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A History of South Africa

Long before its written history the Khoikoi people farmed and lived on the land known today as South Africa. Even well before the Khoikoi, the forerunner to modern man migrated about the continent occasionally to and from its southern most tip for tens of thousands of years. Artifacts have been found profusely in the region where the Bantu speaking people settled long ago, and where the asian traders from even farther back trekked along their routes. South Africa has a long-lived past that has implicated diverse cultures and people from all over the globe for centuries.

Under the auspices of the Dutch East India Company, Jan van Riebeeck and ninety others land at the Cape of Good Hope, building and setting up a fort and a garden so as to provide nourishment and sustenance to ships on the trade route around the tip of Africa. Bartering soon emerged with the Khoikoi, yet led to a feeling of ill will and enmity between the two groups as both viewed the other as a threat. Nevertheless the colony continued to grow and by the time Riebeeck left, it had swelled to three times its size. By the early 18th century, treckboers, began to push eastwards and north, where the Khoikoi people subsisted. Slowly but surely, these native people were pushed off their land by all to eager colonists. To the far east the Xhosa-speaking people were being forced off their land to too as a result of the ever-expanding colony. Edgy trading began between the two only to turn into periodic fighting between the two groups. It was at this time the nation began to emerge and the Afrikaners, the Dutch, French, and Germans began to recognize themselves as a different entity from their mother countries.

In 1795, the British took over the Cape of Good Hope as a consequence of European affairs at the time. It returned to Dutch hands, only to go back into the hands of England after the announcement of an alliance between Holland and Napoleon. Discontent and violence broke out among the settlers for improving the conditions of the Khoi workers and servants of the time. The might of the British Empire was visible as the British Army fended off the Xhosa. Over 5,000 British settlers arrived at the Cape in 1820, only to face massive starvation after their cattle were killed systematically by the Xhosa.

In the meantime missionaries seeking the elimination of the status quo for the native people proved successful to some degrees. They’re influence dug deep into London and eventually gave way to emancipation of the slaves that occurred in 1834. This act had a profound effect on the rest of the country’s history; akin nevertheless to the United States Emancipation Proclamation. To the disgruntled Boers the enactment was unwarranted social equality and classlessness. The Great Trek resulted in 12,000 Boers and farmers migrating up North to resettle an area that had once been settled by the Zulu’s. The rise to power of the great Zulu King, Shaka, led to a rift among the people many who abandoned the area. Still the trek was not without fighting and intense conflict between the races. The eventual Boer republics were founded, one being the Orange Free State, the other the South African Republic.

The mid-1800’s were demoralizing for the Bantu people. Only a handful of the areas of the aboriginal people retained their independence. Whatever their descent, the European colonists and settlers would in due course force the natives to cede their dominance and sway over to them. Basutoland, was one of a few quarters that remained relatively unscathed, as a result of the British Annexation of it. This section today still remains a landlocked country entirely encircled by South Africa, and has still preserved its sovereignty through the years. During this time period, vast wealth was discovered in the area, in the form of diamonds, once again bringing in settlers and diggers. Hostility and skirmishes continued on in the fight for land, with the colonists unperturbed in expanding their reach. At the battle in Isandhlawana in 1879, Britain suffered a vexing defeat, giving hope to the tribes around the settlements, and letting many know the British were not insurmountable.

The late 1800’s brought with it more discoveries of gold and waves of migrants from the British Isles. Afrikers saw these migrants as a threat to their independence and autonomy and imposed austere business regulations in consequence. The prime minister of the British colonies in South Africa sent out a force to capture Johannesburg, but it was futile. This failed raid led to sentiment against the British among the Boers and to the eventual alliance between the Transvaal colony and the Orange Free State. But by 1899, half a million British soldiers faced the meager Boer army of 65,000. With their military muscle, the British captured main cities only to face guerilla warfare in doing so. In reaction, the Britain’s general set up concentration camps where over thirty thousand Boers and natives perished. This drew to the Peace of Vereeniging in 1902, and mainly a loss of the Boers.

The emergent Union of South Africa in 1910 gave hope to blacks across the country for equal opportunities and liberties. The Afrikers party, the South African Party still remained strong and influential enough to limit change nevertheless. Power remained in the hands of white men for decades, and law after law was passed stemming increases in black power and developing further segregation. By 1944, the African Nation Congress Youth League was formed with its leader Nelson Mandela as the driving force. In the 1948 election the National Party, who promoted segregation and separation of the races, gained control of the country. Fifty years would go by before they would yield power to opposing groups. In the interim, apartheid became a doctrine to live by for the Boers. Hendrick Verwoerd the party’s prime minister became the draftsman for apartheid.

In 1962, following many civil protests and unrest in the country, Mandela was jailed for 3 years for incitement. In 1964, Mandela and his cohorts were charged with sabotage and sentenced to a stern punishment of life in prison. International sanctions against the country increased over the years, as well as boycotts and internal instability in the form of violence. The United Democratic Front, a coalition of anti-apartheid groups took on more initiatives for changes. Things started to transform in 1989 with the covert talks between Mandela and PW Botha, the prime Minister. De Lerk followed after Botha and released prisoners and the like, while lifting bans and restrictions from dissenting groups. In February 11, 1990, Mandela was released after 27 years in prison. After 1994, the first truly democratic elections were held, a constitution was agreed upon by 21 parties, and Mandela became the president of the country.

At present the country of South Africa is a parliamentary republic with Thabo Mbeki as the country’s leader. Education is freely available to all that seek it and several dozen universities exist. The country is easily on of the continents most developed and economically strong. Yet there are problems that linger. The literacy rate remains dauntingly low at 85%, and an even worse figure is the HIV/AIDS rate among adults. A hefty 22.5% of the adult population faces the infection-roughly 5.3 million of South Africa’s citizens. Deaths totaled to 370,000 as a result of the deadly virus. It is no wonder then, why the life expectancy is exceedingly low at 42 and a half years of age. One third of the pregnant female population is said to have aids. Moreover there are one million aids orphans who have been devoid of their parents. Besides HIV, old problems such as Malaria continue to be a nuisance for the people and the country. The country aids with specific grants going out for disabilities and poor health, creating and modernizing hospitals, and free healthcare. The Free Healthcare Policy began in 1994 and covered only pregnant women. Today, it covers all citizens, though not all receive its benefits. The youth are provided with meals in school, an attempt to eliminate malnutrition and immunizations at early ages.

The religiosity of South Africans is significantly high. The people in South Africa are primarily Christian, at a number placed around 80%. The remaining fifth of the inhabitants are for the most part not affiliated with any particular religious entity. Muslim and Hindu minorities do exist but in small numbers. A little less than half the population lives below the poverty line.

South Africa is a participating member of the World Trade Organization, the UN, and openly engages in talks with the United States, and its European counterparts, not to mention ongoing negotiations with India and China. The country has received support in the past from many countries, but minimally in comparison to other African countries due to its economic position. Its debts are considerable, but bearable. South Africa is a country that fares well economically for the continent of Africa and is developing at a fast pace with a positive potential outlook towards the safeguarding of its people. Its future does not appear as grim as its past.

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