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Looking for historical information about South Africa? This Southern Circle page sheds light on a few historical moments in South Africa’s turbulent history. Links are provided for further reading:

Historical Information About South Africa

Along with F.W. de Klerk, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

In December 1997 he stepped down as ANC President in favour of his deputy Thabo Mbeki, who in turn became the President of the Republic of South Africa in 1999.

1998 was a special year for Nelson Mandela. He celebrated his 80th birthday, married Graca Machel, widow of former Mozambique president Samora Machel, and was awarded the United States Congressional Medal of Honor.

The Nelson Mandela Museum is visited during the following tours

The museum also has displays of awards bestowed upon Nelson Mandela, as well as gifts received by him from all over the world.

Compiled by Jac du Toit

Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom

Nelson Mandela is one of the world’s most revered statesmen, who led the struggle to replace the apartheid regime of South Africa with a multi-racial democracy.

Despite many years in jail, he emerged to become the country’s first black president and to play a leading role in the drive for peace in other spheres of conflict. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

His charisma, self-depreciating sense of humour and lack of bitterness over his harsh treatment, as well as his amazing life story, partly explain his extraordinary global appeal.

Read more

A “NEW” South Africa

A wide range of political parties took part in the CODESA (Convention for a Democratic South Africa) talks. After lengthy negotiations, an interim constitution was agreed upon that made it possible to go to the polls on 27 April 1994 for the first time on a one-man-one-vote basis. The ANC won the election by a wide margin, and Nelson Mandela was sworn in as South Africa’s first black president on 10 May 1994.

The interim constitution made provision for a government of national unity, and F.W. de Klerk became, together with Thabo Mbeki, a national deputy president.

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The Last Phase of Struggle

In 1976 a revolt in Soweto against the substandard educational system spread like wildfire throughout the country, on the heels of a new black consciousness movement set up under the guidance of Steve Biko. The arrest and killing of Biko in police custody created a fresh outburst of public anger.

States of Emergency first brought in after Sharpeville, and repeated in 1976 and 1985, proved less and less effective. The liberation of Africa had reached South Africa’s border with the end of the Rhodesian War and the collapse of colonial Mocambique. International trade and armaments boycotts escalated with the involvement of South African troops in war on the Angolan border.

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Apartheid and Resistance

After 1948, the National Party bonded itself to the Apartheid ideology. The plan was to fabricate a permanent white political majority by purging the voter’s role of all Blacks, and by creating “Homelands” for all Black people where political provision could be made for them leading up to self-government, an option eventually exercised by most of the larger homelands.

In 1955 the resistance movements drew up a document that ironically became almost a blueprint for later negotiations to form the new South Africa. This document known as the “Freedom Charter; was wiped off the table by the National Party, and organised resistance intensified.

After 69 people were killed in a demonstration against the “Pass Laws” at Sharpeville in 1960, political pressures forced South Africa out of the Commonwealth and into becoming a republic under the leadership of Hendrik Verwoerd.

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Anglo-Boer War and Union

In 1899 gold led directly to the Anglo-Boer War that lasted three years. President Paul Kruger of the ZAR and the High Commissioner of the Cape Colony, the imperialist Lord Milner, failed to agree on rights for the “Uitlanders”. That induced Kruger to pre-empt a British declaration of war in 1899.

The war, that lasted three years, was the first war where trenches were used, and it developed into probably the first real guerrilla-style warfare. In the end, the so-called “scorched earth” policy of the British, with the resultant concentration camps for Whites and labour camps for Blacks, led to the signing of the Peace Agreement of Vereeniging in 1902.

The peace agreement was generous to the losers, and the four colonies (Cape, Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal) met at a National Convention in 1908 to lay the foundation of a new country. On 31 May 1910 the Union of South Africa, a self-governing dominion within the British Empire, came into being.

The majority Black population, however, was virtually excluded from the negotiations leading to Union, and the result was that they were deprived of more land. Black dissatisfaction resulted in the formation of the South African National Native (later African National) Congress (ANC) as early as 1912, as well as the South African Communist Party.

Indians Arrive

In the meantime, in 1860/61, the British in Natal brought 600 Indian families to the area as indentured workers on the sugar cane fields. They were rather severely discriminated against, and they even had to carry passes to keep control of their movements. That led to Muhatma Gandhi staying on in the country till 1914, fighting discrimination.

Today, South Africa (more specifically Durban) has what is described as the largest Indian population outside of India. The Indian community renders a valuable contribution to the economical and political environment of the country.

More Clashes

After the Battle of Blood River in 1836 where the Voortrekkers broke the back of the Zulu army, and the death of Dingaan, the area south of the Tugela River became the Boer Republic of Natalia, and the area north of the river was Zululand.

The Boer Republic was only four years old when the British moved in, and then the area south of the Tugela became Natal. Because this is just a broad overview (things were a bit more complicated), suffice to say that the Voortrekkers then moved again and established the Boer Republics of Transvaal (with Pretoria as capital), and the Orange Free State (with Bloemfontein as capital). These republics were recognised as being independent by the British.

As part of the British resolve to bind the different territories into a federal scheme, in 1877 Sir Theophilus Shepstone annexed Pretoria. The Boers didn’t have the means to resist, but Paul Kruger and two other leaders then started organising resistance with the idea to later take on the British.

In the meantime, in 1879, also under the guise of creating a federation of states in South Africa, the British forced the Zulus to accept British rule north of the Tugela (Anglo-Zulu War) and Zululand became part of Natal.

Shortly afterwards rising tensions between British settlers (“Uitlanders”) and the Transvaal authorities led to the outbreak of the First Freedom War in 1880. The Boer resistance was now in place, and after a humiliating defeat at Majuba in 1881, Britain was forced to restore the right of self-government to the Transvaal.

The British and Voortrekkers (Settlers)

Then the British annexed the Cape. The process continued (it culminated in nine frontier wars), and the 1820 the British Settlers arrived. The community in the Cape became progressively unhappy with British rule. Taxes and the abolishment of slavery in 1834 were some of the main reasons why some of them packed their oxwagons and ventured into the unknown inland just to get away from the British (the Great Trek).

These Voortrekkers moved through some areas that were sparsely populated, but the further east, the more clashes with the indigenous people. In most of the clashes, their superior arms settled the differences. In 1838 they arrived on the western border of what is today KwaZulu-Natal, where their paths crossed with the successor to Shaka, the Zulu King Dingaan.

The two broad groups of movers were now in the same territory.