The history of South Africa encompasses over three million years. Ape-like hominids who migrated to South Africa around three million years ago became the first human-like inhabitants of the area now known as South Africa. Representatives of homo erectus gradually replaced them around a million years ago when they also spread across Africa and into Europe and Asia. Homo erectus gave way to homo sapiens around 100,000 years ago.
The first homo sapiens formed the Bushman culture of skilled hunter-gatherers. Around 2,500 years ago Bantu peoples migrated into Southern Africa from the Niger River Delta. The Bushmen and the Bantu lived mostly peacefully together, although since neither had any method of writing, researchers know little of this period outside of archaeological artefacts. The written history of South Africa begins with the arrival of European explorers to the region. The Portuguese, the first Europeans to see South Africa, chose not to colonise it, and instead the Dutch set up a supply depot on the Cape of Good Hope. This depot rapidly developed into the Cape Colony.
The British seized the Cape Colony from the Dutch at the end of the 18th century, and the Cape Colony became a British colony. The ever-expanding number of European settlers led to fights with the natives over the rights to land and farming, which caused numerous fatalities on both sides. Hostilities also emerged between the Dutch and the British, and many Dutch people trekked into the central Highveld in order to establish their own self-governing colonies. The Dutch (by then known as Boers) and the British went to war twice in the Anglo-Boer Wars, which ended in the defeat of the Boers and of their independent republics. The Cape Colony, Natal and the two Boer republics united in 1910 as the Union of South Africa.
The Boer republics did not grant Black people the suffrage, and the rights of Black, Coloured, and Asian people continued to erode in the Union. The National Party came to power (1948), on a platform of racial discrimination which became known as apartheid. Apartheid became deeply entrenched in South African society, despite continued resistance. South Africa became a republic in 1961. The African National Congress offered the most active black-run opposition to apartheid, and after two decades of repression and economic troubles, the government of F.W. de Klerk dismantled the apartheid system in 1992. The first multi-racial vote in South African history took place in 1994, electing Nelson Mandela as President. South Africa now sees itself as a multi-racial democracy.
Into the futureWhile the ANC (African National Congress) grassroots hold Mbeki in far less affection than the beloved “Madiba” (Mandela), he has proven himself a shrewd politician, maintaining his political pre-eminence by isolating or co-opting opposition parties. In 2003, Mbeki manoeuvred the ANC to a two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time, giving it the power to re-write the constitution if it chooses.
Yet not everything has gone the ANC’s way. In the early days of his presidency, Mbeki’s effective denial of the HIV crisis invited global criticism, and his conspicuous failure to condemn the forced reclamation of white-owned farms in neighbouring Zimbabwe unnerved both South African landowners and foreign investors. Non-political crime has increased dramatically since the end of apartheid.
According to a report by Sibusiso Masuku, in the seven years between 1994 and 2001, “violent crime increased by 33%”. The Economist reports the killing of approximately 1,500 white farmers in non-political attacks since 1991. Interpol figures showed that, in 2002, South Africa experienced 114.8 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, the world’s highest murder-rate and around five times higher than that of the second-highest country, Brazil. As of 1998, South Africa led the world, although by a smaller margin, in reported murders and robberies.
A 2001 report by the Institute for Security Studies concluded that “South Africa has high but manageable levels of property crime but an extraordinary high level of violent crime. It is South Africa’s high level of violent crime which sets the country apart from other crime ridden societies.” In 2004 the government of South Africa published statistics showing a decrease in crime, although some observers cast doubt on their veracity. In 2003, Interpol reported murder levels nearly double those given in government statistics.
Mbeki has accused his critics in this regard of racism. Others note that varying rates of crime-reporting by victims and the difficulties in interpreting crime data for nations involved in active military conflicts may explain variant statistics. According to The Economist, an estimated 250,000 white South Africans have emigrated since 1994. Other whites have responded to the new integrated society by moving into private, gated communities where they have little contact withblacks.