The Early History of South Africa Part 2


The Early History of South Africa

The Early History of South Africa

By the early 18th century, the colonists began to extend into the hinterland beyond the closet mountain regions. The mobile and independent farmers known as trekboers, who were both hunters and pastoralists, weren’t subject to Dutch supervision, at least to a large extent. As they used more of the water sources and land, and increased their labour and livestock demand, an increasing number of the indigenous inhabitants found themselves dispossessed, as well as being servants in the colonial economy.

The Europeans introduced such diseases as smallpox in 1713, which decimated the Khoisan and contributed to the culture’s decline. Unions formed across the colour line and South Africa saw the evolution of a new multiracial social order, based on the supremacy of European colonists. Due to a greater need for labour, there was a steady increase in the number of slaves. By the middle of the century, there were a higher number of slaves than European colonists in the Cape. The towns saw a concentration of Asian slaves, who established an artisan class that still exists today. They brought the Islamic region with them, which had a significant bearing upon Western Cape’s working-class culture. Slaves of African descent were more commonly found working on farms in the outlying districts.

Colonial encroachment resistance

In the later 1700s, the Khoisan put up a stronger fight against colonial encroachment across the colonial frontier. From the 1770s onwards, colonists also fought with Bantu-speaking chiefdoms. Intermittent warfare took place over the course of a hundred years, with the colonists victorious against both the Khoisan and the Xhosa-speaking chiefdoms. The subjugation of settled African societies only became feasible late in the 19th century. For a period of time, their sophisticated economic systems and social structure fended off disruption from new colonists who didn’t have the required military superiority. The same period also saw a cultural change, such as missionary and commercial activity. While it wasn’t the case with the Khoisan, black farmers were largely immune to diseases from Europe. This was just one of the reasons why they outnumbered the whites by some distance and would see important aspects of their culture be preserved.

The Zulus

The Zulus

The Zulus

Possibly partly due to population pressures, the Zulus emerged as a highly centralised state. It was in the 1820s that their leader Shahadas asserted influence over a large area of south-east Africa and many chiefdoms found themselves under his rule. As a number of splinter groups ruled and fought off any community in their way, the disruption made its presence felt all the way up to central Africa. Such substantial states as Moshoeshoe’s Lesotho, along with other chiefdoms, were formed, partly for defence reasons. This period of state formation and disruption would come to be known as The Mfecane or Difaqane. There is much debate still going on about this period.

The British Colonia era

The British occupied the Cape in 1795 by way of strategy against France. After a short-lived period of Dutch control, the British took over in 1806. The Dutch’s regulated and closed economic system disintegrated as the Cape Colony became a part of industrial Britain’s dynamic global trading empire.

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