South Africa

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Map of South Africa.
When the white man came to our country, he had the Bible and we had the land. The white man said to us, "Let us pray". After the prayer, the white man had the land, and we had the Bible.
—South African proverb.[1]

The Republic of South Africa is a country located at the southernmost tip of Africa. About 80% of its population is of Bantu or Khoisan ancestry, which encompasses a variety of ethnic groups and languages.[2] Nine of these Bantu languages have official status. The remaining 20% of the country's population are of European, Asian, or multiracial descent. The country also boasts the world's only neo-modal national anthem (beginning and ending in different keys), as well as the world's most unpronounceable Unix Code national motto: "!ke e:/xarra//k," which contains three different "clicks" when spoken. It's a Khoisan phrase meaning "diverse people unite".[3]

South Africa contains some of the oldest archaeological human remains,[4] which is only to be expected based on its location. During the Middle Ages, Bantu peoples from Central Africa migrated southwards to displace many of the original inhabitants of South Africa. Even later, South Africa was extensively colonized by the Netherlands. Those colonies were later occupied and then annexed by the British Empire during the Napoleonic Wars. The Dutch colonists, called Boers, decided that they rather wouldn't like to live under British rule, so they left the South African coastline to move further north and establish their own republics. During the Scramble for Africa, the British started hungering for more conquests in South Africa. They attacked and annexed the Zulu, then moved on to conquer the Boer republics in the early Twentieth Century. The British united its colony with the new conquests to create the Union of South Africa. The Empire then granted South Africa de facto independence in 1909 as a dominion.

As South Africa became more autonomous, the Boers rose in prominence to seize control of the country's domestic affairs. They instituted the infamous apartheid regime to deny black South Africans civil rights and basic dignity. During the later Twentieth Century, the black majority sought to claim more rights from the dominant white minority, with this struggle playing a large role in the country's recent history and politics. After a long and often violent struggle by the African National Congress (ANC) and other anti-apartheid activists, the South African government finally started to cave. Genuinely democratic elections took place in 1994, and the new government reformed South Africa into the multiracial democracy it is today.

Of course, racists and white nationalists aren't fans of South Africa's new direction. Many of them now attempt to portray South Africa's crime problem as an actual attempt at "white genocide". Based on the South African farm attacks narrative, this false narrative has unfortunately taken hold in right-wing circles across the West. Even the United States' former president Donald Trump has tweeted about it.[5]

Historical overview[edit]

Cast of the Taung skull.

Pre-colonial history[edit]

South Africa has some extremely old human remains. The Taung Skull Fossil Site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as it features in its many archaeological caves traces of human occupation and evolution dating back some 3.3 million years.[6] Remains of earlier hominids can also be found there, with the earliest dating back about 4.5 million years. The Taung Skull, which was found at that site, is considered "the most important anthropological fossil of the Twentieth Century" by Dean Falk, a specialist in human brain evolution.[7] It's a notable relic of Australopithecus africanus, a transitional species between humans and earlier apes.

Much later in history, starting around 1,000 BCE, Bantu-speaking peoples from the Congo region in Africa migrated southwards towards the southern part of Africa. This event, called the Bantu expansion, started influencing the development of South Africa as early as 300 CE.[8] Bantu peoples mingled with or displaced previous residents of South Africa, including the Khoisan and San peoples.

Rise of the Zulu[edit]

Zulu warrior with a standard short stabbing spear.

One of the major consequences of Bantu migration was the rise of the Zulu culture group and state.[9] By 1818, the Zulu created a powerful kingdom under their leader Shaka.[10] The rise of the Zulu had a significantly disruptive impact on the other peoples of South Africa.

Shaka Zulu was a military genius, and his innovations turned the Zulu into a dominant regional power. His armies discarded the long, spindly throwing spear in favor of a heavy-bladed, short-shafted stabbing spear.[11] The Zulu also started bartering with European colonists for obsolete rifles and other firearms, which the Zulu then used to achieve victory in the early phase of the Anglo-Zulu War.[12]

The Zulu also introduced a harsh military training regimen somewhat reminiscent of Sparta's. Zulu warriors drilled relentlessly. Shaka hardened the feet of his troops by having them stamp thorny tree and bush branches flat and sent them on forced marches covering more than fifty miles a day.[13] Finally, Shaka simplified the Zulu battle dress to make it less cumbersome and invented the iconic Zulu "buffalo horns" pincer movement.[12] As military historian Jon Guttman writes,[12]

Combined with Shaka's "buffalo horns" attack formation for surrounding and annihilating enemy forces, the Zulu combination of iklwa and shield—similar to the Roman legionaries' use of gladius and scutum—was devastating. By the time of Shaka's assassination in 1828, it had made the Zulu kingdom the greatest power in southern Africa and a force to be reckoned with, even against Britain's modern army in 1879.

With their military power, the Zulu wreaked havoc across South Africa. This led to a period of strife called the "Mfecane", as other African peoples first tried to resist and then had to flee Zulu expansionism. This period of upheaval and war claimed an estimated one to two million lives.[14] However, it did not leave South Africa's landscape utterly barren of people. That idea results from a great exaggeration[15] and frankly doesn't make sense considering that the Zulus aimed to conquer the land and settle it.

Dutch colonization[edit]

Dutch East India Company ships near Cape Town, 1683.

The world stage had changed dramatically by the Seventeenth Century, and both the British Empire and the Netherlands began seeking useful ports to extend the range of their navies into the Indian Ocean. Dutch interest in South Africa peaked in 1647 when some Dutch crewmen were stranded in the region but survived by receiving meat and water from some generous Africans.[16]

Of course, we all know that no good deed ever goes unpunished. Just a few years later, in 1652, the Dutch East India Company took control of what is now Cape Town to establish a safe port for their trade ships.[17] As often happens in cases like these, having many merchant sailors stationed for long periods in one location created a demand for other service industries, leading to an even larger influx of workers to fill that demand. Many of these people chose to stay in South Africa even after their contracts expired, leading to a fairly large permanent white population.

As also tends to happen in situations like these, the expanding European population led to a need for more land on which to live. Starting in the 1700s, Dutch farmers ventured eastward on their own initiative to shoot black people and seize their farms.[18] The Dutch East India Company, for its part, became concerned about the unauthorized migration of Dutch colonists because it became increasingly difficult to exercise any authority over them. Rather than try to stop the encroachments, the Company decided to simply send administrators after the colonists to keep them out of trouble. The Dutch Cape Colony rapidly expanded past its original limits in this fashion.

Africans eventually started to fiercely resist Dutch expansion. The First Frontier War began in 1779 when the Xhosa and the Dutch clashed over cattle farming.[18] War continued almost non-stop until the British takeover.

British colonial era[edit]

The Battle of Isandlwana, 1879.

During the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, France occupied the Netherlands and hoped to do the same to Dutch colonies. The British Empire launched a naval invasion of Cape Town to prevent that from happening, resulting in the swift conquest of the entire Dutch Cape Colony.[19] After the French wars ended, the British formally annexed the colony and went to great pains to settle large numbers of British colonists there. Meanwhile, the former Dutch colonists became known as the "Boers". That name is derived from the Dutch and Afrikaans word for "farmer".[20]

Of course, the two groups of white people in the Cape Colony didn't quite get along. Tensions escalated as the British abolished slavery, which the Boer colonists relied on to make their farms more profitable.[21] Enraged at the apparent attack on their livelihoods, the Boer slave-owners decided they'd rather flee through hundreds of miles of African wilderness than grant black people the basic dignity of being acknowledged as people. Thus began the Great Trek, an event that saw thousands of Boers pack up their belongings and move towards the interior of the African continent.[22] The British shrugged their shoulders at this development, and the Boers established a series of independent pseudo-republics.

Boer women and children in a British-run concentration camp.

South Africa was at peace for a little while, but then the Boer republics messed everything up by discovering a shitload of gold and diamonds in their territory during the 1860s.[23] The British Empire saw £££££ and immediately started lusting after everyone else's land in the region. In 1878, the British issued an ultimatum to the nearby Zulu, offering them the choice between submission or war. The Zulu, naturally, chose war. British arrogance at the outset of hostilities helped the Zulus win a major victory at the Battle of Isandlwana despite having vastly inferior military technology.[24] The British rallied and later won the war despite the initial setback, annexing the Zulus. The former Zulu kingdom became part of the Colony of Natal.[25]

With the Zulu dealt with, the British turned their attention to the Boer republics. The Boer Wars followed, in which the British used concentration camps against Boer civilians.[26] After winning the wars, the British annexed the Orange Free State as the Orange River Colony[27] and turned the South African Republic into the Transvaal Colony.[28] Almost 28,000 people died in the concentration camps during the wars.[29]

Hoping to calm tensions in the region after the war, the British made it clear that they desired to unite the Boers with the existing British colonies of Cape and Natal and grant the resulting colonial federation dominion status like Canada and Australia. In 1909, this became a reality with the South Africa Act, which created the Union of South Africa and established its government.[30]

Apartheid era[edit]

Segregated train station under apartheid.
See the main article on this topic: Apartheid

Between 1948 and 1994, South Africa was controlled by a nasty group of white supremacists known as the National Party.[31] It is well known that apartheid entailed the dehumanization and humiliation of millions upon millions of black South Africans. Fewer people realize that the South African government was enabled and supported by many Christians during those dark days. The Dutch Reformed Church (known by its Afrikaans initials, NGK) and the government were as friendly as Batman and Robin; the first apartheid Prime Minister (DF Malan) was actually an ordained minister, John Vorster[32] (PM 1966 to 1978) was a sibling of the moderator of the church, and membership in the NGK was mandatory if you wanted to get anywhere in politics/civil service.[33]

The clerics provided theological, biblically-based justifications for segregation, and the politicians ensured that policies aligned well with the arch-conservative stance of the church. So, if you were a white, penis-toting, straight, Afrikaans-speaking person, apartheid was pretty damn peachy. For everyone else, it sucked. The NGK's influence ensured that life in South Africa was almost as dull as the first Star Trek movie. TV wasn't allowed until 1976, even the softest-core porn (hosiery advertisements, Emmanuelle, anything which showed nipple for even a second) was banned,[34] sex ed didn't exist, abortion was illegal, and being gay could land you in jail (or even tortured under the Aversion Project).[35] Media that showed interracial relationships and black actors in positions of power were restricted. Sundays were especially pitiful, with most stores and cinemas closed.[36]

The winds of change[edit]

Mandela shakes hands with the president of South Africa, 1992.

Thanks to people like Nelson Mandela and Desmond TutuWikipedia, apartheid was dismantled from 1990 to 1993 in a series of negotiations, and the first all-race elections, which were won by the African National Congress, were held in 1994. Many of the compromises struck during this time are still in place, such as having 11 official languages and a national anthem that is the bastard offspring of "Nkosi Sikilel' iAfrica" (God Bless Africa) and "Die Stem van Suid-Afrika" (The Voice of South Africa). The anthem itself is a mixture of Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans, and English. Have fun singing it.

The country has one of the most progressive constitutions globally and was the first African country to allow gay marriage.

Linux users might know South Africa as the birthplace of the term ubuntu, a philosophy dealing with the relationship and allegiances between people.

The country has its own currency, the South African Rand (sign: R; code: ZAR). It was the 18th most traded currency worldwide in 2013, right behind the South Korean Won;[37] one Rand is currently worth about a U.S. dime. The Krugerrand is named after it.

Trevor Noah, the successor of Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show, is from South Africa and was, in fact, "born a crime" as a result of a relationship between a white Swiss man and a black Xhosa woman during apartheid.

Despite the Apartheid ending, a remnant of the system still exists, specifically in the town of Orania, where there are practically no Black African people living there and Afrikaner nationalism thrives.

HIV denialism[edit]

HIV/AIDS prevention art in Eastern Cape.
See the main article on this topic: HIV denial

Unfortunately, the more recent SA leaders, such as former president and the second president of the post-apartheid South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, were HIV denialists. Perhaps more sickeningly, certain segments of the country's population, mainly as a result of the influence of "tribal doctors" and "spiritual healers," spread rumors that one could rid themselves of AIDS through measures such as "eating a lot of vegetables such as garlic and African potatoes," having sex with a virgin, male circumcision, and other assorted woo. In fact, "African vegetables rather than anti-HIV medication" was the official line touted by Mbeki's Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Mbeki notably banned antiretroviral drugs in public hospitals, which is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of at least 330,000 people.

Even more interesting is the case of the 4th president, Jacob Zuma, who resigned on Valentine's Day of 2018. Zuma's stance on HIV was that a shower after sex provided ample protection. After a sordid encounter with an HIV-positive woman, who happened to be his best friend's daughter, he may or may not be living in denial have changed his views. He only has a primary school education and, as a result of the history of traditional African lifestyles, currently has three wives. However, he has been married five times and is currently engaged to wife number six.

ANC will probably retain enough votes, which isn't saying much when your opposition are bog-standard neoliberals who are still seen as too white (the DA) and Julius Malema (the EFF).

South Africa struggles with murder and has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Cape Town is the 11th most violent city in the world.[38]


See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. South African proverbs. Wikiquote.
  2. Census 2011: Census in brief (PDF). Pretoria: Statistics South Africa. 2012. pp. 23–25. ISBN 978-0621413885.
  3. See the Wikipedia article on Coat of arms of South Africa.
  4. Wymer, John; Singer, R (1982). The Middle Stone Age at Klasies River Mouth in South Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-76103-9.
  5. The dangerous myth of 'white genocide' in South Africa. Southern Poverty Law Center.
  6. Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa. UNESCO.
  7. ——— (2011), The Fossil Chronicles: How Two Controversial Discoveries Changed our View of Human Evolution, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, ISBN 978-0-520-26670-4. p. 9
  8. Vansina, J. (1995). "New Linguistic Evidence and 'The Bantu Expansion'". Journal of African History. 36 (2): 173–195. doi:10.1017/S0021853700034101. JSTOR 182309.
  9. See the Wikipedia article on Bantu expansion.
  10. Bulliet (2008). The Earth and Its Peoples. USA: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 708. ISBN 978-0-618-77148-6.
  11. Morris, Donald R. (1998). The Washing of the Spears. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80866-8. p. 32–67
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 See the Wikipedia article on Impi.
  13. Morris, Washing of the Spears, p. 51.
  14. Hanson, Victor Davis (2001). Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 313. ISBN 978-0-307-42518-8.
  15. Eldredge, Elizabeth A. (2015). Kingdoms and Chiefdoms of Southeastern Africa: Oral Traditions and History, 1400-1830. Boydell & Brewer. p. 324. ISBN 978-1-58046-514-4.
  16. Wilmot, Alexander & John Centlivres Chase. History of the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope: From Its Discovery to the Year 1819 (2010 ed.). Claremont: David Philip (Pty) Ltd. pp. 1–548. ISBN 978-1-144-83015-9.
  17. Hunt, John (2005). Campbell, Heather-Ann (ed.). Dutch South Africa: Early Settlers at the Cape, 1652–1708. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 13–35. ISBN 978-1-904744-95-5.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Eastern Cape Wars of Dispossession 1779-1878. South African History Online.
  19. Stapleton, Timothy (2010). A Military History of South Africa: From the Dutch-Khoi Wars to the End of Apartheid. Santa Barbara: Praeger Security International. pp. 4–6. ISBN 978-0-313-36589-8.
  20. See the Wikipedia article on Boer.
  21. Greaves, Adrian (17 June 2013). The Tribe that Washed its Spears: The Zulus at War (2013 ed.). Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military. pp. 36–55. ISBN 978-1629145136.
  22. See the Wikipedia article on Great Trek.
  23. South African War. Britannica.
  24. See the Wikipedia article on Battle of Isandlwana.
  25. See the Wikipedia article on Colony of Natal.
  26. The Concentration Camps of the Anglo-Boer War. War History Online.
  27. See the Wikipedia article on Orange River Colony.
  28. See the Wikipedia article on Transvaal Colony.
  29. [ "5 of the worst atrocities carried out by the British Empire". The Independent. 19 January 2016.
  30. See the Wikipedia article on South Africa Act 1909.
  31. See the Wikipedia article on National Party (South Africa).
  32. See the Wikipedia article on John Vorster.
  33. Ritner, S. R. (1967). The Dutch Reformed Church and Apartheid. Journal of Contemporary History, 2(4), 17-37.
  34. JCW Van Rooyen, Censorship in South Africa (Cape Town: Juta and Co., 1987), 5.
  35. BMJ 2004; 329:1415–1416 (18 December)
  36. Apartheid mythology and symbolism. Desegregated and re-invented in the service of nation building in the new South Africa: The covenant and the battle of Blood/Ncome River. Anton Ehlers. Revué Alizés, No. 24, ca. 2003.
  37. Triennial Central Bank Survey, Foreign exchange turnover in April 2013: preliminary global results (PDF)
  38. See the Wikipedia article on List of countries by intentional homicide rate..