South Africa History

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South Africa

Early Settlement (1655-1795)

In the 17th century, the southernmost point of Africa where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet became a desirable half-way haven for the Dutch East India Company which was trading with India. By order of that company in 1652, Jan van Riebeeck arrived with a few other Dutch settlers at the Cape of Good Hope to establish this half-way station so that fresh vegetables and fruits could be provided to prevent scurvy among the Company’s sailors. Emigrants from Holland were then encouraged to settle and colonize, but they were soon joined by settlers from other countries, as the following list shows:

1657-1675: 49 settlers, comprising 34 Dutch, 7 German, 3 Swedes and others.
1675-1700: 152 settlers, comprising 57 Dutch, 38 German, 51 French [Huguenots) and others
1700-1725: 261 settlers, comprising 122 Dutch, 102 German, 22 French and others
1725-1750: 273 settlers, comprising 78 Dutch, 180 German, Scandinavians, and others
1750-1775: 399 settlers, comprising 88 Dutch, 267 German, Scandinavians, and others
1775-1795: 392 settlers, comprising 115 Dutch, 212 German, Scandinavians, and others

Even with this melting pot of nationalities, Dutch prevailed as the language of the Cape of Good Hope; it was tempered by the French (with their double negative) and others into the more simplified speech (no irregular verbs) that became refined into Afrikaans. Not only was this agrarian society bound by this more localized speech, but also by religion; with strong Protestant roots, they fellowshipped together under the banner of the Dutch Reformed Church.

The British Arrival (1795-1820)

From 1795 onwards there were a few British residents at the Cape, many of whom were military personnel, but it was not until 1814 that Britain eventually gained formal possession of the Cape. Factors that prompted a substantial emigration of British settlers to South Africa 1819-1820, the most serious of which was the economic crisis in Britain following the Napoleonic wars which made emigration with promise of land and opportunity very attractive. Another was to settle the disputed eastern frontier of the Cape of Good Hope with a farming community to discourage the Xhosa tribe from crossing the colonial boundary. The British government also wanted to increase the English-speaking population of a recently acquired colony that was predominantly Dutch in its language and customs. :

The Great Trek (1835-1843)

Hostility between British and Dutch settlers (known as Boers or Afrikaners) led to the Great Trek (1835-43), a migration of Boers from the Cape who founded Natal, Orange Free State, and Transvaal. Britain seized Natal (1843) but the other two territories became Boer republics. After the Anglo-Boer Wards (1880-81, 1899-1902) the British and former Boer territories were combined as the Union of South Africa (1910). Then in 1961 South Africa became an independent republic and withdrew from the British Commonwealth.


Listen to the tutorial at FamilySearch Learning Center on "The South African Empire" by Dr. Anne Samson.