European Colonization of Southern Africa

European Colonization of Southern Africa

European settlement in South Africa began in 1652, when Dutch settlers founded Cape Town as a resupplying station for ships sailing to the East Indies. The Dutch settlement grew into a large colony called Cape Colony. During the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s, the British seized Cape Colony, which then became a British possession.


As British administration became established, many people left the colony and moved to the north and east in a mass migration known as the Great Trek. These people-descendants of the original Dutch settlers-were Boers, and they spoke their own language, known as Afrikaans. In the new territories, the Boers carved out three colonies-Natal, on the southeast coast, the Orange Free State to the west, and the Transvaal to the north.

As the Boers moved into the new territories, they came in contact with the Zulu who lived in the region. Under the great leader Shaka, the Zulu had created a thriving empire with a strong army. For years this army fought the Boers for control of the region. In 1879 the British joined in the war, defeating the Zulu and destroying their empire.


The discovery of diamonds in the Orange Free State and gold in the Transvaal soon intensified the competition in southern Africa. Germany, hoping to find rich mineral reserves, declared a protectorate over the territory of South-West Africa in 1884. In the same year, Great Britain began moving into the interior section of Africa from the south, greatly increasing its holdings. Closely associated with these territorial acquisitions was one individual, Cecil Rhodes, a British speculator.

Rhodes and his influence.

Rhodes, a sickly young man who hoped that the climate would improve his health, arrived in Cape Colony in 1870. Moving to the diamond fields in the Boer-controlled Orange Free State, he soon demonstrated a talent for business and a genius for organization. Within 20 years of his arrival, he completely controlled South African diamond production.


Rhodes later organized the colonization of a huge territory farther north. This territory was named Rhodesia after him. Throughout his career, Rhodes displayed creative ideas with regard to both politics and business. One of his greatest hopes was to see British possessions extending from the Cape Colony in the southern part of Africa to Cairo in the north.


In 1895 a colleague of Rhodes tried to topple the Transvaal government, which had resisted European. attempts to establish mining operations. The attempt failed, but Great Britain’s apparent support of it made relations between the Boers and the British openly hostile. In 1899 war broke out. After three years of costly fighting, the British defeated the Boers and imposed a settlement that favored mining interests.


To ensure Boer support of the peace, the British allowed the Boers to continue using the Afrikaans language in their schools and courts. The British also provided funds for Boers-though not for Africans-to rebuild their destroyed farms. In 1910 a federal constitution united the Cape Colony, Natal, the Transvaal, and the Orange Free State into the Union of South Africa, which was a British dominion. The constitution made it virtually impossible for nonwhites to be given voting rights. The settlement of the South African War, or Boer War, thus laid the basis for the later development of a system of complete racial segregation.



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