The ANCS Liberation Struggle In South Africa, 1912-1994

Project and Seminar Material for History

The ANCS Liberation Struggle In South Africa, 1912-1994

Chapter One

Background Study Of South Africa


The Apartheid Situation in South Africa for decades made world headlines, so many works have been done on apartheid and South Africa, but these works are either apologists or biased depending on the political leanings of the Authors. Other works examine the apartheid era without giving historical insights as to the origin of apartheid, while the few that examine the history of South Africa fail to see or give their bearings on the emergence of a segregationist or Apartheid South Africa.

This work examines the history of South Africa and its people both the natives and the European Settlers. It examines the role of geography in shaping inter-group relations in South Africa, how natural resources helped to redefine the peaceful and cordial relationship that had existed among the races. This work also examines the historical and theoretical factors that led to segregation and apartheid. It looks at the way the people of South Africa especially the blacks through the ANC resisted the policies. Finally this research work examines the role the ANC played, the prices it paid for freedom and the eventual triumph it recorded.

This chapter is dedicated to briefly examining the role that geography played in the permanent settlement of the Europeans. It also examines the way of life of the indigenous people of South Africa and how they managed to cope with each other before it became a state policy to segregate.

How Geography Influenced the Permanent Residence of the Whites in South Africa

It is a known fact that the whites in South Africa were the cause of the troubles that happened in the 20th century South Africa. They were drawn by the geography of South Africa.

South Africa lies in the Southern end of the African continent, at its Southern Coast is the Atlantic Ocean and its north-eastern coastline is located the Indian Ocean. Its long coastline stretches more than 2500km from the desert border with Namibia on the Atlantic coast, South wards around the top of Africa, the north to the border with subtropical Mozambique on the Indian Ocean. It consists basically of two geographical regions, a coastal region and a high interior plateau.1In most areas, the land rises from narrow coastal plains in series of steps created by steep escarpment.2

Along the Southern Coast, the steep like terrain is interrupted by a series of high mountain ranges which run parallel to the coast.3 Elsewhere because of the semi-arid conditions, most of the rivers carry little or no water for many months of the year.4 The location of South Africa on the globe meant that the temperature are relatively high throughout the year except in some areas such as the cape. The cape vicinity experiences a Mediterranean climate with winter rain and dry summer. This was one of the reasons why a white settlement was established there in 1652.5

The history of all countries is influenced by several factors such as religion, the people, their government and most of all their geography. South Africa is not an exception. It has been greatly influenced by its geography and this must always be borne in mind.6

The presence of large mountain and plateau along the coast of South Africa and also the absence of navigable channels made access into the interior very difficult. These factors made the original inhabitants free from wars and foreign domination for a long time. Not until the mid 17th century, South Africa was largely unknown to the west as a habitable destination.7

The presence of the Indian and Atlantic Ocean coupled with the mountains and plateau gave the vicinity a temperate climate like that found in the west. The coolness of the region coupled with the absence of mosquito and tsetse fly made it a very habitable place for Europeans and the rearing of their livestock.8

The direction of the movement of the European Settlers was influenced by rainfall, this was why the eastern part of the cape was more populated by the whites. Despite the constant rainfall, thecountry has a very poor soil that is only ideal for pastoral farming than tillage.9

The great natural wealth of the country is in minerals such as diamonds, gold, coal, Iron, copper, tin and other precious minerals. The rough distributions of these minerals affected and disturbed political arrangements in South Africa. Much of South Africa history is the result of this circumstance, that is, the struggle for control of the mineral wealth.

It was the geography of South Africa that placed it between Europe and Asia. It was first discovered by the Portuguese and was used for their trade with the far east.10 It was used as a refreshment and revitalization centre for the sailors and merchants to and from the far east, and was known as the “halfway house”.11Later on the Dutch became involved in the trade of the far east, and it was their involvement that finally marked the permanent presence of Europeans in the cape that later on spread into the interior. It was the extension into the interior in search for better lands that resulted in the continued conflict between the Natives and the Europeans that was only recently resolved after centuries of wars and bloodshed.

The discovery of gold and diamond gave impetus to the rapid industrialization and construction of infrastructure. This in turn helped to determine the development of the rural areas.12

In essence, the geography of South Africa was a blessing and a curse. It was one most important factor that influenced the relationships, between and among the races of South Africa.

The Peoples of South Africa and their Ways of Life

Much of the seventeenth, eighteenth a nineteenth and twentieth century in South Africa has been defined by confrontations between the while Afrikaner nationalism and the pan South African black nationalism which has sought the incorporation of Africans into the body politics and economics.13

The exclusivism of Afrikaner European nationalism has been confronted by a black nationalism which despite strong Africanist hasa general espoused the nineteenth century liberal values of multiraciatiolism.14 This subsection is dedicated to explaining briefly the various groups in South Africa.

The San / Bushman

South Africa has been conquered and inhabited by several races, however the earliest documented people of South Africa were the San. Evidences from archaeology have shown the san to be the oldest existing race.15

The Bushmen were hunter – gatherers and could not engage in intensive farming due to poor South African soil. They hunted in bands and no stranger was allowed to trespass their hunting grounds, strangers who did often met with death. Often times the san looted the animals of the Hottentots.16

The Bushmen led a simple life and were egalitarian; they had a sense of brotherhood and shared whatever they had. However, the Bushmen were almost wiped out due to the emergence of the Dutch as occupants in South Africa. Causes of conflict often arose out of territorial disputes. They were eventually driven in to the safety of the mountains and the hot desert of South Africa.17 The Bushmen looked very much like the Khoi save in height, they inter-married with the Khoi. The Europeans eventually mistook the one group for the other.18

The Hottentots / Khoi

The Hottentots were pastoralists who lived in encampments made of portable huts which could be packed up easily when the water and the grass got finished. They were nomads and were the first to have contact with the Portuguese at Mossel bay.19 By the time the European immigrants arrived in the region 1652, the Khoi were already practising extensive pastoral agriculture in the cape region.20

The term Hottentots is a derogatory word. The Dutch called the Khoi this name due to the clicking pattern in their speech. Contacts between the Khoi and the Europeans were often violent. The population of the Khoi dropped when they were exposed to European small pox.21 Warfare between the Khoi and the Europeans were usually over traditional grazing ground.

Over the following centuries, the Khoi were steadily driven from their land which eventually ended their traditional pattern of living. As their social structure broke down, they became bondsmen or farm workers, others were incorporated into the existing clan of the Xhosa people.22

The Bantu

The Bantu were the obstacle that stopped the expansion of the Boers during the eighteenth century. Bantu is a term for language family and not exclusively for a particular race.23 The South African Bantu were the largest and most dominant group in South Africa.

The Bantu arrived in South Africa slightly before the Dutch. They consisted of the Zulu, Tswana, Sotho, Venda,Nguni, Xhosa, etc. They were known by the Arabs and Europeans as Kaffirs meaning infidels.24 The social and political organization of the Bantu were much developed.

Among the Bantu, cattle played a peculiar part in social economic and even religious life. The Bantu also tilled the soil, major conflicts ensued between the Dutch Boers and the Bantu over theft of cattle, destruction of grazing land and boundaries.25

Non-African Settlers

He first Europeans to discover the cape were the Portuguese but they saw no need to make any permanent settlement there. All they wanted was a spot. The Dutch however had plans forma king settlement; the Dutch East Indian Company created a settlement spot for revitalizing of ships and their crew in 1652.26 The company encouraged immigration from the Netherlands.

Also the Edict of Nantes helped force the Huguenots to settle in the cape, and in time inter-married and blended so well with the Boers. Basically the white settlers were majorly Dutch, others were the French and later on the English and Irish.27British immigrants began to arrive in the cape colony in the nineteenth century, this came in the wake of the Napoleonic wars in Europe. Their population increased considerably with the discovery of diamonds and gold.28

Intergroup Relations in South Africa

South Africa is home to black Africans and foreign white settlers. These groups of inhabitants are the San, Khoi, Bantu, Boers and Britons. All these races have interacted with each other both negatively and positively. It is their pattern of relations from early times that we are briefly to examine.

The san are the oldest inhabitants of South Africa, like every first people to inhabit any country in the world, the social rejection, decline of cultural identity and the discrimination of their right as a group.29

At about the beginning of the Christian era, the Khoi moved into the northern and western parts of South Africa and migrated southward, they were pastoralists and they Inter-married with the san.30

Coincidentally, the Bantu speaking people were migrating Southwards, bringing with them cattle, and the concept of planting and living a settled life. Ultimately the Khoi met these black farmers and obtained from them cattle in exchange for animal skins and other items.31 Thus when the European settlers arrived in the mid 17th century the whole country was inhabited by three different groups – The hunter gatherers (san) the pastoralists (khoi) and the farmers (Bantu).32

At first, the san coexisted peacefully with the Nguni which is a sub-language group of the Bantu speakers who intermarried with the san and incorporated some of the distinctive characters of the san language and culture. Unfortunately problem arose and they fought among themselves. The sans lost greatly and were heavily reduced in population.

With the Europeans, the san were even at a greater disadvantage. Wars with the Boers greatly reduced their population. They fought to death which they preferred to capture. Colonialism destroyed the san way life. Enslavement and sometimes mass destruction of san communities by black and white farmers followed. Many became farm laborers and some joined black farming communities and intermarried with them. Active warfare flared between the groups when the Dutch East India Company enclosed traditional grazing ground. Over the century, the Khoi were steadily driven off their land which eventually ended their way of life, the khoi even fought for the Boers in the frontier wars.

Early European settlers frequently intermarried with the indigenous people producing a sizeable mixed population known as the “Griqua” people. The Dutch began relations with the local community by trading cattle for other goods with the expansion of the cape colony.33 Later in the life of the Dutch government and more so the British government of the colony, the natives were pushed back into the interior and their land confiscated for the white farmers.34

The English were the last Europeans to come to South Africa and they overthrew the Dutch in the control of the cape and the environs. Initially the English treated the natives on an equal basis and status with the other Europeans, but with the discovery of diamond and gold, these liberal policies of the government changed.35


Geography played a very important role in defining the relationship and interactions between and among the inhabitants of South Africa. It had positive and negative impacts in South Africa. The ragged terrains consisting of mountains and plateau coupled with the absence of navigable channel had protected the natives from foreign incursions for centuries. However the location of South Africa also gives it a Mediterranean climate that soon attracted the Europeans, the presence of diamond and other important minerals put a stamp on the permanent settlement of foreigners.

The relationship among the indigenous peoples were most times peaceful and cordial except for some few skirmishes. But the advent of the Europeans changed all that. The quest for more grazing and farming land brought the peoples of South Africa both blacks and whites into conflicts. South Africa had little productive land and all the inhabitants were attached directly to the land hence the competition which ultimately resulted to several wars.Initially the Europeans and the Natives traded and even intermarried, but the development of racial consciousness led to separationists or segregationist policies which eventually led to the subjugation of the natives.Much of the history of South Africa is defined by the struggle of the blacks to regain their historical rights in the face of growing oppression, exploitation and intimidation from the white settlers.

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