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The history of South Africa is marked by immigration and ethnic conflict. The Khoisan peoples are the aboriginal people of South Africa who have lived here for millennia. Black South Africans are believed to originate from the Great Lakes region of Africa in prehistoric times. White South Africans, descendants of later European migrations, regard themselves equally as products of South Africa, as do South Africa's Coloureds, Indians, Asians, and Jews.
Ancient and Medieval History
South Africa contains some of the oldest archaeological sites in the world. Extensive fossil remains at the Sterkfontein, Kromdraai and Makapansgat caves suggest that various australopithecines existed in South Africa from about three million years ago. These were succeeded by various species of Homo, including Homo habilis, Homo erectus and modern humans, Homo sapiens.
n 1487, the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias became the first European to reach the southernmost point of Africa. Initially named the Cape of Storms, The King of Portugal, John II, renamed it the Cabo da Boa Esperança or Cape of Good Hope, as it led to the riches of India. Dias' great feat of navigation was later immortalised in Camões' epic Portuguese poem, The Lusiads (1572). In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck established a refreshment station at the Cape of Good Hope on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch transported slaves from Indonesia, Madagascar, and India as labour for the colonists in Cape Town. As they expanded east, the Dutch settlers met the south-westerly expanding Xhosa people in the region of the Fish River. A series of wars, called the Cape Frontier Wars, ensued, mainly caused by conflicting land and livestock interests.
After four years of negotiating, the Union of South Africa was created from the Cape and Natal colonies, as well as the republics of Orange Free State and Transvaal, on 31 May 1910, exactly eight years after the end of the Second Boer War. The newly created Union of South Africa was a dominion of Great Britain. The Natives' Land Act of 1913 severely restricted the ownership of land by 'blacks'; at that stage they had control of a mere 7% of the country. The amount of land reserved for indigenous peoples was later marginally increased.
In 1948, the National Party was elected to power. It intensified the implementation of racial segregation begun under Dutch and British colonial rule, and subsequent South African governments since the Union was formed. The Nationalist Government systematised existing segregationist laws, classifying all peoples into three races, developing rights and limitations for each, such as pass laws and residential restrictions. The white minority controlled the vastly larger black majority. The system of segregation became known collectively as apartheid.
In 1990 the National Party government took the first step towards negotiating itself out of power when it lifted the ban on the African National Congress and other left-wing political organisations. It released Nelson Mandela from prison after twenty-seven years' incarceration on a sabotage sentence. The government repealed apartheid legislation. South Africa destroyed its nuclear arsenal and acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. South Africa held its first multi-racial elections in 1994, which the ANC won by an overwhelming majority. It has been in power ever since.
In post-apartheid South Africa, millions of South Africans, mostly black, have continued to live in poverty, as it has been difficult to compensate quickly for generations of educational and social neglect. Poverty among whites, previously rare, has increased greatly. While some have attributed this partly to the legacy of the apartheid system, increasingly many attribute it to the failure of the current government to tackle social issues. In addition, the current government has struggled to achieve the monetary and fiscal discipline to ensure both redistribution of wealth and economic growth. Since the ANC-led government took power, the United Nations Human Development Index of South Africa has fallen, while it was steadily rising until the mid-1990s. Some of this could possibly be attributed to the AIDS pandemic and the failure of the government to take steps to address it.