17th - 18th century

Cape Town: AD 1652

Ships sailing to and from the east make a habit of calling in at the bay below Table mountain - to barter with the Khoikhoi tribes of the region for fresh food, and to engage in an informal postal system. Letters and news sheets are left under marked stones, to await a particular recipient or to be carried in the appropriate direction by the next passing ship.

There has even been a feeble attempt by the English to settle the Cape, in 1615, leaving ten criminals reprieved from the gallows as the founding colonists. But the first serious effort to establish a settlement comes in 1652, with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck and ninety employees of the Dutch East India Company.

They arrive in three ships, well equipped with seeds and with tools for agriculture and building. Their purpose is to establish a secure fort, to acquire cattle from the Khoikhoi and to develop a vegetable garden to provision passing Dutch ships. During the ten years which van Riebeeck spends in the settlement (and records in detail in his journal), these aims are fulfilled. A fort is built, of earth ramparts and wooden palisades, and eight miles of coast are brought under cultivation.

Van Riebeeck also initiates two developments of great significance for the future.

Free burghers and slaves: AD 1657

By 1657 it is clear that there is more work at the Cape than can be done under central direction by the company's employees. Van Riebeeck proposes that it will be more effective to release married men from their contracts and to give them farms of their own to cultivate. This development is approved by the company. The independent farmers become known as free burghers.

The second innovation, also put into effect from 1657, is van Riebeeck's purchase of slaves to do domestic and agricultural work. At the start many of the slaves are brought from the company's eastern stations, in Indonesia and India; later Mozambique becomes the main source of supply.

By the mid-18th century half the white adult males in the Cape colony own at least one slave. In this society slavery forms, from the start, an integral element.

With adult male slaves outnumbering their free counterparts by two to one, and a high purchase price prevailing in the market, both the penal code for slaves and the level of work demanded from them become brutally harsh in the developing Dutch settlement.

Cape Dutch and Trekboers: 18th century AD

Until 1707 the Dutch East India Company makes some effort to encourage immigration to the Cape. Yet by that time, half a century after the first settlement, the burgher families still number only 1779 men, women and children - consisting of Dutch, German and a minority of Huguenots. Together they own 1107 slaves, mainly adult males.

Thereafter the growth of the settler population is by natural expansion - reaching about 15,000 (with approximately the same number of slaves) by the end of the 18th century. Something approaching a full-scale Dutch colony has developed by accident rather than design, in place of the original depot for the provisioning of ships.

During the 18th century the colony's territory expands more dramatically than its population, for a reason directly connected with the reliance on slaves. Free burghers come to regard manual labour as slaves' work. But for many of them there is no other available employment.

The response of the unemployed is to move away from the coast, into vast open expanses sparsely occupied by Khoikhoi and san tribes. In these regions the Dutch live as semi-nomadic herdsmen, fiercely independent, fighting the native tribes for their land and their cattle.

By the 1770s the Dutch nomads have penetrated as far as Graaff-Reinet, some 400 miles northeast of Cape Town. They become known as Trekboers (Dutch for 'wandering farmers'), a word subsequently often shortened to Boers. When they go on raids, to rustle the cattle of the tribes, the Trekboers form themselves into armed bands of mounted gunmen known as commandos.

At first the commandos make short work of tribal opposition. Between 1785 and 1795 they kill some 2500 San men and women and take another 700, mainly children, into slavery. But by this time the Boers, approaching more fertile territory near the Great Fish River, are meeting stronger opposition from Bantu-speaking Xhosa tribes.

A series of frontier wars between Boers and Xhosa begins in 1779. The Boers appeal to Cape Town but get little help. In their frustration, in 1795, they declare Graaff-Reinet an independent Boer republic.

The Boers are by now, both in their own estimation and in reality, a people different from the Dutch at the Cape. They call themselves Afrikaners, proudly emphasizing their birth in Africa. Their language, Afrikaans, already differs from Dutch. Their fierce independence is accompanied by an equally uncompromising variety of Calvinism. But in the very first year of their new republic a Wider conflict intervenes. In 1795 the British seize Cape Town.

Wars and Great Trek

The Cape in the French wars: AD 1795-1814

The pretext for Britain's seizing of the Cape, as the most strategic point on the important sea route to India, is the French conquest of the Netherlands in 1795. This brings the Dutch into the European war on France's side and makes their attractive African colony a legitimate prey.

The peace of Amiens, in 1802, restores the Cape to its previous owners and brings back a Dutch administration. But war is renewed in 1803. The British capture the Cape again in 1806. And this time the terms of the peace ending the Napoleonic wars, agreed in the Congress of vienna, leave the southern tip of Africa in British hands. It is an arrangement which, for the rest of the century, will lead to friction between the British administration and the original Afrikaner colonists.

This History is as yet incomplete.

Slaves and Hottentots: AD 1806-1835

The British, taking control in the Cape colony, encounter a society in which the use of slaves has long been part of the established system and in which the local tribespeople (the Khoikhoi, known at the time by the Afrikaans word Hottentot) are employed in conditions little better than slavery.

This clash of cultures comes at a time when British public opinion is enthusiastic in its support of the campaign against slavery. This campaign achieves its first great success just after the return of the British to the Cape. Parliament enacts in 1807 the abolition of the Slave trade, making it illegal for British ships to carry slaves or for British colonies to import them.

An early statute of the British in the Cape colony becomes known as the Hottentot Code (officially the Caledon Code, 1809). It requires written contracts to be registered for the employment of tribal servants and it provides safeguards against their ill treatment. But it also enshrines one familiar condition of serfdom; servants may only leave a farm if a pass is signed by their employer.

British missionaries, led by John Philip, are soon protesting at this restriction. From 1826 Philip campaigns vigorously back in Britain and in 1828 the house of commons passes a resolution for the emancipation of the Cape tribes. In the same year the governor of the Cape colony guarantees complete liberty of movement to 'free persons of colour'.

From the point of view of the Afrikaners, worse is to come. In 1833 the Reformed parliament in London passes the Emancipation Act. All slaves in British colonies are to be freed after a period of 'apprenticeship', which in the Cape colony ends in 1838.

The Afrikaners inevitably feel that alien ways are being imposed upon their long-established culture by a new colonial power, and their sense of isolation is increased by other changes. In 1820 British families, numbering about 5000 people, are shipped to the Cape and are given 100-acre plots of land.

Under the new regime English becomes the language of the law courts. British teachers set up village schools where the lessons are in English. But above all it is British interference in the relationship between the races in South Africa which gives the most profound offence to the traditionally-minded Boers - and prompts the Great trek.

An Afrikaner woman, Anna Steenkamp, later records in forthright terms her people's complaint. The British had placed slaves 'on an equal footing with Christians, contrary to the laws of God and the natural distinctions of race and religion, so that it was intolerable for any decent Christian to bow down beneath such a yoke; wherefore we withdrew in order thus to preserve our doctrines in purity.'

Preparing to trek: AD 1834-1836

Afrikaners, if ill at ease with their circumstances, have a well-tested tradition of response - to move elsewhere on a trek. In 1834 restless Boer farmers in the eastern province of Cape Colony send out three exploratory expeditions to report on what lies beyond the Orange River.

The party heading northwest puts in a negative report, having reached the Kalahari desert. But those going north into the high veld and northeast into coastal Natal bring back glowing accounts of richly fertile regions and great herds of wild animals. This information confirms the determination of the Boers to strike out into new territories.

The account brought back by the scouts is correct as far as it goes, but their recce has been too brief to discover the political realities prevailing in the 1830s. Over the past two decades there has been turmoil among the tribes occupying these regions. They have been moving from their traditional lands, pushing others ahead of them, in an upheaval known as the Mfecane.

Modern research suggests that one of the reasons for this displacement is an increase in slaving raids, to supply traders operating from Delagoa Bay (in southern Mozambique). The traditional explanation has put all the blame on the brutal military empire established at this time by the Zulu chieftain Shaka. Both are contributory factors to what is a very harsh reality.

Shaka: AD 1816-1828

Shaka is a dispossessed son of a chieftain of the Zulu, a minor Bantu tribe. He has much in common with another conqueror who rises from humble beginnings - Genghis khan. The scale of the chaos caused by Shaka's brutality and military genius may be less, but the pattern of the two men's early lives is similar.

Shaka is in his late twenties, in 1816, when he wins control of the Zulu, at the time an insignificant group numbering only about 1500 people in what is now Natal. He rapidly transforms the Zulu warriors into a terrifyingly efficient military machine, the success of which is probably eased by a parallel terror in the region - that of the Slave raids.

Where other tribes engage in relatively safe long-distance warfare, throwing light spears, Shaka's Zulu regiments (known as impi) are armed with the short thrusting assegai, forcing them to go in and fight at close quarters. The impi, who live a life of enforced celibacy, learn specialized tactics which are repeated on every battlefield.

The raiding policy of the impi is to kill almost all the men of an opposing tribe and then to incorporate the remainder in the Zulu army. Like the ancient Assyrian army, which operates in a similar way, an ever more powerful Zulu force is thus able to terrorize and devastate an ever wider region.

Tribes fleeing inland from Zulu devastations in Natal create a domino effect, encountering and often driving ahead of them their previously peaceful neighbours in the desperate struggle for land. This sequence, the Mfecane ('crushing'), causes havoc in the 1820s as far inland as the present-day Orange Free State. It is calculated that as many as two million people die in these disturbances.

The tribes which now emerge in a dominant position north of the Orange River are the Ndebele. Also known as the Matabele, they are closely related to the Zulu. Their leader, Mzilikazi, has been one of Shaka's generals, until a quarrel in 1822 causes him to flee west with his people and his flocks.

It is into this turmoil, extending both west and east from the Drakensberg mountains, that the Afrikaners decide to trek in the years after 1835.

By then Shaka himself is dead. Early European accounts suggest that the death of his mother, in 1827, tips his cruel nature into undisguised madness. They say that some 7000 Zulus are slaughtered to assuage his grief. Every offensive sign of new life is snuffed out. The planting of crops is forbidden. Any woman found to be pregnant is killed, as is her husband. The death-dealing raids of the impi are escalated until finally, in 1828, Shaka is himself murdered by his half-brother, Dingaan. So Dingaan is the Zulu king who confronts the Boer trekkers when they reach Natal.

The Great Trek and the Ndebele: AD 1836-1837

In the years after 1836 it is calculated that some 12,000 people, consisting of Boer families and their African servants, cross the Orange river to head north into the high veld or turn east through the passes of the Drakensberg mountains into Natal.

The first significant party crosses the river in 1836. Led by Hendrik Potgieter, it consists of some 200 people with their wagons and cattle. They press ahead through a beautiful landscape which is strangely empty - the effect of the Mfecane. It helps the trekkers in one way (the lack of people on the land), but it also means that the tribal opponents they eventually confront are hardened in the recent warfare.

In the territory ahead of the Potgieter party, and of the other trekkers who soon follow them, are the Ndebele. The first sign of these tribesmen is the massacre in July 1836 of a small group of trekkers who have pushed north of the Vaal river, in the region of Parys. This encounter is followed in October by an extraordinary battle at Vegkop, where Potgieter decides to make a stand - with just forty men - against an Ndebele army numbering about 5000.

Potgieter uses the long-established defensive device (going back at least as far as the Hussites) of a circle of wagons, known in South Africa as a laager, to form a temporary fortress against the attacking forces.

Shooting from within this barricade, Boer muskets prove more than a match for African spears. After two assaults have failed, the Ndebele withdraw - leaving possibly as many as 500 dead around the perimeter of the laager. Within it, inside the ring of tied wagons, just two Boers are dead and some fourteen wounded.

Potgieter follows this victory with a brutal massacre to emphasize who is now in control of the high veld. In January 1837 mounted Boers make a secret dawn raid on sleeping Ndebele villages. More than a dozen are destroyed before resistance can be organized. Everyone within these kraals is shot. Some 6000 cattle are stolen. The message is stark. The gun, the European weapon, is now to be the master here.

It takes one more engagement to prove the point conclusively. In October 1837 Potgieter leads a commando of 330 men northwards in a final push against the Ndebele. In a succession of engagements over a nine-day period near the Marico river the Ndebele are driven steadily backwards, until finally they retreat to safety beyond the Limpopo - where their leader, Mzilikazi, establishes a new kingdom.

The statistics are even more amazing than at Vegcop. Some 3000 Ndebele are dead (according to Boer estimates) and there is not a single Afrikaner casualty. But the coming months produce a sudden and dramatic reversal in the trekker fortunes. It involves the charismatic figure who replaces Potgieter as leader of the Great Trek.

The Great Trek and the Zulu: AD 1837-1838

Piet Retief, an articulate member of the Boer community in the eastern Cape colony, publishes in the Grahamstown Journal in February 1837 an account of his people's grievances and of their need to find a new land. It is immediately seen as the manifesto of the Great Trek.

Retief now rides north to join the main body of trekkers at their encampment near Thaba Nchu (a mountain known to them as Blesberg). Here they elect him their governor and commander-in-chief, to the fury of Potgieter who is thus elbowed aside. Potgieter soon has further cause for resentment. He has already demonstrated the opportunities awaiting the trekkers in the high veld. But Retief suspects that their best chances may lie in Natal.

Fortune seems to favour Retief when scouts bring back news in August 1837 that five passes have been found through the Drakensberg range. By mid-October, with a small advance party, Retief has descended to the fertile plain of Natal. He finds himself in a beautiful landscape scarred by abandoned and destroyed villages - the result of the ferocious campaigns of the Zulu chieftain Shaka and his brother Dingaan, who now rules the tribe.

Retief makes his way first to the region's main harbour, Port Natal or Durban, where a few British merchants have settled. From them he hears that Dingaan appears to have no objection to Europeans occupying the depopulated area south of the Tugela river.

With four of his own men, and two settlers from Port Natal as interpreters, Retief sets off for Dingaan's palace at Umgungundhlovu. They reach it on 7 November 1837. It is an alarming place, with a nearby hillside reserved for regular and extremely brutal executions. The Boers are treated to two days of martial dances by some 4000 Zulu warriors before Dingaan receives them in audience.

When he does so, he offers Retief a challenge reminiscent of some heroic fable. A herd of his royal cattle has recently been stolen. If Retief recovers them, Dingaan will assign to his people all the territory between the Tugela and Umzimvubu rivers.

It seems too easy a bargain for 200 miles of rich coastal territory, and indeed Dingaan has no intention of honouring it (he has already promised this same stretch of land to four other visiting Europeans). But Retief believes in the bargain and sets off to fulfil his part of it - which he achieves by a somewhat shameless deception of the chieftain who has taken the cattle.

Meanwhile the good news has reached the many trekkers waiting in safety in the Drakensberg. They descend in considerable numbers into the plain. By the end of November 1837 there are as many as 1000 Boer wagons in Natal.

To Dingaan, accustomed only to the occasional missionary and the few traders at Port Natal, this looks like a European invasion. And soon he hears reports of Potgieter's devastating defeat of the Ndebele at the Marico river. He decides upon a drastic and treacherous response.

When Retief returns to clinch the deal, he comes to Dingaan's kraal with a party of seventy Boers including his own 14-year-old son. After several days of martial dancing Dingaan signs a document granting the agreed territory in perpetuity to Retief and his countrymen. But in a farewell ceremony, on 6 February 1838, the dancing warriors close in on the Boers and overpower them. They are dragged off for slaughter on the hillside already littered with other bodies picked clean by vultures.

Dingaan next turns his attention to the Boer trekkers who are already spreading out along the Tugela and its tributaries (the majority are camped near the Bloukrans river). In the early hours of the morning, on 17 February 1838, Zulu warriors attack the sleeping families. Nearly 300 Boers are killed (more than half of them children), together with some 200 African servants.

But this is not the end of the clash between Boers and Zulu. The Boers survive the winter of 1838, in fortified encampments under frequent attack. And their fortune changes in November, with the arrival of Andries Pretorius.

Pretorius and Natalia: AD 1838-1847

Pretorius is a wealthy Boer farmer who decides to join the trekkers in Natal after hearing of their plight. His immediate purpose is an expedition against Dingaan. Within a week of his arrival the trekkers elect him commandant-general. He begins to organize them as an efficient fighting force.

His plan is to march towards Dingaan's headquarters and then, on first contact with the Zulu army, to adopt a strong defensive position. He finds an appropriate place on the Ncome river, in a narrow triangle formed by a tributary. Here, on 16 December 1838, a Zulu army of some 15,000 men attacks a Boer position well guarded with muskets and three small muzzle-loading cannon.

The result is carnage, as the tribesmen with their spears hurl themselves into the attack. By the end of the day the Boers calculate that there are some 3000 Zulu dead, many of them drowned. Not a single Boer has been killed. The Ncome acquires a new name - Blood River.

When the Boers reach Umgungundhlovu, they find it a charred and deserted ruin. On the nearby hillside the remains of Retief and his comrades are still exposed to the elements. In a leather pouch beside Retief's skeleton they find the document in which Dingaan assigned him much of Natal (though some scholars believe that this valuable piece of paper is more probably a forgery to suit the purposes of Pretorius).

The next task of Pretorius and his colleagues is to set up an independent Boer republic. It is given the name Natalia. A settlement at Pietermaritzburg is selected as its capital. A volksraad of twenty-four elected members becomes the governing body, with Pretorius confirmed as commandant-general.

The safety of the tiny republic is greatly enhanced when Dingaan's brother Mpande defects to the Boer side, bringing 17,000 followers across the Tugela river into Natalia. In a ceremony at Pietermaritzburg he is formally proclaimed 'reigning prince of the emigrant Zulus'.

Dingaan is finally removed from the scene after a battle in January 1840 in which his impi are defeated by those of Mpande (with Boer support). Dingaan flees north into Swazi territory. Mpande is pronounced king of the Zulu.

For a brief period the tenacious Boers prosper in their hard-won republic, but a more powerful opponent is already stirring. The British government is beginning to appreciate the value of Port Natal as the only deep-water harbour in this stretch of African coast. There is also an arguable humanitarian reason for intervention. As the local Africans flock back to the villages from which they have been driven in the mfecane, the Boers show signs of treating them with their Traditional disregard for racial justice.

In 1842 a British force of regular soldiers makes its way up the coast into Natalia and marches unopposed into Port Natal (known as Durban to the British). Three weeks of discussion follow between the British commander and Pretorius, after which - on May 22 - Pretorius seizes the British garrison's cattle. The result is a battle, on the following day, which proves a decisive victory for the Boers. Forty-nine British soldiers are killed and their field-guns captured.

But the arrival of a frigate with reinforcements soon alters decisively the local balance of power. In May 1843 Natal is proclaimed a British colony. A garrison is sent from the coast to take charge in Pietermaritzburg.

The Boers, after eight years trying to escape British rule, find themselves once more in a colony where black Africans are to be accorded equal legal rights. Again they react in their traditional way. They heave their heavy wagons back over the passes of the Drakensberg.

Pretorius is one of the last to leave. Hoping to find some form of accomodation with the British, he stays until 1847. Then he leads the remaining 300 or so Boer families out of Natal and up into the high veld. Here at last, for some decades to come, the British will be content to leave the Boers to their own devices.

British and Afrikaners

Orange Free State and Transvaal: AD 1843-1884

During the years of the Great Trek into Natal, the Boers also maintain their presence in the high veld north of the Orange river - and beyond that too, across the Vaal. It is to these regions that the Natal trekkers gradually return, between 1843 and 1847. And here, over the next four decades (amid endless squabbles between rival groups), there develops the heartland of the Afrikaner tradition.

It is a process viewed with alarm by the British administrators responsible for the Cape colony and Natal. There are two main reasons for this concern. The first is the long-standing humanitarian one. The Boers, needing farm labour, are inclined to employ Africans in conditions of servitude offensive to British opinion.

The other reason for Britain's wish to keep the Boers under control is linked to the trade route north from the Cape. From the early years of the century British missionaries and traders have moved into the interior of the continent on a trail up through Kuruman (the missionary station to which Livingstone is first posted in 1841). To the west of this route is the Kalahari desert. The Boers, pressing westwards in search of new lands, cannot be allowed to throttle this strategic highway.

On two occasions the British annexe one part or other of these Boer heartlands. Each time they soon withdraw, leaving the region once again under Boer control.

The first intervention is in 1848. Sir Harry Smith, newly appointed high commissioner for South Africa, annexes the land between the Orange and Vaal rivers, calling his new province the Orange River Sovereignty. The result is a Boer uprising led by Andries Pretorius (recently returned from Natal).

At first the Boers successfully drive the British back across the Orange river. But Smith marches north with a reinforced British army and defeats Pretorius, in August 1848, at Boomplaats. Pretorius retreats to safety on the far side of the Vaal.

The British government soon tires of trying to administer the distant and landlocked Orange River Sovereignty, occupied by fractious Boers and threatened on its borders by powerful African chieftains. In 1854 the administration is withdrawn. Recognition is given to an independent Boer republic, to be known as the Orange Free State.

The Boers of the Orange Free State establish their own constitution, combining elements from Boer tradition and from US and Dutch political models. Dutch is to be the official language. The Dutch Reformed Church is the state religion. For the Europeans (but not for their African servants) the tone of the constitution is liberal, with adult male suffrage and guaranteed freedom of the press.

Three years later the Transvaal follows the same route. In 1857 the Boers of the southern Transvaal declare independence as the South African Republic. Their leader is Marthinus Pretorius, son of Andries who has died in 1853. In 1860 the younger Pretorius is elected president, a post he holds until 1871. Pretoria, named in 1855 in memory of his father, is selected as the republic's capital.

Of the two republics the Orange Free State achieves the greater stability and prosperity. Financial mismanagement brings the South African Republic to virtual bankruptcy in the mid-1870s. As a result there is at first little Boer opposition to Britain's annexation of the Transvaal in 1877.

But opposition soon develops, largely owing to the emergence of the most dynamic leader in the Transvaal's history, Paul Kruger. Kruger negotiates patiently with the British government for a restoration of autonomy, but he makes little progress. Then, in December 1880, an armed revolt accompanies a new proclamation of independence.

The Boers inflict a series of defeats on British troops arriving to deal with the crisis, culminating in a victory at Majuba in February 1881. These events confirm the instinct of the British prime minister, Gladstone, for colonial retrenchment. After lengthy negotiations a convention in London, in 1884, confirms the renewed independence of the South African Republic.

Native lands: AD 1843-1906

Around the territories being colonized by the Boers are various regions known to Europeans in the 19th century by the names of the principal tribes inhabiting them: Basutoland, Bechuanaland, Swaziland and Zululand. Each of these becomes, in various ways, of strategic importance to the British administration in South Africa.

The first to be made a British protectorate is the mountainous territory of the Sotho tribe (also known at the time as the Basuto). The Sotho, living in and around the Drakensberg range of mountains, are dispersed and weakened in the early 19th century by conflict with other tribes fleeing west through the Drakensberg to escape the depredations of the Zulu impi.

However the Sotho benefit greatly from an inspired leader, Moshoeshoe, who unites them from the 1820s into a nation. He swells the strength of his tribe by incorporating within it many of the displaced refugees. And he proves adept at dealing with his European neighbours, the Boers and the British.

Moshoeshoe decides that an alliance with the British is in the best Sotho interest. He first achieves this in 1843, when he is afforded British protection. But this is withdrawn in 1854 on the demise of the Orange river sovereignty, leaving him with a succession of border conflicts with his newly independent Boer neighbours in the Orange Free State.

Moshoeshoe lives long enough to see his pro-British policy come to final fruition. In 1868 Britain annexes his territory, Basutoland. In 1869 its boundaries are fixed by agreement with the Orange Free State. Moshoeshoe dies in 1870, having secured the hereditary kingdom which eventually becomes independent in 1966 as Lesotho.

Bechuanaland, to the west of the Transvaal, has no such clear identity. Ruled by many rival chieftains, it is much encroached upon by Boers - to the increasing alarm of the British. In 1882 two small Boer republics (Stellaland and Goshen) are established here, putting pressure from the east on the vital trade route north to the Zambezi. Soon German colonial activity also threatens to encroach from the west.

The Cape entrepreneur Cecil rhodes, determined to keep open a route flanking the Transvaal, puts increasing pressure on the British government until, in 1885, Bechuanaland south of the Molopo river is made a crown colony (it is merged with the Cape colony in 1895). Bechuanaland north of the river is at the same time declared a protectorate. It remains under British control until it achieves independence in 1966 as the republic of Botswana.

Swaziland, lying east of the Transvaal, follows a more tortuous route to eventual independence. The Swazi move north into this region in the early 19th century, under pressure from the Zulu. They establish here a stable and well protected monarchy.

Bordering Natal to the south and the Transvaal to the west, Swaziland is an area of concern to both British and Boers. Unusually, the two European groups succeed in cooperating. In 1890 a tripartite British, Boer and Swazi government is set up. After the defeat of the Transvaal in the Boer war, the British take sole control. In 1906 the region is entrusted to a newly appointed high commissioner for Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland. Swaziland follows the other two into independence, in 1968.

Zululand, the most powerful of this quartet of native lands, is the only one to engage Britain directly in war. As a result the independent Zulu kingdom ends as suddenly under Cetshwayo as it has begun under his uncle Shaka.

Zululand: AD 1843-1878

During the middle decades of the 19th century there are peaceful relations between the Zulu kingdom and the neighbouring British colony of Natal. When the British annexe Natal, in 1843, they make a treaty with the Zulu king Mpande. He cedes to them the territory south of the Tugela river, a region of which they and the remaining Boer trekkers are already in possession.

Good relations survive a war in 1856 between two sons of Mpande, fighting for the succession. The winner is Cetshwayo, who captures and kills his brother Mbulazi. Thereupon the British secretary for native affairs in Natal travels into Zululand to confer Britain's approval on Cetshwayo as the heir to the throne.

The same secretary, Theophilus Shepstone, is back in Zululand in 1873 to assist in the proclamation of Cetshwayo as king of Zululand after the death of his father in the previous year.

The Zulu frontier with Natal is a clear one, along the Tugela river, but Cetshwayo is involved in frequent border disputes with the Boers of the Transvaal to the northwest. Shepstone consistently supports the Zulu claim in these disputes - until, in 1877, he changes his tune. In that year he is the colonial officer who formally annexes the Transvaal for Britain. Cetshwayo's border disputes are now with Shepstone, who suddenly views them differently.

A British boundary commission is set up to investigate the rival claims. Its report - completed in July 1878 but not officially published until December - comes down conclusively on the Zulu side.

The delay in publishing the report is part of a cynical policy by Bartle Frere, the high commissioner in Cape Town. He has decided that the security of both the Transvaal and Natal requires the annexation of Zululand. The boundary report is sent to Cetshwayo, but British acceptance of the Zulu claim is made to depend on conditions which will certainly not be met - including heavy reparations for past border incidents and the acceptance of a British resident to keep an eye on Zulu affairs.

The Zulu War and aftermath: AD 1879-1897

A date a mere month ahead is given as the deadline by which Frere's terms must be accepted by Cetshwayo. When there is no answer, a British army is already in place in Natal to march north into Zululand.

At first the invading force meets no resistance. But on 22 January 1879, when camped with inadequate precautions near Isandhlwana, the bulk of the British army is surprised by a large Zulu force. After a chaotic and intense battle, much of it hand-to-hand, almost everyone in the camp is killed. The dead on the British side number as many as 1250, but there are even more Zulu casualties. With the advantage of rifles and field artillery, the men about to be overwhelmed kill some 2000 Zulus and wound far more.

Two Zulu impi immediately move from Isandhlwana towards Rorke's Drift, a small British encampment around a hospital a few miles to the west. They reach it in the late afternoon. The British garrison (104 active soldiers and 35 invalids in the hospital) have spent the day feverishly linking the only two buildings with a defensive barricade of biscuit boxes and mealie bags.

Here, till dusk and on through the night, they withstand a succession of Zulu attacks. Several times the defences are breached, but by dawn the Zulu have retreated. They leave about 400 of their number dead. On the British side the casualties are fifteen dead and twelve wounded. Eleven of the survivors are awarded the Victoria Cross.

In the selective process of national memory, Rorke's Drift is famous in British popular history whereas the name Isandhlwana, scene of a costly shambles, is familiar only to experts. But even the Zulu triumph at Isandhlwana can do nothing to interrupt the inexorable process by which British rifles and artillery crush the brave resistance of Zulu impi armed only with spears and ancient muskets.

The end comes in July 1879. A powerful British army advances on Cetshwayo's palace and encampment at Ulundi. More than 1000 Zulu and just ten British soldiers die in this final encounter. Cetshwayo escapes but is captured a few weeks later. He is sent into exile at Cape Town.

For the next eight years Zululand is inadequately governed by a British resident presiding over a network of ill-chosen local rulers. The result is endemic civil war, until Britain finally annexes Zululand in 1887. The area is then administered as a separate colony until, in 1897, it is merged with Natal.

The Zulu, the most assertive of the south African tribes until deprived of their independence by the British, profoundly resent their subjection to the Natal government. Against the odds they contrive to maintain their tribal identity, enabling them to play a distinct role in the Late-20th century politics of a South Africa now under majority rule.

Cecil Rhodes: AD 1871-1891

In the last quarter of the 19th century the driving force behind British colonial expansion in Africa is Cecil Rhodes. He arrives in Kimberley at the age of eighteen in 1871, the very year in which rich diamond-bearing lodes are discovered there. He makes his first successful career as an entrepreneur, buying out the claims of other prospectors in the region.

In the late 1880s he applies these same techniques to the gold fields discovered in the Transvaal. By the end of the decade his two companies, De Beers Consolidated Mines and Gold Fields of South Africa, dominate the already immensely valuable South African export of diamonds and gold.

Rhodes is now rich beyond the reach of everyday imagination, but he wants this wealth for a very specific purpose. It is needed to fulfil his dream of establishing British colonies north of the Transvaal, as the first step towards his ultimate grand vision - a continuous strip of British empire from the Cape to the mouth of the Nile.

The terms of incorporation of both Rhodes's mining companies include clauses allowing them to invest in northern expansion, and in 1889 he forms the British South Africa Company to fulfil this precise purpose. Established with a royal charter, its brief is to extend British rule into central Africa without involving the British government in new responsibility or expense.

The first step north towards the Zambezi has considerable urgency in the late 1880s. It is known that the Boers of the Transvaal are interested in extending their territory in this direction. In the developing scramble for Africa the Portuguese could easily press west from Mozambique. So could the Germans, who by an agreement of 1886 have been allowed Tanganyika as a sphere of interest.

Rhodes has been preparing his campaign some years before the founding of the British South Africa Company in 1889. In 1885 he persuades the British government to secure Bechuanaland, which will be his springboard for the push north. And in 1888 he wins a valuable concession from Lobengula, whose kingdom is immediately north of the Transvaal.

Lobengula is the son of Mzilikazi, the leader of the Ndebele who established a new kingdom (in present-day Zimbabwe) after being driven north by the Boers in 1837. Fifty years later, in 1888, Lobengula grants Rhodes the mining rights in part of his territory (there are reports of gold) in return for 1000 rifles, an armed steamship for use on the Zambezi and a monthly rent of £100.

With these arrangements satisfactorily achieved, Rhodes sends the first party of colonists north from Bechuanaland in 1890. In September they settle on the site which today is Harare and begin prospecting for gold. In support of Rhodes's scheme, the government declares the area a British protectorate in 1891.

The growth of the Rhodesias: AD 1890-1900

The population of settlers rapidly increases in the territory adminstered by Rhodes's British South Africa Company. There are as many as 1500 Europeans in the region by 1892. More soon follow, thanks partly to developments in transport.

The railway from the Cape has reached Kimberley in 1885, at a fortuitous time just before the start of Rhodes's ambitious venture (one of the stated aims of his company is to extend the line north to the Zambezi). Trains reach Bulawayo as early as 1896. Victoria Falls is the northern terminus by 1904. Meanwhile the territory has been given a name in honour of its colonial founder. From 1895 the region up to the Zambezi is known as Rhodesia.

During the early 1890s the company has considerable difficulty in maintaining its presence in these new territories. Lobengula himself tries to maintain peace with the British, but many of his tribe are eager to expel the intruders. The issue comes to a head when Leander Jameson, administering the region for Rhodes, finds a pretext in 1893 for war against Lobengula.

With five Maxim machine guns, Jameson easily fights his way into Lobengula's kraal at Bulawayo. Lobengula flees, bringing to an end the Ndebele kingdom established by his father. There is a strong tribal uprising against the British in 1896-7, but thereafter Rhodes's company brings the entire region up to the Zambezi under full control.

But Rhodes has ambitions far beyond the Zambezi. In 1890 he arrives in Barotseland (the western region of modern Zambia) to secure a treaty with Lewanika, the paramount chief of the region. With this achieved, Rhodes comes to a new agreement in 1891 with the British government. His company will administer the area from the Zambezi up to Lake Tanganyika (the present-day Zambia).

From 1900 the territory is divided into two protectorates, Northwestern and Northeastern Rhodesia, each of them separately administered by Rhodes's company. In 1911 they are merged as Northern Rhodesia, with the colony's first capital at Livingstone (appropriately named, since it is near Victoria falls).

Rhodes hopes also to bring under his company's control the territory to the east, up to Lake Nyasa. But this region (the kernel of today's Malawi) is placed in 1891 under direct British administration - to become the British Central African Protectorate.

There is much conflict during the 1890s between the company's servants and the local chieftains, but the shape of the British colonial presence in central Africa is now clear. Rhodes's dream of a continuous strip of British territory has been achieved as far as the great lakes. The Boers in the Transvaal are admittedly an irritant, half blocking an otherwise satisfactory prospect to the north. But Rhodes and Jameson have plans for them too.

Rhodes and Jameson: AD 1890-1895

Rhodes is a politician as well as a capitalist entrepreneur. A member of the Cape parliament from 1881, he becomes prime minister in 1890. His overriding aim in South African politics is to bring the Boer republics (the Transvaal and the Orange Free State) into a South African Federation - in which the British at the Cape will be the dominant partner.

His motives are varied. There is the obvious one of extending British control. There is irritation at the damage to trade which results from high tarriffs imposed by the Boers. And there is personal hostility to the leading Boer politician, Paul Kruger, a man as stubborn as Rhodes is impulsive.

Rhodes's views are passionately shared by an exact contemporary, Leander Starr Jameson. The two men meet in 1878 when Jameson is working as a doctor in Kimberley. Thereafter their careers are closely linked.

Jameson is among the First colonists heading north into Rhodesia in 1890. In 1891 he is appointed administrator of the region. In 1893 it is he who launches the unscrupulous but successful war against Lobengula. And in 1895 he plays the leading role in a plot, hatched in conjunction with Rhodes, to unseat Kruger and take over the Transvaal by force.

From October 1894 Rhodes and Jameson discuss with uitlanders in Johannesburg the possibility of an uprising. The uitlanders (Afrikaans for 'foreigners') are British settlers who have flocked into the Transvaal after the discovery in 1886 of rich gold fields on the Witwatersrand, also known simply as the Rand. They have a sense of grievance, partly because Kruger has denied them the vote (understandably, since they are soon likely to outnumber the Boers in the republic).

A secret scheme is hatched for an uprising by the uitlanders in December 1895. It is timed to coincide with a British invasion from Mafeking, just over the Transvaal border in Bechuanaland.

The British force of some 600 men (most of them armed police from Rhodesia) is to be led by Jameson. At the last minute it becomes known that the uprising of uitlanders has failed to materialize, but Jameson, in foolhardy mood, decides to go ahead. Four days later his party is confronted by the Boers fourteen miles short of Johannesburg.

At the end of this fiasco of an invasion, which becomes notorious as the Jameson Raid, sixteen of the British force are dead and Jameson himself is under arrest . When the news breaks of the personal involvement of the prime minister of the neighbouring Cape colony, Rhodes has no choice but to resign. His political career never recovers.

Jameson, released by the Boers, is tried in England (for offences under the Foreign Enlistment Act) and spends several months in London's Holloway gaol. But he returns to South Africa and even establishes a political career. For four years (1904-8) he serves in Rhodes's footsteps as prime minister of the Cape Colony.

By then the independence of the Transvaal has been brought to an end in a military campaign longer, more brutal and more effective than Jameson's unfortunate raid. That campaign is the Boer War of 1899-1902, in the build-up to which the Jameson Raid has been one of the more significant moments.

20th century

Boer War: AD 1899-1902

Outright warfare between British and Afrikaners derives from the various tensions which have characterized the 1890s, in particular British expansionism and an understandable Afrikaner fear of being surrounded, squeezed, absorbed. After the Jameson Raid the Boers have increasingly good reason to distrust British intentions.

Kruger, convinced that war is inevitable, takes energetic steps in preparation. In 1897 he concludes an alliance with the other Boer republic, the Orange free state. And he begins a programme of rearmament to improve his republic's military capability.

On the British side new factors make war increasingly likely. In 1895 Joseph Chamberlain, a man with a strong imperialist vision, becomes the British secretary of state for the colonies. In 1897 he appoints as his south African high commissioner Alfred Milner, an equally keen imperialist. Milner is soon urging on the colonial secretary a vigorously assertive policy. In practice this means taking a strong line with Paul Kruger, elected in 1898 to a fourth term as president of the Transvaal.

The most inflammatory issue between the two sides is once again the Uitlanders, who pay heavy taxes in the Boer republic but enjoy no political rights. They are, writes Milner in a telegram to Chamberlain in May 1899, 'in the position of Helots'.

At a conference in Bloemfontein in June 1899 Milner demands that the Transvaal grants voting rights to the Uitlanders. Kruger refuses. In the next few months there are half-hearted attempts at compromise, but in October the Boer republics issue an ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of British troops from their borders.

The result is war, which at first goes entirely in favour of the Boers (their forces at this stage outnumber the British troops in south Africa). Boer armies move rapidly east and west, besieging important British bases just beyond the borders of the Transvaal - Ladysmith in Natal, and Mafeking in Bechuanaland. A siege of Kimberley soon follows.

A British army corps, landing at the Cape in December 1899, does nothing to reverse the trend. In what becomes known as Black Week (December 10-15) British forces are decisively defeated in three separate engagements against the Boers (at Stromberg, Magersfontein and Colenso), in each case losing between 700 and 1100 men to minimal Boer casualties.

The tide begins to turn in Britain's favour after the arrival of Frederick Roberts and Herbert Kitchener to take command in January 1900. Kimberley and Ladysmith are relieved in February, followed on May 17 by Mafeking (where Robert Baden-Powell first makes his name in command of a heroic resistance).

Meanwhile Roberts has occupied Bloemfontein, capital of the Orange free state - the annexation of which he announces on May 24. By the end of that month he is in Johannesburg. On June 5 he occupies Pretoria, capital of the Transvaal. Roberts proclaims its annexation. A few days later Kruger escapes from the republic into Mozambique.

In all normal senses the war is over, but the Boers are not so easily defeated. They adopt extremely successful guerrilla tactics, prompting an equally unconventional and much criticized response from the British. Kitchener, by now in sole command (Roberts returns to Britain in January 1901) adopts three ruthless but effective measures.

First he pioneers a new use of a railway network in warfare, building corrugated-iron blockhouses beside the railway lines as temporary forts for British troops. Here they can be rapidly reinforced as required. Meanwhile, from this relative security, they ride out to effect a scorched earth policy, destroying the crops and farms of the Boers.

This results in a great many homeless and starving women and children, whom Kitchener provides for in a manner recently pioneered by the Spanish governor in Cuba - Concentration camps. By the end of the war, in 1902, about 115,000 people are living in these camps. More significantly, some 4000 women and 16,000 children have died in them of illness.

Vereeniging and Union: AD 1902-1910

The statistics of the concentration camps tarnish the British victory in the Boer War. By contrast the military deaths during the three years of fighting emphasize the martial spirit and skills of the Afrikaners (22,000 British dead, 6000 Boers).

The treaty ending the war is agreed in May 1902 at Vereeniging, an existing town of which the name happens to mean 'union' in Dutch. British annexation of the Boer republics is confirmed, but there are several important concessions (there are to be no recriminations, Dutch is to be taught to Afrikaner children in public schools). Nevertheless the overall effect of the Boer War is to make possible Rhodes's dream of a united South Africa under the British flag.

Among the Boers, defeat in the war prompts a new commitment to Afrikaner culture. In a familiar pattern, language and nationalism go together. The Taalbond ('language union') is formed in 1903 to promote the use of Dutch rather than English. At the same time there is a campaign to take more seriously the writing of Afrikaans, the colloquial version of Dutch spoken by the Boers. Vigorous Afrikaans poetry and prose begin to be published.

Specifically political organizations accompany this development. Parties committed to Afrikaner self-government are formed - Het Volk ('The People') in the Transvaal in 1905, and Orangia Unie ('Orange Union') in the Orange River Colony in 1906.

An unspecific promise of internal self-government for the two Boer colonies has been included in the Vereeniging treaty. In the event the promise is fulfilled with reasonable speed, largely because the Conservative government in Britain (responsible for the conduct of the recent war) is replaced in 1906 by a Liberal administration more inclined to offer concessions. Transvaal is given self-governing status in 1906, followed by the Orange River Colony in 1907.

Meanwhile the entire region has been prospering. During the years immediately after the war Milner does much to integrate the economies of the British and Boer colonies, bringing them into a single customs union and amalgamating their railway systems.

With increasing economic cooperation, a greater degree of political union becomes attractive - even for communities so recently and bitterly at war. Moreover there is the example of the dominion status recently accorded to Australia (1901) and New Zealand (1907). The idea of a united independent South Africa, free of further interference from Britain, begins to gain favour among the leaders of both the British and Afrikaner communities.

A national convention of delegates from the four colonial parliaments meets in 1908-9 and draws up a constitution. It is passed almost unanimously in the parliaments of the Cape Colony, the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, and by a large majority in a referendum in Natal.

On one thorny issue a compromise is reached, allowing the former colonies (now to be provinces) to keep their own local traditions. The Cape colony, which has eliminated race as a consideration in the franchise, is allowed to retain this policy. In the other three colonies, where it is a point of principle that the electorate is exclusively white, a colour bar remains in place.

The British parliament passes the South Africa Act in September 1909. The Union of South Africa becomes an independent dominion within the British empire in May 1910. Pretoria becomes the administrative capital of the new nation, while the legislative capital (as the seat of parliament) is Cape Town.

This History is as yet incomplete.

Racial distinctions: AD 1910-1934

The new Union of South Africa is not alone in having several clearly defined racial groups (19th-century Latin america has even more), but it is unusual in its obsession with categorizing and segregating them.

On independence, in 1910, there are about 1.3 million white citizens of South Africa. The majority of these are Afrikaners of Dutch descent; the minority is British in origin. There is considerable antipathy between the two communities. The history of the past two centuries has given the Afrikaners good reason to resent the later colonists who have displaced and harassed them.

By far the largest group in the new nation is the black Africans, numbering some four million people. The two European groups disagree on the level of rights which these indigenous people should enjoy, but they are of one mind in seeing them as a supply of very cheap manual labour.

Two smaller communities consist of about half a million Coloured people (the south African term for those of mixed European and African parentage) and about 180,000 Asians. Most of the Asians live in Natal, where from the 1860s the colonial government has brought in indentured labour from India to work the colony's sugar plantations.

In the individual provinces different restrictions are placed on these various racial groups. In the Cape Province the Coloureds have the same status as the whites, taking their place on the electoral register if they can meet the property qualifications; elsewhere in the Union they are classed with the other non-white groups.

Similarly Asians suffer particular discrimination in Natal, where they outnumber the whites. They are subject to a special tax of £3 and to humiliating measures, such as the act of 1906 which requires all Indians in the colony to register their fingerprints. (This indignity prompts Gandhi to develop his policy of satyagraha, or non-violent resistance, which eventually causes the law to be withdrawn.)

At the level of national politics, the Afrikaner majority over the British (combined with the restriction of the electorate almost exclusively to whites) means that from the start the nation has governments in which the Afrikaner element predominates. However this does not at first imply an anti-British policy.

The first Union cabinet, in 1910, is headed by Louis Botha as prime minister and Jan Smuts as minister of the interior and defence. Both have served with distinction against the British in the Boer War. But the Afrikaner Party which they found in 1910 (later known as the South African Party) is dedicated to cooperation with the British government and to partnership between the two European communities of South Africa.

This policy soon offends the more radical Afrikaners, always fearful that their identity will be eroded by the British influence. Their concerns are reinforced in 1914 when Botha unhesitatingly brings South Africa into World War I on the allied side (and soon organizes the conquest of German South west africa).

In this climate of unrest an Afrikaner nationalist party, the National Party, is founded in 1914 by J.B.M. Hertzog. The conciliatory South African Party remains in power until 1924 (Smuts succeeds Botha as prime minister in 1919), but it is increasingly the Nationalists who set the nation's political agenda.

Hertzog's party wins the election of 1924 and begins to put in place legislation to protect the privileged position of South Africa's white minority. During the next fifteen years laws are passed to prevent Africans and Asians taking up skilled trades, to limit African access to towns and to enforce various degrees of segregation upon the white and black communities.

Even so Hertzog's measures are too mild for many Afrikaners (he makes no distinction, for example, between Coloureds and whites) and in 1934 Daniel Malan forms a Purified National Party. As yet it is small, and World War II delays its coming to power. But its attitudes prefigure apartheid and the dark future of South Africa.

United Party and World War II: AD 1934-1948

Economic upheaval in the mid-1930s threatens Hertzog's government, causing him to form a coalition with Smuts. In 1934 their two parties, National and South African, are merged as the United Party. Hertzog remains prime minister with Smuts as his deputy.

Smuts acquiesces in further measures by Hertzog to strengthen his policy of racial segregation, but the outbreak of World War II causes a rift between the two men. Smuts, as in World War I, is determined to fight on Britain's side; Hertzog favours neutrality. In a close vote, on 4 September 1939, the South African parliament supports Smuts (80 votes to 67). Hertzog resigns, making way for Smuts to return as prime minister.

South Africans rally behind Smuts. Some 325,000 join the forces, with the Afrikaners sending more men to war than the British community. And a general election in 1943 returns Smuts to power. But the writing is on the wall. Every single seat not won by Smuts's United Party falls to the Nationalists of Daniel Malan.

Five years later Malan's party (by now the Reunited National Party, and subsequently just the National Party) wins a narrow majority in the house of assembly in alliance with a small Afrikaner Party. The era of strict apartheid, and of South Africa's increasing international isolation, is about to begin.

Apartheid: AD 1948-1990

The Afrikaans word apartheid ('apartness') is much in evidence after 1948 as a central plank of South African government policy, but it is only another word for the Segregation of the races already promoted by Hertzog and accepted by Smuts. The difference in the postwar years, under successive National Party prime ministers (Malan 1948-54, Strijdom 1954-58, Verwoerd 1958-66, Vorster 1966-78), is the obsessive vigour with which systems of Segregation are devised and imposed.

A population register is established to fix the racial classification of every South African citizen. Marriage between whites and nonwhites (and even inter-racial sexual intercourse) becomes a criminal offence.

Towns and rural areas are divided into zones in which ownership of property, commercial activity and residence is limited to people of a specific racial group. Africans travel into white areas to work, but they require passes to do so.

The universities are reserved for white students, while 'apartness' is carried to extreme lengths in the educational arrangements for everyone else: Coloureds, Asians and even the major African tribal groups (Sotho, Xhosa, Zulu) are now provided with colleges of their own. In everyday life separate facilities are introduced where previously there was no formal Segregation - in buses and trains, post offices and libraries, cinemas and theatres.

The non-white population of South Africa is progressively excluded from the nation's political processes. The Coloured citizens of the Cape province, for example, are deprived in 1956 (after a long legal battle) of their Previous electoral rights.

The advocates of apartheid claim that these limitations are balanced by a separate political system designed for the African majority. The Promotion of Self Government Act, in 1959, arranges for the creation of ten African homelands (also known as Bantustans) which will be to some extent self-governing, though their policies remain subject to veto by the national administration in Pretoria. The Transkei, dating from 1959, is the largest and earliest of the Bantustans.

The policy of apartheid brings widespread international opprobrium. After being censured by fellow members, South Africa withdraws from the British Commonwealth in 1961 and becomes a republic. The General Assembly of the UN condemns apartheid in 1948, the first year of National Party rule, and in 1962 calls on member states to apply economic sanctions. Most African states do so, but western governments are reluctant to take this step - particularly the USA and Britain in the 1980s under Reagan and thatcher.

By 1986 public pressure in the USA is so strong that congress, overriding Reagan's presidential veto, imposes trade and financial restrictions and bans air travel to South Africa. Other western countries follow suit.

Meanwhile popular revulsion at apartheid has led to the isolation of South Africa in fields such as sport and culture. South African teams and competitors no longer feature at international events. Theatre companies and orchestras refuse to go on tour to the apartheid republic, or face censure from their fellow professionals if they do so.

But the most significant opposition to apartheid is internal. It begins with non-violent protest in the tradition of Gandhi, but possibly includes in 1966 the assassination in parliament of the prime minister, Hendrik Verwoerd (stabbed by an immigrant of mixed racial descent, but of severely unbalanced mind and with no clear motive). With mounting desperation, as the white regime becomes ever more repressive, violence escalates. Spearheading the campaign are two linked organizations, the ANC and the PAC.

ANC and PAC: AD 1949-1978

The African National Congress predates the Afrikaner nationalist party as a political organization in South Africa. Originally founded in 1912 (as the South African Native National Congress, acquiring its present name in 1923), its first purpose is to defend and extend the voting rights of Coloured and African citizens in the Cape Province.

After the National Party's postwar election victory, with conditions getting worse rather than better, leadership of the ANC is taken in 1949 by radical younger members including Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela. They organize a programme of industrial strikes, boycotts, marches and passive resistance to discriminatory laws. In 1955 they convene a mass public meeting, a Congress of the People, which proclaims a Freedom Charter.

The Freedom Charter of 1955 emphasizes the ANC's democratic nonracial credentials, stating that 'South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black or white, and no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people'.

The ANC leaders and their supporters (among them Coloureds, Asians and liberal whites) are increasingly harassed by the police. Yet at this stage the campaign remains one of non-violent resistance - a fact internationally recognized when Albert Luthuli, president of the ANC from 1952, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960. But this same year also sees a dramatic escalation in the conflict, following the founding of the PAC.

In 1959 Robert Sobukwe, believing that the African cause is weakened by the ANC's partnership with other races, forms a breakaway group under the name Pan-Africanist Congress. The PAC devises a more confrontational gesture than any yet attempted by the ANC. In March 1960 tens of thousands of Africans all round the country present themselves at police stations. They are breaking the law since they are not carrying their compulsory passes. In their vast numbers they present the police with an impossible challenge: arrest us.

At Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, the police overreact. They fire on the crowd, killing more than 60 people and wounding about 180 (most of them shot in the back as they flee).

This outrage proves a turning point. Thousands march and go on strike, while the government reacts with severity - declaring both the ANC and PAC prohibited organizations and arresting some 11,000 people under emergency measures.

The ANC responds in 1961 with the formation of a guerrilla force, Umkhonto we Sizwe ('Spear of the Nation'), to carry out acts of sabotage. One of its leaders is Nelson Mandela. He is captured and is sentenced in 1964 to life imprisonment. He is sent to a gaol on Robben Island, in the bay off Cape Town. Oliver Tambo escapes in 1960 to Zambia, where he presides over the executive of the ANC in exile.

With the ANC and PAC leaders in prison or in exile, and with the nation vigorously policed, the late 1960s are a relatively quiet time. But in the 1970s a new African generation begins to demand change. A group of students, including Steve Biko, found Black Consciousness - a movement to encourage pride in African culture and traditions.

It is in the spirit of Black Consciousness that schoolchildren stage a protest in July 1976 in Soweto (a huge black township on the outskirts of Johannesburg) against a new government rule that lessons in black schools must be in Afrikaans.

The demonstration gets out of hand and turns to looting. The police fire on the crowd. News of this event prompts riots throughout the nation. At the end of three days of chaos and police retaliation at least 100 black Africans are dead and more than 1000 injured. In the ensuing government crackdown many more die, including in 1977 Steve Biko - the victim of wounds to the head, sustained while in police custody.

By now internal disruption and international hostility make it evident, particularly to South Africa's business community, that apartheid in its present form cannot be long sustained. A new approach is therefore attempted by P. W. Botha, who succeeds Vorster in 1978 as prime minister.

Botha and de Klerk: AD 1978-1990

The Botha period is one of stark contrasts. Many of the defining characteristics of apartheid are brought to an end. The pass laws, restricting African movement, are abolished. The ban on interracial sexual relations is rescinded. Segregation in public places is either removed or greatly reduced. Skilled jobs are no longer reserved for whites. And for the first time black trade unions are allowed to register and to function legally.

Yet these are only attempts to preserve intact the central bastion of apartheid, white supremacy. There is still no place of any kind for the African majority in the nation's political processes. The roots of discontent are untouched, and Botha simultaneously takes forceful preventive measures.

Greatly increasing the nation's military strength, he sends troops over the borders to destroy ANC support and to destabilize neighbouring countries (Angola, Mozambique, Botswana), whose governments are hostile to South Africa. In South west africa he commits large numbers of men to the struggle against SWAPO. At home, amid escalating terrorist activity, he authorizes the aggressive use of police and soldiers to intimidate the black townships.

Rigid censorship conceals much of this from the outer world, but brave witnesses continue to speak out - among them Desmond Tutu, at this time rector of an Anglican church in Soweto. In 1984 he is awarded the second Nobel peace prize in the fight against apartheid.

During the second half of the 1980s a declining economy is further damaged by strike action on the part of black workers in the gold and diamond mines, the main source of the nation's wealth. In 1989 an ill P.W. Botha is persuaded to step down. The National Party elects in his place a much younger man, F.W. de Klerk.

On 2 February 1990 de Klerk astonishes the South African parliament and the world with a speech announcing radical change. He proposes to dismantle apartheid, to free political prisoners, to lift the ban on the ANC and PAC, and in effect to introduce a new era of consultation and dialogue. Nine days after this speech Mandela is released from prison. Before the end of the year Tambo returns from exile.

De Klerk and Mandela: AD 1990-1994

Until the 1990s it has seemed impossible that majority rule could be achieved in South Africa without an intervening period of violent civil war. But a peaceful transition from Afrikaner to African rule is the extraordinary achievement of de Klerk and Mandela, who together collect the troubled nation's third Nobel Prize for Peace (in 1993).

Mandela, greeted ecstatically by black Africans on his release from gaol, is already the real figure of authority within the ANC; he becomes its official leader when he succeeds Oliver Tambo as president in 1991. The immediate problem facing both him and de Klerk is to persuade their followers to make sufficient compromises for the transition to be feasible.

Astonishingly they are able to do so, greatly helped by Mandela's shining generosity of spirit. In spite of nearly three decades in gaol he appears to harbour no bitterness. He is eager to talk even to those who have been most implacably opposed to all he has fought for. He seems to personify the spirit of reconciliation and the hope of a shared multiracial future.

Nevertheless both men confront grave political difficulties. De Klerk must convince the more extreme Afrikaners in the National Party. Mandela has problems with the Zulu people in Natal, led by their hereditary chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Buthelezi and Inkatha: AD 1990-1994

Ever since the great days of their kingdom in the 19th century the Zulu have stood somewhat apart from other black African groups. Chief Buthelezi's uncle has founded in 1922 a movement called Inkatha yeNkululedo yeSizwe, specifically to promote Zulu culture. From the 1970s Buthelezi builds on this tradition and revives Inkatha.

In 1972 he collaborates with apartheid to the extent of becoming chief minister of KwaZulu, the homeland set up for the Zulu people. At the time he is a member of the ANC but he breaks with them in 1974, arguing that there is more chance of African advancement in cooperation with the government. In the Botha years the National Party fosters this rift by secretly subsidizing Inkatha.

In the early 1990s, with the approach of South Africa's first democratic elections, Buthelezi transforms Inkatha into a political party - the Inkatha Freedom Party. The result is a brutal power struggle, with thousands of deaths, between ANC supporters and Inkatha in the Zulu tribal lands of northern Natal.

In spite of these difficulties, the long awaited election takes place relatively peacefully in April 1994. The voting figures for the main parties are ANC 63%, National Party 20%, Inkatha 10%. An interim constitution, agreed late in 1993, provides for a proportional share of seats in the cabinet. Thus there are twenty ANC ministers, seven from the National Party and three from Inkatha.

Nelson Mandela: AD 1994-1999

On an extraordinarily emotional occasion, attended by forty-five heads of state and viewed on television round the world, Nelson Mandela is sworn in on 10 May 1994 as the first president of the new democratic South Africa. The goodwill generated by his example and leadership (he is a strong candidate to be considered the most impressive statesman of the 20th century) means that he has a reasonable chance of grappling successfully with the republic's many problems.

Among these, two are paramount - one dealing with the past, the other with the immediate future.

The president must somehow defuse the racial fears and bitter resentments from the apartheid years. And he must confront the unrealistic hope of South Africa's poor and unemployed for instant remedies - a hope fuelled by the ANC's election slogan 'a better life for all'.

On the first issue Mandela sets up in 1994 a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, charged with investigating political crimes committed by all parties between 1960 and December 1993. The commission, under the chairmanship of Desmond Tutu, begins to hear evidence in 1996 from victims of such crimes. It has the power to grant amnesty to the guilty if they cooperate truthfully in the investigation.

On the economic front the government sets ambitious targets in such areas as house-building and job creation (considerable progress is made on housing, but jobs prove harder to deliver). The Restitution of Land Rights Act, passed in 1994, aims to restore ownership to those dispossed of their land - and by 1997 some five million acres have been redistributed. But continuing poverty, without the restraining limits of a police state, soon leads to an alarming rise in the crime rate.

The interim constitution is replaced in 1996 by the first draft of a permanent one. This proposes to end, from 1999, the compulsory power sharing between the parties which has characterized the existing government of national unity.

The power sharing has worked surprisingly well, with de Klerk serving as one of two deputy presidents and Buthelezi as minister for home affairs. With the passing of the new constitution in 1996 de Klerk and the National Party decide to withdraw in advance from the government, promising to provide a 'dynamic but responsible' opposition. Buthelezi and Inkatha remain in the government coalition, having achieved steadily improving relations with the ANC.

The other deputy president is ANC member Thabo Mbeki. In 1999, when the 81-year-old Mandela retires from politics, Mbeki succeeds him as South Africa's president. In the elections of this year the ANC win 266 seats, the Democratic Party 38, the Inkatha Freedom Party 34 and the New National Party 28.
Arrow Arrow
Page 1 of 4
Arrow Arrow