South Africa from Zulu to Mandela


1. Ethnic groups and population

The regions corresponding to present-day South Africa were inhabited by populations now almost completely disappeared: the Bushmen and the Hottentots (the latter were decimated by smallpox in 1713). Between the 16th and 17th centuries the Bantu groups of both the and the herero reached the area of ​​the South-West African and the current Botswana. In the second half of the seventeenth century the sothos settled in the northern areas of the current South African republic. Beginning in the 18th century, the xhosa , originally from Mozambique, and the Zulus began to set up their own organization and set up an army. The latter took its name after creating a state structure to the work of Shaka, the legendary leader who led the Zulu between 1820 and 1828. The Swazi Finally, after having settled in Zululand, in the second half of the eighteenth century they moved in area corresponding to the current Swaziland.


2. From colonization to the birth of the South African Union

The village was joined by Bartolomeo Diaz in 1488 and by Vasco de Gama ten years later.

Vasco de Gama South Africa from Zulu to Mandela
Vasco de Gama


The English arrived there more than a century later, in 1620. The first nucleus of the future colonization was however constituted by the Dutch that, following the expedition led by Jan Anthonisz van Riebeeck , founded in 1652 the settlement of the Chief, port of call of the Dutch East India Company. Hottentots and Bushmen were not able to resist and were forced to gradually abandon part of their territory under the pressure of the “Boer” settlers (in Dutch “peasants”), who soon began to settle outside the Cape, dedicating themselves to the agriculture and breeding. The Boers then clashed with the same Compagnia delle Indie that, in charge of the administration of the area and driven mainly by commercial interests, was not inclined to increase the population and to intensify the work of agricultural colonization. At the end of the seventeenth century, a large group of French Protestants fled from the motherland was added to the original nucleus of Dutch colonists: in the same period began to resort to labor constituted by slaves from Angola, Mozambique and Madagascar. Between 1779 and 1780 around the Great Fish River there were the first violent clashes between the Boers, who had gone further east, and the Bantu groups. The first of a long series of conflicts that opposed the two partiesended with a compromise agreement between the Governor of the Indie Plettenberg Company (1771-85) and some xhosa chiefs : the border was fixed on the Great Fish River, but the solution dissented the majority of the Boers, increasingly enmeshed with the policy of the Compagnia delle Indie. Meanwhile, after several attempts to penetrate the region between the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, in 1814 the British managed to definitively put the colony of the Cape under their own administration . The new situation soon led to the adoption by the British of a series of measures that provoked resentment of the Boers: the British in fact fixed the border on the Orange River, changed the system of land acquisition, in 1833 abolished slavery (depriving the Dutch laborers employed in agricultural work). Then, between 1835 and 1841, the   Voortrekker , the great migration that brought about 6000 boers from the Cape colony to the Orange plateau and the Natal.Blood River’s victory in 1838 against the Zulus allowed a group of Dutch settlers led by Andries Pretorius to settle in the Natal, where arose a state that had however short life: attacked in 1842, already in 1843 it was declared British possession and in 1856 it became an English colony. Two other Boer republics were formed in the Transvaal and between the river Vaal and the river Orange: unlike the British colonies of the Cape and Natal, which then developed in a liberal sense, they adopted a strictly conservative policy. The British reaction to the initiatives of the Dutch settlers was based on a realistic attitude: in 1852 and 1854, in order to find European allies in the fight against the Bantu populations, the independence of the Boer states of the Transvaal and of the so-called State was recognized. free of Orange. However, relations between the English and the Boers remained very tense, and they came to a rupture again in 1877 following the British annexation of the Transvaal, rich in diamond deposits: the Boers under the guidance of Marthinus Pretorius and Paulus Kruger defeated the British at the Battle of Majuba Hill in 1881. In 1884 the British recognized the independence of the Transvaal Republic, but the annexation of the Bechuanaland ( Botswana) by the British in 1885 and the granting of the territories north of the Zambezi River to the British Company of South Africa by Cecil Rhodes put the Boer states in an increasingly precarious situation, aggravated after the discovery of very rich gold mines (1885) and the massive wave of immigrants of British origin. The protection offered to newcomers by large companies and the British government once again provoked resentment of the Boers. Paulus Kruger, president of the Republic of Transvaal, not only opposed Cecil Rhodes ‘s aims to unite the Boer state to the British colony of the Cape, but he adopted an intransigent line towards the “foreigners”, culminating in their exclusion from the vote, which ended however with the revealing bankruptcy. Rhodes, since 1890, Prime Minister of the Cape colony, in fact fomented in Johannesburg a movement aimed at overthrowing Kruger, which should have been supported by the troops of the same South African Company in Transvaal. The plan, put in place between December 1895 and January 1896, failed, but the British government itself increasingly oriented itself toward a military solution that could definitively establish British rule over southern Africa. In October 1899 it then begins the war of the Transvaal – the Boer War – which ended in May 1902 with the Treaty Vereenijing the Boers were suppressed. After the war and its profound devastation, the Boers adopted the strategy of passive resistance. In the course of a few years, however, faced with the increasingly tangible threat of revolt of the majority of color, they were fully integrated into the political and cultural life of the country, which was moving in a federative sense. In 1906 in the elections in the Transvaal and in Orange the Boer parties, the Hetvolk andOranje Unie , they obtained important successes. Between October 1908 and February 1909 the Convention laid the foundations for the creation of the South African Union (to which the British colonies of the Cape and Natal and the former Boer republics of the Transvaal and Orange joined ), which then arose on May 31, 1910 with the entry into force of the   South African Act . From this date the Union became one   dominion   of the British crown. Also in 1910 the administration of the Governor General of the Union was entrusted with the High Commission Territories: Bechuanaland (now Botswana), Basutoland (now Lesotho) and Swaziland.


3. From the Union to the Republic

In the new federative structure the provinces, governed by a governor and represented by a local assembly, had a limited autonomy, related to education and social problems, while the great internal political issues and the choices in the international field remained the responsibility of the central power. Legislative power was attributed to a bicameral parliament, constituted by the Assembly elected by the white minority and by a Senate nominated by the royal family; the executive power, on the other hand, belonged to the governor-general chosen by London and to the government based in Pretoria.Immediately after the entry into force of the constitution, reflecting the new spirit of collaboration between Boers and English, the country’s leadership was assumed by two Afrikaners (a term used to refer to South African whites of Dutch origin), Louis Botha , prime minister of the 1910 until 1919, and Jan Christian Smuts , in charge from 1920 to 1924. At this stage, the initiative was initiated by the sameBotha and Smuts , the South African party, a force that aimed to give expression to the different components of the white minority . In front of this program some more conservative Afrikaners , under the leadership of James Barry Munnick Hertzog , founded the National Party (NP) in 1913, on anti-British positions. Minority for a decade, starting from 1924 it was precisely this force that led the country, directing it towards a radicalization of segregationist politics. Since its birth, moreover, the South African Union was marked by serious racial tensions determined by the presence of a white minority (21% of the population) that monopolized political and economic power and a black majority (which exceeded 60%) almost deprived of rights, to which was added a substantial number of mongrels and highly discriminated Asians. The non-white population was the subject of legislative measures such as the   Native Labor Act   of 1911 (further exacerbated by the   Color Bar Act   of 1926) which prevented access to qualified jobs, and the   Native Urban Areas Act   of 1923, which limited its presence in urban areas and subjected it to strict control. For the blacks, laws were added to deprive them of the right to vote (law of 1910, also extended to the residents of the Cape in 1936), to confine them to “reserves” and to prevent their freedom of movement: the   The Native Land Act of 1913 prohibited them frombuying land outside the reserves they had been allocated to. Against discrimination against Indians (especially in tax matters), since 1894 Gandhi began the fight conducted with non-violent protest and passive resistance. In August 1914 the Union declared war on Germany, occupying in 1915 South-West Africa (now Namibia) and in 1916 German East Africa (now Tanzania). In the post-war period, extremist Afrikaner nationalism experienced considerable development which, in 1924, was the basis for the victory of the National Party of Hertzog , who remained in office as prime minister until 1939. During his government, in 1931, the Statute of Westminster was promulgated in London, with which Britain recognized the independence and legislative autonomy of South Africa in the Commonwealth .The National Party then became a supporter of the so-called   Eerbaare apartheid   (dignified segregation), theorizing the separation between the different races. The government coalitionestablished in 1933 between the National Party of Hertzog and the South African party of Smuts encouraged the merger of the two organizations in the United Party, but provoked the temporary division of the Afrikaner extremists, who organized in 1933 under the leadership of Daniel François Malan in the “purified” National Party (rejoined at the National Party in 1940). During the Second World War, despite the presence of a strong pro-German component , the South African Union sided with Great Britain and participated in military operations in Ethiopia, North Africa and Italy against the Axis powers.Meanwhile, within it the role of the National Party increased, which in 1948 obtained an important electoral victory. In the international context, the annexation of Namibia in 1949 (the former German colony was placed under the South African mandate in 1920) made clear the hegemonic aims of the South African Union in southern Africa. Malan then became prime minister, remaining in office until 1954. The apartheid policy was extended to the Indian minority of Natal, deprived in 1948 of the right to vote; mixed marriages were forbidden and with the   Group Areas Act   in 1951 the segregation of blacks was decreed in all urban areas; the formation of a communist party was also prevented, the legislation for the protection of public order was exacerbated and the settlement of British settlers in the country discouraged. Johannes G. Strijdom (prime minister from 1954 to 1958) also continued the apartheid policy. During the government of Prime Minister Hendrik F. Verwoerd (from 1958 to 1966) the university structures were divided on a racial basis and with the law for the “Bantu autonomy” of 1959 the establishment of eight separate African regions was established, the so-called   bantustans   or   homelands, territories populated only by Africans and formally endowed with self-government. Meanwhile the black opposition, gathered around the African National Congress (ANC) of Albert John Luthuli (founded as early as 1912, but became a great political force only after World War II), marked its action on civil disobedience and passive resistance according to the example of Gandhi. In 1959 there were demonstrations against the limitation of freedom of movement of the black population. The revolutions of Sharpeville in 1960 and Transkei in 1963 ended with the heavy intervention of the armed forces and with a tragic budget in human lives. Pressed by the condemnation of the international public opinion, the UN and the Commonwealth for its segregationist policy, the National Party of Verwoerd reacted by organizing an institutional referendum that declared itself in favor of the transformation of the Union into a republic and its exit from the British Commonwealth : on May 31st 1961 the South African Republic was proclaimed, of which Charles Swart became president .


4. From the apogee to the dismantling of apartheid

South Africa MAP South Africa from Zulu to Mandela
South Africa (MAP)


Substantially ineffective, also because they were poorly respected, were the economic sanctions decided by the UN in 1962 against the country. Neither was the condemnation by the OAU (Organization of African Unity) two years later. The consolidation of the position of the National Party in the 1966 elections (126 out of 166 seats) allowed Balthazar J. Vorster (prime minister from 1966 to 1978) to radicalize the apartheid policy. In the same year, however, the first symptoms of dissent against the segregationist policy of the government showed themselves within the same white community, as demonstrated by the student demonstrations held in the main cities (Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban), also supported by the ecclesiastical authorities. The official response to these initial demands for democratization was nevertheless clearly closed: in the north of the country harsh repressive actions were carried out and the power of the police and secret services was strengthened. In 1969 the Republic of South Africa refused to abide by the UN resolution which ordered its withdrawal from South-West Africa (now Namibia), which was instead transformed into the fifth province and to which the apartheid legislation was extended. Since 1970, guerrilla warfare along the borders with Mozambique has intensified and the conflict between the white minority and the different ethnic groups present in the country intensified. Since 1973, the repercussions of the global economic recession due to the oil crisis began to appear. In April 1974, early elections were organized, which strengthened the government majority, allowing it to continue with the policy of implementing the   bantustans . Economic reasons and precarious international balances prevented in 1974 that South Africa was expelled from the UN, due to the veto placed by the United States, Britain and France. However, achieving the independence of Angola and Mozambique in 1975 led to a radical change in the political conditions of southern Africa. The South African government found itself increasingly isolated in the region, especially following its intervention in the civil war in Angola. In 1975 the British Labor government itself denounced the military agreement which provided for the British use of the Simonstown naval base. Inside, the situation precipitated: in June 1976 a violent uprising broke out in the Soweto ghetto near Johannesburg, rapidly spreading to the province of the Cape, which triggered a severe repression by government troops. In November 1977, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on South Africa, but at the same time the Vorster National Party again brought an overwhelming victory. In 1978 Pieter Willem Botha became prime minister (he remained in office until 1984), while Vorstersucceeded Diederichs as president (which he had to leave in June of the following year following a scandal linked to the manipulation of information). The elections of April 1981 marked a slight decline in the National Party, which still retained the majority, in the context of increasingly violent racial clashes: the most dramatic moment was reached in 1984 when riots broke out in the black ghettos around Johannesburg. Neither the tension in the government, in the same year, of a mixed – up and an Asian, a palliative which, on the contrary, further exasperated the anger of the black majority. Spokesman for the claims of this was the ANC whose leader, Nelson Mandela (since 1962 condemned to life imprisonment), became the symbol of the liberation struggle of the blacks, and religious figures of great charisma, including the Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu . The repression following new unrest in the black suburbs, Botha ‘s refusal to dialogue with the ANC and with Mandela, the proclamation of the state of emergency on July 25, 1985 left no doubt about the government’s real intentions. Among the bloodiest episodes of racial violence, a new Soweto uprising in August 1986 registered the heaviest budget. In May 1987, the elections for the White House of Representatives, held in a climate of harsh protest, registered a substantial holding of the National Party. In foreign policy, the two-year period 1986-88 was characterized by a tightening of relations with neighboring states that gave political asylum to the regime’s opponents: military raids were carried out against Botswana, Zambia and Angola.The death of Mozambique’s president Samora Michel marked the most dramatic moment of tension, even though South Africa denied that it was directly involved in the incident. The unanimous international condemnation (in 1986 also the US adhered to the trade embargo against their traditional ally) and the ever higher costs of a policy of pure repression imposed a radical revision of the lines previously followed. The historic reversal of South African politics was represented by the agreement of 22 December 1988 for the normalization of the situation in Southern Africa, which provided for the independence of Namibia and the simultaneous withdrawal of Cuban and South African troops from Angola. The transfer of deliveries from Botha to Frederik de Klerk (first to lead the party then also to the presidency of the republic), in 1989 allowed to open a new phase also in the South African internal politics. With the opening of official negotiations with the ANC, the legalization of the opposition and the liberation of Mandela on 11 February 1990 were laid the foundations for the dismantling of the apartheid regime, which took shape after an agreement signed by de Klerk , Mandela and the leader ZuluButhelezi in September 1991 and sanctioned by a large majority by a referendum in 1992.


5. The Mandela era and the new democracy

Nelson Mandela South Africa from Zulu to Mandela
Nelson Mandela


By 1993 the main segregationist laws were abolished (the   Land Act , the   Group Areas Act   and the   Population registration Act ) and the foundations of a democratic coexistence were laid despite the process of internal democratization being hindered by the escalation of ethnic rivalries within the same black majority, especially between xhosa and zulu and the opposition of white racists . In November 1993 a transitional constitution was approved which introduced universal suffrage and a multiracial parliament with two chambers. The 1994 elections were a triumph for Mandela, who became president. 


Romano Pisciotti: Free translation, source Zanichelli


South Africa

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