away as China.
Following a brief period of Portuguese dominance in the area, South Africa went through two major periods of colonization. The first was that of the Dutch Cape Colony, established by the Dutch East India Company in 1652. This was followed by the British Cape Colony, first occupied from the Dutch in 1795, then returned at the Peace of Amiens (1802), and then re-occupied by the British in 1806, after the Battle of Blaauwberg.
Bartolomeu Dias was a Knight of the royal court, superintendent of the royal warehouses, and sailing-master of the man-of-war, São Cristóvão (Saint Christopher). King John II of Portugal appointed him, on 10 October 1487, to head an expedition to sail around the southern tip of Africa in the hope of finding a trade route to India. Dias was also charged with searching for the lands ruled by Prester John, who was a fabled Christian priest and ruler.
Bartolomeu Dias was the first European to explore this region in 1488. Although the Portuguese basked in the nautical achievement of successfully navigating the cape, they showed little interest in colonisation. The area's fierce weather and rocky shoreline posed a threat to their ships, and many of their attempts to trade with the local Khoikhoi ended in conflict. The Portuguese found the Mozambican coast more attractive, with appealing bays to use as way stations, for prawning, and as links to gold ore in the interior.
The Portuguese had little competition in the region until the late 16th century, when the English and Dutch began to challenge the Portuguese along their trade routes. Stops at the continent's southern tip increased, and the cape became a regular stopover for scurvy-ridden crews. In 1647, a Dutch vessel, Haarlem, was wrecked in the present-day Table Bay at Cape Town. The marooned crew, the first Europeans to attempt settlement in the area, built a fort and stayed for a year until they were rescued.
Shortly thereafter, the Dutch East India Company (in the Dutch of the day: Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC) decided to establish a permanent settlement. The VOC, one of the major European trading houses sailing the spice route to the East, had no intention of colonizing the area, instead wanting only to establish a secure base camp where passing ships could shelter, and where hungry sailors could stock up on fresh supplies of meat, fruit, and vegetables. To this end, a small VOC expedition under the command of Jan van Riebeeck reached Table Bay on 6 April 1652.
While the new settlement traded out of necessity with the neighbouring Khoikhoi, it was not a friendly relationship, and the company authorities made deliberate attempts to restrict contact. Partly as a consequence, VOC employees found themselves faced with a labour shortage. To remedy this, they released a small number of Dutch from their contracts and permitted them to establish farms, with which they would supply the VOC settlement from their harvests. This arrangement proved highly successful, producing abundant supplies of fruit, vegetables, wheat, and citrus fruits to prevent scurvy; they also later raised livestock. The small initial group of free burghers, as these farmers were known, steadily increased in number and began to expand their farms further north and east into the territory of the Khoikhoi.
The majority of burghers had Dutch ancestry and belonged to the Calvinist Reformed Church of the Netherlands, but there were also numerous Germans as well as some Scandinavians. In 1688 the Dutch and the Germans were joined by French Huguenots, also Calvinists, who were fleeing religious persecution in France under King Louis XIV.
In addition to establishing the free burgher system, van Riebeeck and the VOC also began to import large numbers of slaves, primarily from Madagascar and Indonesia. These slaves often married Dutch settlers, and their descendants became known as the Cape Coloureds and the Cape Malays. A significant number of the offspring from the White and slave unions were absorbed into the local proto-Afrikaans speaking White population. With this additional labour, the areas occupied by the VOC expanded further to the north and east, with inevitable clashes with the Khoikhoi. The newcomers drove the Khoikhoi from their traditional lands, decimated them with introduced diseases, and destroyed them with superior weapons when they fought back, which they did in a number of major wars and with guerrilla resistance movements that continued into the 19th century. Most survivors were left with no option but to work for the Europeans in an exploitative arrangement that differed little from slavery. Over time, the Khoisan, their European overseers, and the imported slaves mixed, with the offspring of these unions forming the basis for today's Coloured population.
As the burghers, too, continued to expand into the rugged hinterlands of the north and east, many began to take up a semi-nomadic pastoralist lifestyle, in some ways not far removed from that of the Khoikhoi they displaced. In addition to its herds, a family might have a wagon, a tent, a Bible, and a few guns. As they became more settled, they would build a mud-walled cottage, frequently located, by choice, days of travel from the nearest European settlement. These were the first of the Trekboers (Wandering Farmers, later shortened to Boers), completely independent of official controls, extraordinarily self-sufficient, and isolated. Their harsh lifestyle produced individualists who were well acquainted with the land. Like many pioneers with Christian backgrounds, the burghers attempted to live their lives – and to construct a theocracy – based on their particular Christian denominations (Dutch Reformed Church) reading into (eisegesis) characters and plot found in the Hebrew scriptures (as distinct from the Christian Gospels and Epistles).