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South African History Essay

The Republic of South Africa, not to be confused with South African Republic, is a republic located at the southern tip of Africa. The first people living in this area were nomades traveling from the north, searching for a new place to live. Today, the population of South Africa is a mix of several ethnical groups.

The modern history of South Africa began in 1488, when the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias rounded what came to be known as the Cape of Good Hope, and landed in Mossel Bay. Many Portuguese explorers arrived after him, and even though they were the first among the European countries to discover this part of the African continent, they showed very little interest in colonization. The area’s stormy weather and rocky bays threathend to destroy their ships and the attempts to trade with the local natives often ended in conflicts. Instead, they found the Mozambican coast more appealing, with attractiv bays to use as stations and waters with abudant wildlife, perfect for prawning.

The Portuguese had very little competition in the region at the time. It was first in the late 16th century, when the English and Dutch began to challange the Portuguese along their trade routes, that the actual European colonization of South Africa began. The Dutch East India Company decided in 1652 that an expedition under the command of Jan van Riebeeck would establish a secure base camp in Table Bay, where passing trade ships on their way to India, China and Southeast Asia could shelter and resupply. This base camp would later to be known as Cape Town.

As the base camp grew, they found themselves faced with a food shortage. As an attempt to solve this problem, a small number of workers were released from their contract to establish farms which would provide the Dutch East India Company settlement with their harvest. The majority of the burghers, as these farmers were known, were Dutch but there were also some Germans as well as Scandinavians. In another attempt to expand the settlement, Jan van Riebeeck and the Dutch East India Company started to import large numbers of slaves, mostly from Asia and southern India, but also from western Africa. These slaves often married the Dutch settlers, and their offspring became referd as cape coloureds.

With the increased labour, the areas occupied by the Dutch East India Company expanded further to the north and east, driving the local natives away from their traditional lands with superior weapons and introduced diseases. In lack of other options, most survivers had to work for the Europeans in conditions not far from slavery.

In 1795, Great Britain took over the Cape of Good Hope area to prevent it from falling under control of the French First Republic, which had invaded the Dutch Republic. 8 years later Cape Town is returned to the Dutch, but not long afterwards the Dutch East India Company declared bankruptcy and in 1806, Cape Town fell in British possesion once again.

It was first in 1931 the British Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster, which made South Africa an indipendent state. In 1948 the South African Party succeded in legalising discrimination, which was later known as apartheid. This basically meant that whites, coloured and blacks had different rights. For an example, blacks had to ride different busses and were not allowed to go to the same school as the whites. At the time, 90 % of the land were owned by english speaking whites.

The most prominent orginisation fighting this injustice were African National Congress, with Nelson Mandela as the front figure. In 1962, he was arrested and convicted for sabotage and other charges, and sentenced for life in prison. Mandela spent 27 years in prison, mostly on Robben Island. After being released from prison in 1990, he led his party in the negotiations that led to multi-racial democracy in 1994.

In South Africa, Mandela is often known as tata, which means father, and has received more than 250 awards over four decades, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

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