Timeline of South African History
Sources: Peter N. Stearns (ed.), Encyclopedia of World History. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2001 and United Nations Cyber School Bus at http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/discrim/race_b_at_print.asp (accessed: Feb. 10, 2009)
1000-1500 During this period, previously nomadic Khoikhoi peoples became pastoralists and metal forgers and spread over an extensive area of relatively arid southern Africa, from northern Botswana to the Cape; they were also a significant presence in Natal and Transkei. The Khoikhoi are related to the San and the Bantu. Cattle raising became increasingly important for Bantu speakers, who spread throughout the well-watered eastern half of the region, parallel to the spread of later Iron Age culture. Bantu speakers consisted of two major groups, the Sotho-Tswana and the Nguni, whose major cultural traditions took shape in this era.
1480s Portuguese mariners became the first known whites to set foot in South Africa.
1652 The Dutch East India Company established a settlement at Cape Town as a refreshment station for ships in trade between Europe and Asia, under command of Jan van Riebeeck. Meat was procured from the Khoi and vegetables were grown in the company garden. Since Khoi labor was not forthcoming, the company imported slaves from Asia and other parts of Africa (especially Madagascar). The settlement slowly expanded as Europeans engaged in extensive pastoralism and hunting with Khoi and slave laborers. Burghers freed from company service at Cape Town came into conflict with Khoi on Cape Peninsula, leading to series of wars between the company and Khoi.
1700s Riding on horseback and covered wagons, Dutch farmers (called Boers) migrated across land inhabited by Bantu and Khoi peoples. Armed with shotguns, the Boers seized land used by the tribes for cattle and sheep grazing -- the basis of their economy. Without land, the tribes worked on Boer farms to support themselves.
1776 First direct contacts between Dutch and Xhosa on the Zeekse River.
1795 British captured Cape Town and put down rebellion.
1810-1820 British missionaries arrived and criticized the racist practices of the Boers. They urged the Boers to treat the Africans more fairly. The Boers in turn justified their practices in the belief that they were superior to Africans.
1867 Diamond mining began in South Africa. Africans were given the most dangerous jobs, were paid far less than white workers, and were housed in fenced, patrolled barracks. Oppressive conditions and constant surveillance kept Africans from organizing for better wages and working conditions. (Note: The term "Africans" was used to refer to black Africans.)
1876 New imperialism. A growing interest in gaining and holding imperial territories in the late 19th century was championed by nationalists like Joseph Chamberlain. English interests abroad grew out of a combination of nationalism, security, and the desire to control trading routes and resources. All of these issues came to a head in the scramble for Africa, which Britain became involved in because of economic interests in Egyptian solvency, concerns over access to the Suez Canal, anti-British sentiments in both Alexandria and South Africa, and the adventures of English explorers.
The discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1887 profoundly changed both white and black southern African societies and drew them all into an economy dominated by mining enterprises and the need to secure cheap labor. Providing labor for the mines or food for miners initially offered Africans new economic opportunities and introduced a brief period of prosperity. Africans, however, increasingly sought the independence of agriculture in preference to the discipline of the mines. White South Africans and their governments sought to limit Africans' choices and to force them to provide cheap agricultural or mining labor. The South African War (1899-1902) eventually yielded a unified South Africa firmly dedicated to white political and economic superiority.
1880-1881 First Boer (“farmer”) War. The Boers in the Transvaal rebelled against British control and waged a guerrilla war. In 1881, they attacked Majuba Hill and defeated British troops. Gladstone concluded peace negotiations, which guaranteed independence to the Transvaal, subject to British suzerainty. The latter clause was removed at the Convention of London (1884).
1881-1951 Life of Pixley ka Isaka Seme, a graduate of Mount Hermon and Columbia University. He went on to study law at Oxford. Seme was a founding member of the African National Congress (ANC).
1899-1902 South African War (also known as Anglo-Boer War). At the outset, Boers had the military advantage of numbers and knowledge of terrain. Britain had only 25,000 men available. By February, 1900, the tide of battle favored British forces. By November, the Boers turned to guerrilla tactics, frustrating British army strategy. In January, 1901, Gen. Herbert Kitchener used a scorched earth policy to counter Boer guerrillas. Some 120,000 women and children were confined in concentration camps, where poor sanitation and malnutrition contributed to high mortality (around 20,000 died). British journalist J. A. Hobson, covering the war, developed a new theory of imperialism. At the end of the war, the British had 300,000 troops in South Africa against 60,000-70,000 Boers. By the Treaty of Vereeniging (May 31, 1901) the Boers accepted British sovereignty but were promised representative government. The British promised 3 million to enable the Boers to rebuild their farms.
1902-1910 Lord Milner, as high commissioner, consolidated South Africa and brought about accommodation among Afrikaner (Boer) leaders and mining and imperial interests.
1908-1909 A constitutional convention was held to establish South African independence from Britain. The all-white government decided that non-whites could vote but could not hold office. A few people in the new government objected, believing that South Africa would be more stable if Africans were treated better.
The Constitutional Convention was held first in Durban and then at Capetown. The convention agreed on a scheme for a union of South Africa. There was to be a two-chamber Parliament: in the Senate, composed of eight members from each state, some would be elected proportionally and some appointed; in the House of Assembly, most were to be elected proportionally.
1910 On May 13, The Union of South Africa came into being with white male franchise and property-qualified nonracial franchise in Cape Province. The general election brought Gen. Botha to power as head of a coalition of Afrikaner parties, but English speakers were included in the cabinet. Botha's and Gen. Jan Smuts' parties merged to form the South African National Party. The opposition was divided among the Unionists, representing business interests, and the small Labour Party. [Smuts was the official who imprisoned Mohatma Gandhi, then later became his friend.]
Also in 1910, the South Africa Act takes away all political rights of Africans in three of the country's four states.
From 1910 to the 1930s, Africans educated at missionary schools attempted to organize to resist white rule and gain political power. Their efforts were weakened because few Africans were literate, communication was poor, and access to money or other resources was limited.
1912 The South African Native National Congress (later the African National Congress [ANC]) was founded, composed of educated elites and chiefs but drawn from all ethnic groups and regions. Rev. John Langalibalele Dube of Natal was its first president.
1913 In June the Narive Land Act affirmed the principle of territorial segregation, restricting African land tenure to 7.3 percent of South Africa (with a promise of more to be added later), mostly in communal tenure reserves and scattered freehold areas. In the long term, this act crippled the already declining African peasantry; its anti-sharecropping and anti-renting provisions took effect slowly (except in Orange Free State) but increased the bargaining power of white farmers seeking African labor.
1920s Blacks were fired from jobs which were then handed over to whites.
1923 In April, "Pass Laws" were introduced (repealed in 1986) to restrict the movements of non-whites in the country. The Pass Laws became a major pillar of the apartheid system (they were repealed in 1986).
1926-1927 The African National Congress adopted a more radical line under the leadership of J. T. Gumede, who was influenced by the example of the USSR and by the Comintern's call for a black republic in South Africa.
1936 Representation of Voters Act: this law weakened the political rights for Africans in some regions and allowed them to vote only for white representatives· 1946: African mine workers were paid twelve times less.
By 1939, fewer than 30% of Africans were receiving any formal education, and whites were earning over five times as much as Africans.
1941-1945 The expansion of African nationalism coincided with the consolidation of white settler domination in South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, Kenya, Angola, and Mozambique. In the 1920s and 1930s white settlers exerted increasing control over the affairs of their colonies through the grant of “responsible government” to British settlers. British settlers used their power to impose harsh economic and political restrictions on Africans, which in turn only fueled African nationalist sentiments. In the Portuguese colonies, changes in metropolitan politics were felt as a second colonial occupation under a much more interventionist colonial development policy.
1948 The Afrikaner National Party, under the leadership of D. F. Malan, won the white general election under an ill-defined slogan of apartheid (separateness), an intensification of existing structures of segregation.
Also in 1948, the publication of Alan Paton's novel Cry, the Beloved Country brought the problem of relations between blacks and whites in South Africa to a worldwide audience.
1950 The Immorality Act was passed forbidding sexual relations between whites and non-whites.
Also in 1950 came the Population Registration Act, which required classification of all South Africans along racial lines, especially for the purpose of dividing white and mixed-race (colored) populations, but more generally as the basis for a strategy of Grand Apartheid involving rigid political, territorial, and economic segregation by race. Marriages between races were outlawed in order to maintain racial purity. The aim was to entrench white domination and Afrikaner nationalist power.
The Group Areas Act, passed the same year, furthered this concept by solidifying urban segregation and excluding black traders from central business districts. The Group Areas Act set aside specific communities for each of the races (white, colored (mixed race or Indian), and native (African/black) ). The best areas and the majority of the land were reserved for whites. Non-whites were relocated into "reserves." Mixed-race families were forced to live separately.
The Suppression of Communism Act gave the government broad powers to ban and detain opposition leaders; it drove the Communist Party of South Africa underground. The party underwent reform and reemerged as the South African Communist Party (SACP) in 1952.
1951 Bantu Homelands Act: by means of this law, the white government declared that the lands reserved for black Africans were independent nations. In this way, the government stripped millions of blacks of their South African citizenship and forced them to become residents of their new "homelands." Blacks were now considered foreigners in white-controlled South Africa and were required to present passports to enter them. Blacks entered only to work for whites in menial jobs. The homelands were too small to support the many people in them. In Soweto, for example, seventeen to twenty people lived in a four-room house.
The African National Congress (ANC) encouraged peaceful resistance to the discriminatory laws of apartheid. The ANC issued a Freedom Charter that stated, "South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people." The government reacted by arresting people and passing more
1952 Abolition of Passes and Coordination of Documents Act. This misleadingly named law required all Africans to carry identification booklets with their names, addresses, fingerprints, and other information. Africans were frequently stopped and harassed for their passes. Between 1948-1973, over ten million Africans were arrested because their passes were "not in order." Burning pass books became a widespread form of protest.
1953 The Bantu Education Act placed the Department of Native Affairs in charge of African education (in place of mission churches and provincial administrations) and adopted a syllabus that emphasized training for servitude and downplayed academics.
Also in 1953 came the Preservation of Separate Amenities Act, which established "separate but not necessarily equal" parks, beaches, post offices, and other public places for whites and non-whites.
1955 The Congress of the People, led by the African National Congress, the Indian Congresses, and white liberal and leftist groups, adopted the Freedom Charter as a consensus statement of opposition to the denial of political freedom and wealth to the majority.
1959 At Lady Selborne, a demonstration against the Pass Laws (1923) organized by women and held in the village hall was broken up by police.
1960 On March 2, The "Sharpeville Massacre" occurred. Police opened fire on a crowd of Black protesters demonstrating against the Pass Laws (1923). Sixty-nine people were killed including women and children. The African political organizations, the African National Congress, and the Pan-African Congress were banned.
1961 South Africa became a republic, terminating ties to Britain, and dropping out of the Commonwealth.
1962 The United Nations established the Special Committee Against Apartheid to support a political process of peaceful change. The Special Committee observed the International Day Against Racism to mark the anniversary of the people who died in the Sharpeville protest.
1963 On May 1 came General Law Amendment Act No 37: Section 17, the Ninety-Day Detention Law, which authorized any commissioned officer to detain - without a warrant - any person suspected of a political crime and to hold them for ninety days without access to a lawyer (Horrell 1978: 469). In practice people were often released after ninety days only to be re-detained on the same day for a further ninety-day period. The ‘Sobukwe clause' allowed for a person convicted of political offences to be detained for a further twelve months. The Act also allowed for further declaration of unlawful organizations. The State President could declare any organization or group of persons which had come into existence since 7 April 1960 to be unlawful. This enabled the government to extend to Umkhonto we Sizwe and Poqo the restrictions already in force on the ANC and the PAC (Horrell 1978: 416).
(Source: http://www.sahistory.org.za/pages/governence-projects/liberation-struggle/1960s_legislation.htm accessed: Feb. 10, 2009)
Anti-Apartheid activist Ruth First (wife of activist ande ANC member Joe Slovo) was arrested and interrogated under this act in 1963. This event was the inspiration and setting for the film "A World Apart" produced by her daughter, Shawn Slovo. (The Ninety-Day Detention Law was repealed by the Internal Security Act No 74 of 1982)
Also in 1963, Nelson Mandela, head of the African National Congress, was jailed, at first on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town (released in 1990).
1965 In December, The UN General Assembly recommended mandatory sanctions against South Africa.
1970 South Africa was expelled from the International Olympic Committee.
1973 A wave of strikes in Durban marked the new militancy of African labor unions.
1976 Soweto uprising: started by African high school students who objected to the use of the Afrikaans language as a medium of instruction. The movement spread during a wave of discontent and violent repression throughout the country resulting in 700 deaths and the flight of thousands of youths across borders and into the military camps of liberation movements.
1977 South Africa continued to be a focus of global attention. The Roman Catholic Church defied apartheid in South Africa by admitting blacks into previously all-white schools (Jan.), and South African bishops denounced government policies (February). A UN-sponsored conference in Mozambique (May) urged self-determination for Zimbabwe and Namibia and an end to regimes of racial separation. The death of Steven Biko, a South African black leader, while in police custody (Sept.) led to major demonstrations and international protests, and 13 official representatives of Western states attended his funeral.
1980 The Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) was founded by Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe to reduce dependence on South Africa. In the struggle against white supremacy in South Africa, these states called themselves the Frontline States because of their proximity to South Africa.
Throughout the 1980s, people and governments around the world launched an international campaign to boycott South Africa. Some countries banned the import of South African products, and citizens of many countries pressured major companies to pull out of South Africa. These actions had a crippling effect on the South African economy and weakened the government.
Also throughout the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of Africans who were banned from white-controlled areas ignored the laws and poured into forbidden regions in search of work. Civil disobedience, demonstrations, and other acts of protest increased.
1986 On June 12, a nationwide state of emergency was declared in South Africa. Also in 1986, the Pass Laws were repealed.
1990 On February 2, South African president F. W. de Klerk announced the lifting of the ban on the ANC, the PAC, the SACP, and other opposition groups, beginning the process of negotiations for a transition to majority rule. In February, Nelson Mandela, the leader of the African National Congress, was freed from prison (held since 1963) and continued negotiations with the government begun while he was still in prison.
1991 South Africa President F.W. de Klerk repealed the rest of the apartheid laws and called for the drafting of a new constitution.
Also in 1991, Nadine Gordimer, South African novelist and opponent of apartheid, received the Nobel Prize for literature.
1993 Multiparty negotiations in South Africa reached an agreement for the installation of the Transitional Executive Council (TEC), involving all major parties, to oversee the period leading to universal franchise. National elections were planned for April 27, 1994. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the Conservative Party (CP) continued to boycott the talks and threatened to boycott the elections.
Also this year, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk for their achievement in bringing about a peaceful transition to nonracial democracy in South Africa.
1994 In January, the Pan-Africanist Congress, a radical black group in South Africa, announced an end to its armed struggles against whites, announcing instead its plans to register as an official party to be included in the upcoming elections.
1994 ANC president Nelson Mandela claimed a huge victory in South Africa's first elections with universal suffrage, representing the dissolution of whatever was left of apartheid. A new flag was raised in South Africa, and the new constitution, bill of rights, and national anthems went into effect. On May 10, Mandela was inaugurated and the new cabinet was sworn in.
1995 The "Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act" was enacted. This act established the "Truth and Reconciliation Commission."
1996 On May 8, South Africa voted in a new constitution providing majority rule and broad civil rights.
Also in 1996, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in December 1995 under the chairmanship of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, began conducting public hearings throughout the country. Former victims of human rights violations gave evidence and the commission considered applications for amnesty from perpetrators of such abuses. Former president de Klerk apologized for the policy of apartheid, but denied that he or other members of the previous government had ordered or condoned violations of human rights.
1999 On June 2, President Mandela retired from office, establishing himself as one of the world's most recognized and revered statesmen. In parliamentary and presidential elections, the ANC gained 266 of 400 Assembly seats. ANC leader Thabo Mbeki became South Africa's second popularly elected president, and an alliance with the Minority Front gave the ANC a two-thirds majority that could permit them to amend the constitution in the future.
2000 In South Africa's local elections, the ruling ANC won only 59 percent of the vote while the newly formed Democratic Alliance (DA) carried 23 percent. The significant success of the DA indicated the possible emergence of a true two-party system in South Africa.
Summary of Political Developments, 1941-2000
Black South Africans responded to the Nationalist victory by reviving the African National Congress (ANC). Already in 1944, a number of young intellectuals, including Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, and Anton Lemebede formed the youth wing of the ANC in an effort to promote more direct action. In 1949, this group had seized control of the ANC and launched it firmly in the direction of civil disobedience, non-cooperation, and strikes. The ANC's main tactic was nonviolent direct action, and by 1952 its campaigns had resulted in over 8,000 arrests. By 1955, the leaders were either under arrest and facing a long treason trial, or in exile.
Summary of Literary Developments, 1941- 2000
South African writers, particularly black writers, could not escape the realities of apartheid. The poet Dennis Brutus wrote lyrical verse juxtaposed with themes of apartheid's oppressiveness. Peter Abrahams and Alex La Guma reflect the thematic shifts over the late 1940s to the 1960s as apartheid more deeply penetrated daily life. Abrahams' Mine Boy (1946) dramatized the harsh world of the South African mines, but closed with an optimistic expectation of nonracial worker solidarity. In the mid-1950s, Abrahams' A Wreath for Udomo (1956) extolled revolutionary struggles. By the time of Alex La Guma's A Walk in the Night (1962), a deep despair had set in. La Guma's South Africa was an urban world of vagabonds, beggars, prostitutes, and delinquents. Even white South Africans could not escape the negative realities of apartheid. Nadine Gordimer's July's People (1981) captured the very real dependency of privileged white society upon impoverished black South Africa.
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