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.
Settlements of Bantu-speaking peoples, who were iron-using agriculturists and herdsmen, were already present south of the Limpopo River by the fourth or fifth century (see Bantu expansion), displacing and absorbing the original KhoiSan speakers. They slowly moved south. The earliest ironworks in modern-day KwaZulu-Natal Province are believed to date from around 1050. The southernmost group was the Xhosa people, whose language incorporates certain linguistic traits from the earlier KhoiSan people, reaching the Fish River, in today's Eastern Cape Province. As they migrated, these larger Iron Age populations displaced or assimilated earlier peoples, who often had hunter-gatherer societies.
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.
Great Britain took over the Cape of Good Hope area in 1795, ostensibly to stop it from falling under Revolutionary French control. Given its standing interests in Australia and India, Great Britain wanted to use Cape Town as an interim port for its merchants' long voyages. The British returned Cape Town to the Dutch in 1803, but soon afterwards the Dutch East India Company declared bankruptcy.
The British annexed the Cape Colony in 1806. The British continued the frontier wars against the Xhosa, pushing the eastern frontier eastward through a line of forts established along the Fish River. They consolidated the territory by encouraging British settlement. Due to pressure of abolitionist societies in Britain, the British parliament first stopped its global slave trade with the passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807, then abolished slavery in all its colonies with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.
During the 1830s, approximately 12,000 Boers (later known as Voortrekkers), departed from the Cape Colony, where they had been subjected to British control. They migrated to the future Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal regions. The Boers founded the Boer Republics: the South African Republic (Now Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West provinces) and the Orange Free State (Free State).
The discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1884 in the interior encouraged economic growth and immigration. This intensified the European-South African subjugation of the indigenous people. The struggle to control these important economic resources was a factor between Europeans and the indigenous population, and also between the Boers and the British.
The Boer Republics successfully resisted British encroachments during the First Boer War (1880–1881) using guerrilla warfare tactics, which were well suited to local conditions. However, the British returned with greater numbers, more experience, and more suitable tactics in the Second Boer War (1899–1902).
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 1931 the union was effectively granted independence from the United Kingdom with the passage of the Statute of Westminster, which morphed the British king's position within South Africa into that of the distinct King of South Africa. In 1934, the South African Party and National Party merged to form the United Party, seeking reconciliation between Afrikaners and English-speaking "Whites". In 1939 the party split over the entry of the Union into World War II as an ally of the United Kingdom, a move which the National Party followers strongly opposed.
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.
Not surprisingly, this segregation meant that whites controlled the wealth generated during rapid industrialisation of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. While the White minority enjoyed the highest standard of living in all of Africa, often comparable to First World western nations, the Black majority remained disadvantaged by almost every standard, including income, education, housing, and life expectancy. On 31 May 1961, following a whites-only referendum, the country became a republic and left the (British) Commonwealth. The office of Governor-General was abolished and replaced with the position of State President.
Apartheid became increasingly controversial, leading to widespread sanctions, divestment and growing unrest and oppression within South Africa. A long period of harsh suppression by the government, and at times violent resistance, strikes, marches, protests, and sabotage by bombing and other means, by various anti-apartheid movements, most notably the African National Congress (ANC), followed.
In the late 1970s, South Africa began a programme of nuclear weapons development. In the following decade, it produced six deliverable nuclear weapons. The rationale for the nuclear arsenal is disputed.
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.
The Earliest inhabitants of the Camdeboo area were early, middle and later Stone Age people. There is evidence of this in the Stone Age industry sites on the south eastern plains of the Camdeboo National Park. Bored stones, percussion-made hand axes, scrapers, blades and grinding stones are some of the artifacts found at the sites.
Late Stone Age dwellers of the region, Khoisan hunters and herders, left rock paintings in the eastern section of the park.
During the mid 1600’s, the Inqua tribe occupied the park area. They grazed their herds of cattle and on the veld from the Camdeboo River near Aberdeen, across the Sundays River to Agter-Bruintjieshoogte near Somerset East.
In 1770, white farmers settled the Camdeboo Plains and Sneeuberg. They introduced merino sheep, angora goats and exotic plants. Years of overgrazing and the actions of exotic plants have caused soil erosion, more woody species and invasive plants.
The park area was proclaimed as the Karoo Nature Reserve in 1979. Until then, it was used was publicly owned and available for town residents to use. Further grazing led to overgrazing and erosion of some areas. The reserve was managed by the World Wide Fund for Nature in South Africa (WWF-SA).
In 2005, WWF-SA donated the 14500 hectare Karoo Nature Reserve to be the showpiece of the Camdeboo National Park. Camdeboo National Park was declared as South Africa's 22nd National Park under the management of South African National Parks on Sunday 30th October 2005.
Click here to read more information on the Camdeboo National Park.
The Great Karoo has an area of more than 400,000 square kilometers. From a geological point of view it has been a vast inland basin for most of the past 250 million years. At one stage the area was glaciated and the evidence for this is found in the widely-distributed Dwyka tillite. Later, at various times, there were great inland deltas, seas, lakes or swamps. Enormous deposits of coal formed and these are one of the pillars of the economy of South Africa today. Volcanic activity took place on a titanic scale. Despite this baptism of fire, ancient reptiles and amphibians prospered in the wet forests and their remains have made the Karoo famous amongst palaeontologists.
Western people first settled in the Cape in 1652 but made almost no inroads into the Karoo prior to about 1800. Before that time, large herds of antelope, zebra and other large game roamed the grassy flats of the region. The Khoi and Bushmen, last of the southern African Stone Age peoples, wandered far and wide. There were no Europeans and no Africans of Bantu extraction. (The area was never wet enough for cattle and this is probably the main reason why it was never occupied by the Bantu). The two ethnic groups mentioned above differed substantially in their cultures and lifestyles; the Hottentots were described as graziers of sheep and cattle, while the Bushmen were hunter-gatherers. (These were the original names given to these tribes by the Dutch. The terms may not be regarded as politically correct today). With the occupation of the region by European settlers, sheep gradually replaced the game and the cover of grass degenerated, owing to changes in the pattern of grazing and in the climate.
Starting in the middle years of the 19th century, a railway track was extended into the Karoo from Worcester in the south. This eventually extended its tendrils to Bechuanaland, South West Africa, Johannesburg, Rhodesia and far beyond. The impact of this railroad on the history of southern Africa is difficult to exaggerate.
During the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, three Republican Commandos, reinforced by the rebels from the Cape Colony, conducted widespread operations throughout the Karoo. Countless skirmishes took place in the region, with the Calvinia magisterial district, in particular, contributing a significant number of fighters to the Republican cause. Fought both conventionally and as a guerrilla struggle over the Karoo's vast expanses, it was a bloody war of attrition wherein both sides used newly developed technologies to their advantage. Numerous abandoned blockhouses can still be seen at strategic locations throughout the Great Karoo; a prime example is located next to the Geelbeks River, 12 kilometres outside the town of Laingsburg.
Currently sheep farming is still the economic backbone of the Karoo, with other forms of agriculture established in areas where irrigation is possible. Lately game farms and tourism have also started to make an economic impact.
The KhoiSan peoples are the aboriginal people of South Africa who have lived here for millennia.
The Khoikhoi ("people people" or "real people") or Khoi, in standardised Khoekhoe/Nama orthography spelled Khoekhoe, are a historical division of the Khoisan ethnic group, the native people of southwestern Africa, closely related to the Bushmen (or San, as the Khoikhoi called them). They had lived in southern Africa since the 5th century AD and, at the time of the arrival of European settlers in 1652, practised extensive pastoral agriculture in the Cape region, with large herds of Nguni cattle.
Archaeological evidence shows that the Khoikhoi entered South Africa from Botswana through two distinct routes – traveling west, skirting the Kalahari to the west coast, then down to the Cape, and travelling south-east out into the Highveld and then southwards to the south coast. Most of the Khoikhoi have largely disappeared as a group, except for the largest group, the Namas.
The name Khoekhoe most accurately translates to 'People People'. They were traditionally—and are still occasionally in colloquial language—known to white colonists as the Hottentots, a name that is currently generally considered offensive (e.g. by the Oxford Dictionary of South African English). The word "hottentot" meant "stutterer" or "stammerer" in the colonists' northern dialect of Dutch, although some Dutch use the verb stotteren to describe the clicking sounds (klik being the normal onomatopoeia, parallel to English) typically used in the Khoisan languages. The word lives on, however, in the names of several African animal and plant species, such as the Hottentot Fig or Ice Plant (Carpobrotus edulis). Another would be the infamous invertebrate, a scorpion species called the Hottentotta, one of the most venomous in Africa.
The Khoikhoi were originally part of a pastoral culture and language group found across Southern Africa. Originated in the northern area of modern Botswana, the ethnic group steadily migrated south, reaching the Cape approximately 2,000 years ago. Khoikhoi subgroups include the Korana of mid-South Africa, the Namaqua to the west, and the Khoikhoi in the south. Husbandry of sheep, goats and cattle provided a stable, balanced diet and allowed the related Khoikhoi peoples to live in larger groups than the region's original inhabitants, the San. Herds grazed in fertile valleys across the region until the 3rd century AD when the advancing Bantu encroached into their traditional homeland. The Khoikhoi were forced into a long retreat into more arid areas.
Migratory Khoi bands living around what is today Cape Town intermarried with San. However the two groups remained culturally distinct as the Khoikhoi continued to graze livestock and the San subsisted as hunter-gatherers. The Khoi initially came into contact with European explorers and merchants in approximately AD 1500. The ongoing encounters were often violent, although the British made some attempt to develop more amiable relationships. Local population dropped when the Khoi were exposed to smallpox by Europeans. Active warfare between the groups flared when the Dutch East India Company enclosed traditional grazing land for farms. Over the following century the Khoi were steadily driven off their land, which effectively ended traditional Khoikhoi life.
"Old Cape Khoikhoi male"
Khoikhoi social organization was profoundly damaged and, in the end, destroyed by European colonial expansion and land seizure from the late 17th century onwards. As social structures broke down, some Khoikhoi people settled on farms and became bondsmen or farm workers; others were incorporated into existing clan and family groups of the Xhosa people.
In recent years the Khoikhoi have fought a bitter battle against the Herero cattle herders, who have attempted to take their traditional lands.
The religious mythology of the Khoikhoi gives special significance to the moon, which may have been viewed as the physical manifestation of a supreme being associated with heaven. Tsui'goab is also believed to be the creator and the guardian of health, while Gunab is primarily an evil being, who causes sickness or death. Recently, many Khoikhoi in Namibia have converted to Islam and make up the largest group among Namibia's Muslim community.
The traditional Khoisan are a hunter and gatherer society. They live in simple and disposable huts made of long sticks bound at the top with vines or other fiber then covered in grass.Each family has their own hut. However children that are older may live in separate huts with others in their age group. The Khoisan are polygamous (more than one wife). Wives may share or occupy different huts depending on how well they get along. Visitors are entertained outside the home unit around the fire.
The Bushmen, San, Sho, Basarwa, Kung, or Khwe are an indigenous people of southern Africa that spans most areas of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola. They were traditionally hunter-gatherers, part of the Khoisan group and are related to the traditionally pastoral Khoikhoi. Starting in the 1950s, through the 1990s, they switched to farming as a result of government-mandated modernization programs as well as the increased risks of a hunting and gathering lifestyle in the face of technological development.
The Bushmen have provided a wealth of information for the fields of anthropology and genetics, even as their lifestyles change. Genetic evidence suggests the Bushmen's ancestors predate the genetic changes of the rest of the human population — making them a "genetic Adam" according to Spencer Wells, from which all humans can ultimately trace their genetic heritage.
The terms San, Khwe, Sho, Bushmen, and Basarwa have all been used to refer to hunter-gatherer peoples of southern Africa. Each of these terms has a problematic history, as they have been used by outsiders to refer to them, often with pejorative connotations. The individual groups identify by names such as Ju/'hoansi and !Kung (the punctuation characters representing different click consonants), and most call themselves by the pejorative "Bushmen" when referring to themselves collectively.
The term San was historically applied by their ethnic relatives and historic rivals, the Khoikhoi. This term means "outsider" in the Nama language and was derogatory because it distinguished the Bushmen from what the Khoikhoi called themselves, namely the "First People". Western anthropologists adopted San extensively in the 1970s, where it remains preferred in academic circles. The term Bushmen is widely used, but opinions vary on whether it is appropriate because it is sometimes viewed as pejorative.
Bushmen had an advanced early culture evidenced by archaeological data. For example, Bushmen from the Botswana region migrated south to the Waterberg Massif in the era 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. They left rock paintings at the Lapala Wilderness area and Goudriver recording their life and times, including characterizations of rhinoceros, elephant and a variety of antelope species (resembling impala, kudu and eland, all present day inhabitants).
Around AD 1,000 Bantu tribes began to expand into bushman occupied areas and pushed the bushmen into more inhospitable areas such as the Kalahari desert.
Prehistoric Livestock Herders in the Upper Seacow River Valley
Inspired by the Bushmen people who have the world’s oldest DNA, Professor Garth Sampson began the Zeekoei Valley Archaeological Project in the 1970’s. The ZVAP is a long-term, large-scale project comprising the largest surveyed archaeological site in Africa. It is the Karoo’s most well-known research project, spanning hundreds of thousands of years of hominid history. He hasn’t found the oldest human remains...yet.
This first paper takes us ‘recently’ back in time to when livestock farming was taking place in the Karoo long before the arrival of settlers from Europe.
Click here to download the full paper (pdf 670kb).
First Anglo-Boer WarLong-standing Boer resentment against the British turned into full-blown rebellion in the Transvaal (under British control from 1877), and the first Anglo-Boer War, known to Afrikaners as the "War of Independence", broke out in 1880. The conflict ended almost as soon as it began with a crushing Boer victory at Battle of Majuba Hill (27 February 1881). The republic regained its independence as the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek ("South African Republic"), or ZAR. Paul Kruger, one of the leaders of the uprising, became President of the ZAR in 1883. Meanwhile, the British, who viewed their defeat at Majuba as an aberration, forged ahead with their desire to federate the Southern African colonies and republics. They saw this as the best way to come to terms with the fact of a white Afrikaner majority, as well as to promote their larger strategic interests in the area.
Inter-war periodIn 1879 Zululand came under British control. Then in 1886 an Australian prospector discovered gold in the Witwatersrand, accelerating the federation process and dealing the Boers yet another blow. Johannesburg's population exploded to about 100,000 by the mid-1890s, and the ZAR suddenly found itself hosting thousands of uitlanders, both black and white, with the Boers squeezed to the sidelines. The influx of Black labour in particular worried the Boers, as the shortage of jobs meant that they would suffer further economic hardships.
The enormous wealth of the mines, largely controlled by European "Randlords" soon became irresistible for British imperialists. In 1895, a group of renegades led by Captain Leander Starr Jameson entered the ZAR with the intention of sparking an uprising on the Witwatersrand and installing a British administration. This incursion became known as the Jameson Raid. The scheme ended in fiasco, but it seemed obvious to Kruger that it had at least the tacit approval of the Cape Colony government, and that his republic faced danger. He reacted by forming an alliance with Orange Free State.
Second Anglo-Boer War
The situation peaked in 1899 when the British demanded voting rights for the 60,000 foreign whites on the Witwatersrand. Until that point, Kruger's government had excluded all foreigners from the franchise. Kruger rejected the British demand and called for the withdrawal of British troops from the ZAR's borders. When the British refused, Kruger declared war. This Second Anglo-Boer War lasted longer than the first, and the British preparedness surpassed that of Majuba Hill. By June 1900, Pretoria, the last of the major Boer towns, had surrendered. Yet resistance by Boer bittereinders continued for two more years with guerilla-style battles, which the British met in turn with scorched earth tactics. By 1902 26,000 Boers had died of disease and neglect in concentration camps. On 31 May 1902 a superficial peace came with the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging. Under its terms, the Boer republics acknowledged British sovereignty, while the British in turn committed themselves to reconstruction of the areas under their control.
In 1875, a commission appointed by the Graaff-Reinet Dutch Reformed Church, purchased portion of the farm, Uitkyk, from A.S. & J.P. Pienaar for ₤4000. Plots were sold off to interested parties and the Dutch Reformed congregation was established in 1878. The first minister, Ds. H.F. Schoon, was appointed in 1882. Services were initially held in the house of Mr B.J. Pienaar. Later his old wagon house was converted into a church and then into the church hall, eventually falling into disuse. Recently renovated, this building is available for weddings, conferences, workshops, exhibitions, etc.
A municipality was established in 1880 and given administrative rights while the church obtained ownership rights. This meant that the inhabitants were heavily burdened, having to pay rates to both the church and the municipality. The church, not wishing to prosecute members of the congregation, apparently had to write off considerable arrear rates. Only in 1951, was the property rights of the erven sold and transferred to the municipality.
During the term of office of Ds. A.A. Weich (1890-1908), a new church was built. The corner stone was laid by Mrs Weich and the edifice consecrated on 11 Feb 1905. Stones for building the church, some almost 2,5m long, were obtained from the town commonage. The problem of transporting the long beams by ox wagon was solved by the well-known blacksmith and transport rider, Freddie Lehman, by placing bales of straw on the wagon so that the beams protruded over the hind oxen.
The church cost ₤5600 to build and, at the date of consecration, R7330 was still owing. To raise funds, the Church Council decided to subdivide 46 morgen of its irrigable ground into erven of around 1.5 morgen each and to sell these by public auction. Only on 1 July 1929, was the debt finally settled.
There is some fine wooden carving on the old church pews and the original chandeliers are quite unique. The antiquated carbide gas generator for the gas lighting is no longer operational, but once a year, early in Dec, an evening Christmas service is held with conventional gas used to light the lamps.
There had not been a permanent minister since 1961, but on most Sunday mornings a service is held by a minister from Graaff-Reinet.
The church can be viewed by arrangement.
Nieu-Bethesda was established by Rev. Charles Murray, the Dutch Reformed minister in Graaff-Reinet. On seeing the beautiful valley with its fertile soil. He is reported to have said “Laten wy deze plaats nu Bethesda noemen” (Let us now call this place Bethesda), being reminiscent of the biblical pool (John 5:2). Erroneously, the village became known as Nu Bethesda (New Bethesda in English). The name was more recently officially changed to Nieu-Bethesda.