History and heritage
A short history of South AfricaIf the history of South Africa is in large part one of increasing racial divisiveness, today it can also be seen as the story of – eventually – a journey through massive obstacles towards the creation, from tremendous diversity, of a single nation whose dream of unity and common purpose is now capable of realisation.
The earliest peopleThe earliest representatives of South Africa's diversity – at least the earliest we can name – were the San and Khoekhoe peoples (otherwise known individually as the Bushmen and Hottentots or Khoikhoi; collectively called the Khoisan). Both were resident in the southern tip of the continent for thousands of years before its written history began with the arrival of European seafarers. And before that, modern human beings had lived here for more than 100 000 years – indeed, the country is an archaeological treasure chest.
Settlers and slavesTheir existence was of little import to Jan van Riebeeck and the 90 men who landed with him in 1652 at the Cape of Good Hope, under instructions by the Dutch East India Company to build a fort and develop a vegetable garden for the benefit of ships on the Eastern trade route. Their relationship with the Khoekhoe was initially one of bartering, but a mutual animosity developed over issues such as cattle theft – and, no doubt, the growing suspicion on the part of the Khoekhoe that Van Riebeeck's outpost was becoming a threat to them. Perhaps the first sign that the threat was to be realised came in 1657 when nine men, released from their contracts, were given land to farm. In the same year the first slaves were imported. By the time Van Riebeeck left in 1662, 250 white people lived in what was beginning to look like a developing colony. Later governors of the Cape Colony encouraged immigration, and in the early 1700s independent farmers called trekboers began to push north and east. Inevitably, the Khoisan started literally losing ground, in addition to being pressed by difficult circumstances into service for the colonists.
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