Birth and Growth of A Nation
AFRICA was not a vast empty space when white settlers first arrived in that part of the continent. The conflicts they had
with the indigenous people are enough evidence showing that wasn't the case.
region which later became the country of South Africa was already inhabited by so-called Bushmen, so-called Hottentots, and
different Bantu ethnic groups from the north when white settlement began in 1652.
1488, Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias became the first European to reach the Cape of Good Hope. And the first European
settlement was established at the cape by the Dutch East India Company. The colony at the cape later became Cape Town.
Dutch settlers were soon joined by French and German settlers. These early arrivals came to be known as Boers. And the language
which evolved among them through the years came to be known as Afrikaans. It was essentially Dutch, as it still is today,
since the Dutch were the dominant group among the settlers.
people who are called Bushmen have their own African name. They call themselves San and are among the oldest inhabitants of
South Africa. Others are the pastoral Khoikhoi whom Europeans renamed Hottentots. The Khoikhoi settled mainly in the southeastern
coastal region of South Africa about 2,000 years ago.
700s A.D., other Africans had settled in the northern part of what is South Africa today. They were members of different Bantu
ethnic groups who had moved southward from East-Central Africa and spoke related languages.
is why they came to be known as Bantu. It is a linguistic term and simply means “people” in most of the languages
spoken by the members of these ethnic groups. There is no Bantu race.
Let's take Kiswahili or Swahili, the most widely spoken African language – in terms of the numbers
of countries which use it – as an example. In Kiswahili, mtu means person, and watu means people or persons.
And in Kinyakyusa or Nyakyusa, a language spoken by more than one million
people who constitute one of the largest ethnic groups in Tanzania (there are also hundreds of thousands of Nyakyusa people
in Malawi who are also called Ngonde or Bangonde), mundu means person, and abandu or bandu means people; a term very close to Bantu. Terms similar to that are found in other Bantu languages.
And there are many other similarities. The terms lenja ifile which gained notoriety in May 2008 when they were uttered by some black South Africans who burned two Mozambicans
alive – one miraculously survived while the other one died - immediately come to mind as one of those examples.
The Zulu and other black South Africans say lenja ifile, meaning the dog is dead.
The Nyakyusa of Tanzania and Malawi, in the Nyakyusa language which I spoke
in Tanzania for many years as I did Swahili, would say imbwa
jifwile, which means
the same thing as lenja ifile: the dog is dead. In Swahili, the same expression is
slightly different, mbwa amekufa, the dog is dead.
Thus you have a language in East Africa, Nyakyusa, which has striking similarities to a language or languages
spoken by black South Africans. And so do many others, and vice versa.
There are many other similarities. For example, the Zulu say amandhla, which means power. The Nyakyusa say amaka, which also means power. The emphasis in Nyakyusa,
as in Zulu, is on the second syllable.
The Zulu, the Ndebele and the Xhosa also say amanza, meaning water. The Nyakyusa say amisi – emphasis on the second syllable - which means
water in Nyakyusa language.
Another example: the Zulu say ngiphuma,
meaning “I'm from”; the Nyakyusa say ngufuma, which also means, “I'm from.”
And the language of the Nyakyusa people is called ikiNyakyusa. That's what the Nyakyusa call their language, while the Zulu call theirs isiZulu, the Ndebele call their language isiNdebele, the Xhosa call theirs isiXhosa as do other black South Africans who also use the prefix isi-
in their tribal languages.
And what are the people themselves called in their own languages?
The Nyakyusa are known as abaNyakyusa
or simply baNyakyusa depending on the context in which either of those terms
is used. Now look at the similarities.
The Zulu are amaZulu, the Xhosa are amaXhosa,
not very different from abaNyakyusa.
And in Nyakyusa language, the Zulu are abaZulu, the Xhosa are abaXhosa, the Ndebele – abaNdebele, and the Swazi – abaSwasi, to give only a few examples.
There's no letter “z” in Nyakyusa language; it's replaced by
“s.” Also in Nyakyusa language, there's no letter “q.” And “r” is replaced by the letter
“l,” “v” is replaced by “f,” and “w” by “b” and other letters
in different contexts. For example, watu wengi is Swahili meaning “many people.” And wimbo, which means “song” in Swahili, is lwimbo
in Nyakyusa. But the
plural term, nyimbo, which means “songs,” is the same in both
languages. In Swahili “songs” is nyimbo, and in Nyakyusa “songs” is also nyimbo.
Also, among the Nyakyusa, the word for father is tata. In Southern Sotho, a language spoken by millions of people in South Africa and which is also the most widely
spoken language in the country of Lesotho, the word for father is ntate; very little difference between the two – tata and ntate.
The Nyakyusa also say batata,
a plural term, which means parents or ancestors depending on the context in which the term is used and exclusively for males.
For example, batata bitu in Nyakyusa means “our parents” (male parents)
or “our ancestors” (male ancestors); batata
bosa means “all
our parents or ancestors,” while abasukulu means “grandparents,” male and female.
bitu means “our
grandparents” in Nyakyusa.
Mother is juba
in Nyakyusa, and bajuba is the plural term meaning “mothers,” while bajuba bitu means
gwangu means “my
wife” and ndume gwangu means “my husband” in Nyakyusa. Abakasi bitu or bakasi bitu means “our wives,” and abalume bitu or balume bitu means “our husbands.” And abana bitu or bana bitu means “our children,” while mwana gwangu means
bangu or bana bangu means “my children.”
gwangu means “my
uncle” and abipwa bitu means “our uncles” in Nyakyusa.
Also in Kinyakyusa, abakamu bitu means
“our relatives,” and abakamu bangu means “my relatives.”
jangu means “my
name is...” in Nyakyusa, not very much different from Xhosa and Zulu.
The Xhosa and the Zulu say, igama lam ngu -
“my name is....”
Ingamu jako gwe jwani? means “what's your name?” in Nyakyusa. In Xhosa, it's Ungubani Igama lakho? And in Zulu it's Igama lakho ngubani? Meaning the same thing, “what's your name?”
injila means “show
me the way” in Nyakyusa. In Xhosa, it's Ungandikhombisa
in Nyakyusa, it's indlela in Xhosa. Very little difference between the two terms.
Even the other two terms, nangisya and
Ungandikhombisa, both of which mean “show me” in Nyakyusa
and Xhosa, respectively, sound similar.
In Nyakyusa, ilopa
And ilopa lyangu means “my blood.” But it means more than
just the blood that flows in your veins – it also means “my relative” or “my relatives”; for
example, when the Nyakyusa say bosa aba ba ilopa
lyangu, which means “all of these are of my blood.”
bitu, or bandu bitu, depending on the context in which abandu or bandu is used, means “our people” in Nyakyusa language.
Abatitu means “blacks” in Nyakyusa, while twe batitu means “we blacks.” Tuli
batitu means “we
in Nyakyusa, and umwe means “you” in plural form. It can also
be used in this context: Uswe twe baNyakyusa, a complete sentence meaning “We Nyakyusa.”
mwe baXhosa means “you
Xhosa” in Nyakyusa language.
- for example when the Nyakyusa say abandu abo – means “those people,” and abandu aba means “these people.”
aba or aba abaSulu means “these Zulu.”
abo or abo abaNdebele means “those Ndebele” in Nyakyusa.
There are more than one million Nyakyusa in Tanzania alone and they are one of the largest ethnic groups
or tribes out of 126 in the whole country.
And although there are a lot of similarities between Swahili and other African languages, from which
Swahili itself evolved adding Arabic and other foreign words to it, there are still some differences.
For example, “road” in Kiswahili is barabara. In Nyakyusa, or Kinyakyusa, the word for “road” is nsebo,
and for “roads” is misebo.
In Swahili, the plural form is the same – barabara, meaning “roads” just as it means “road.”
in Swahili or Kiswahili. In Nyakyusa or Kinyakyusa, food is findu
in Swahili; it also means “pillow.” In Nyakyusa language, a river is called lwisi or ulwisi.
or filombe means “maize” in Nyakyusa. In Swahili, “maize”is mahindi.
in Swahili. In Nyakyusa, “flour” is ubufu or bufu.
Indima or ndima means
“beans” in Nyakyusa. In Swahili, “beans” is maharagwe.
The word for “lion” in Swahili is simba; in Nyakyusa it's ingalamu or ngalamu.
in Swahili. In Nyakyusa, “crocodile” is ngwina
Swahili for elephant is tembo;
Nyakyusa – sofu or isofu.
Swahili for “python” - chatu; Nyakyusa – sota or isota.
But there are some similarities also. Another word for “elephant”
in Swahili is ndovu, clearly derived from Bantu languages and close to
the Nyakyusa word sofu for “elephant” but even much closer to
those of other Bantu languages.
For example, the Zulu say ndlovu,
meaning “elephant”; the Venda of South Africa and southern Zimbabwe say ndou,
also meaning “elephant.”
The Venda also say thoho ya ndou,
meaning “head of an elephant.” In Swahili it's kichwa
cha ndovu, and in Nyakyusa,
untwa gwa sofu.
In Bemba, spoken in Zambia, mutwe ulekalipa means “my head is painful” or “I have a headache.” The term mutwe for “head” is close to the Nyakyusa term untwa
or ntwa and to the Swahili term kichwa all of which mean “head.”
The word for “drum” in Venda is ngoma. Also in Swahili, ngoma means “drum” or “drums”.
The Nyakyusa have a completely different word for that. Ndingala, or indingala means “drum.” Either one can also be used to mean “drums” in Nyakyusa
depending on the context in which the term is used.
In Nyakyusa, or ikiNyakyusa as the Nyakyusa call their language, abalindwana means “girls.” In Swahili, the word for “girls” is wasichana, which is completely different from the Nyakyusa word abalindwana for “girls.”
gwako means “your
sister” in Kinyakyusa or Nyakyusa. In Kiswahili or Swahili, dada
yako means “your
in Nyakyusa. In Swahili, “wife” is mke.
gwangu or unkasi gwangu, depending on the context, means “my wife” in Nyakyusa. In Swahili, “my wife” is mke wangu.
and miguu means “legs” in Swahili. In Nyakyusa, the word for “leg”
is kilundi, and for “legs” - filundi.
wangu means “my
leg”and miguu yangu means “my legs” in Swahili. In Nyakyusa
language, “my leg” is kilundi kyangu or ikilundi kyangu, and ifilundi fyangu means “my legs.”
jangu or umojo gwangu means “my heart” in Nyakyusa. In Kiswahili, moyo wangu means
yetu means “our
country” or “our land” in Swahili. The Nyakyusa say ikisu kyitu,
meaning “our land.”
nyumbani kwetu in Kiswahili,
or Swahili, means “we are going to our home,” and tunakwenda
nyumbani means “we
are going home.”
The Nyakyusa say tusumwike
kukaja kwitu, meaning
“we are going to our home”; and tusumwike
kukaja means “we
are going home.”
nyumbani means “let's
go home” in Kiswahili or Swahili. In Kinyakyusa, or Nyakyusa, tubuke kukaja means
“let's go home.”
kugu? It means “where
do you come from?” in Kinyakyusa. In Kiswahili, it's unatoka
Tunsyilile umwipwa gwitu means “we have buried our uncle” in Kinyakyusa. In Kiswahili, they say, tumemzika mjomba wetu. Meaning the same thing.
“morning” in Kiswahili. In Kinyakyusa, lubunju
or ulubunju means “morning.”
pastor, or preacher” in Nyakyusa, while in Swahili, mchungaji
means the same thing.
means “let's pray”
or “we should pray” in Kiswahili. In Kinyakyusa, twipute
means “let's pray”
or “we should pray.”
gwitu means Our Creator
(God) in Kinyakyusa. And Kyala also means “God” in Nyakyusa. In Swahili,
Mungu means “God.”
The word for “bird” or “birds” in Kiswahili is ndege – the same term is applied to aeroplanes. In Nyakyusa, “a bird” is called injuni or njuni depending on the context; the same term is also used in plural form. So njuni or injuni also means “birds” in Nyakyusa.
The term njuni
also brings up interesting
comparisons in a linguistic context.
The Nyakyusa who are indigenous to southwestern Tanzania close to the border
with Malawi call birds, njuni or injuni.
They have lived in what are now called Rungwe and Kyela districts in the Great Rift Valley for at least 500 years.
The Haya in northwestern Tanzania near the border with Uganda, hundreds
of miles away from the Nyakyusa, also call birds, njuni.
The Kamba, even further away in eastern Kenya, also call birds, njuni.
And there are probably others who also use the term njuni for birds.
All their languages belong to the Bantu linguistic group.
or indalama means “money” in Nyakyusa, while the Swahili terms for “money” is fedha. The Nyakyusa also call “money,” kyuma.
But the exact term for money in Nyakyusa is ndalama or indalama depending on the context in which the word is used,
while kyuma really means “metal” or “steel.” But it is also
used figuratively, meaning “money.”
The Nyakyusa term, kyuma, is almost identical to the Swahili word, chuma, which also means “metal.”
or imbulukutu means “ear” or “ears” in Kinyakyusa, or Nyakyusa. In Swahili, sikio means “ear,” and masikio
gwangu means “my
elder brother” in Nyakyusa. In Swahili, it's kaka
fiijo in Nyakyusa means
“thank you very much.” In Swahili, asante
sana means “thank
you very much.”
So, there are some differences in Bantu languages or languages of Bantu origin.
Yet similarities abound. For example, in Kiswahili, njia means “way” or “path,” as opposed to “road.” In Kinyakyusa, it's njila.
Swahili for “chicken” is kuku;
Nyakyusa – nguku.
in Swahili and Nyakyusa and in many other Bantu languages including Xhosa. The Nyakyusa also say inyama, meaning “meat,” depending on the context in which the term is used.
Among the Nyakyusa, imbututu
is a kind of very large black bird with red beaks which exists in real life and which I saw many times when I lived in Nyakyusaland;
while among the Xhosa, impundudu is a mystical, huge lightning bird that is an integral
part of their traditional beliefs.
in Swahili, while in Nyakyusa it's called fula.
In Sotho, also known as Southern Sotho spoken in Lesotho and South Africa
especially in the Free State Province, the word for “crocodile” is koena.
In Nyakyusa language, “crocodile” is ngwina. The two terms, koena and
ngwina, sound pretty close.
Those are just some examples. There are many others in many other African languages as well.
All those terms cited here, in Nyakyusa and Swahili, have their counterparts with almost the same spelling
and the same meaning in many other Bantu languages which differ from Most West African languages – such as Igbo, Yoruba,
Ewe, Wolof, and Twi - in many respects although they all belong to the Niger-Congo family.
Then there's the concept or philosophy of ubuntu as it is known in South Africa, a black African term.
is a belief or philosophy
whose essence is the virtue of being humane. As South African writer Jordan Ngubane states in his book An African Explains Apartheid:
“Life in these (Sutu-nguni) had been dominated by a religious system that regarded each individual
personality as sacred.
Way back in infinity, long before there was the sun or the moon or the stars or the earth, there was
Mvelinqangi, the First-to-appear, who was neither matter nor visible. He could not be seen by the naked eye because the subtle
substance that constituted his body stretched from infinity to infinity.
He was eternal and creative; he was the ultimate reality from which all things were to derive their being.
He willed that there should be the sun and other planets; that there should be man, animals. Birds, stones,
and trees. All were manifestations of his infinite form. Inside his being was an infinity of specialized forms making up a
part of the whole. These were the spirits of living things, some of which had human forms. When they were clothed in flesh,
they became the human beings who inhabited the earth....
Each human being was made up of three elements – the Mvelinqangi essence, the spirit form, and
the physical body. The human always had a dual existence. When he lived, it was in the siritual and physical worlds. At death,
he did not 'die'; he merely discarded the physical body and returned to his ancestors, the spirit forms....
As a future spirit form or idlozi, the individual personality had a sacredness that was absolute and
immutable. He was the individualized essence of Mvelinqangi. The concept of equality in the African community was based on
this evaluation of the human personality....
From such an evaluation (of man as an individualized essence of Mvelinqangi) sprang an important ethical
code, which prescribed that the good life was the one in which individuality was treated with reverence and consideration.
The most heinous crime in the Zulu state, for example, was witchcraft, not murder. Zulu law took the attitude that in murder
the criminal merely separated body and soul; in witchcraft, the miscreant interfered with the most sacred ingredient in the
Supreme virtue lay in being humane, in accepting the human being as a part of yourself, with a right
to be denied nothing that you possessed. It was inhuman to drive the hungry stranger from your door, for your neighbor's sorrow
This code constituted a philosophy of life, and the great Sutu-nguni family
– Bantu has political connotations that the Africans resent – called it, significantly, ubuntu or botho (pronounced butu),
the practice of being humane.
The harshest judgment that the humblest African in the Sutu-nguni community can make of his neighbor
is to say that he is not humane. The nearest equivalent to this value judgment in the West is to say a person is not civilized
or morally developed.
This philosophy gave content to life in the Sutu-nguni states before the advent of the white man.
Defeat (by the white man) shattered the political and social institutions that gave visible expression
to this attitude. Disaster could not, however, penetrate so deeply into the African's being as to destroy those things he
prized most – the perspectives from which he viewed life and which gave it meaning.
These remained deep in his self, giving him spiritual sustenance in moments
of trial. He has always clung to them with a determination that nothing seems capable of cracking.” - (Jordan Ngubane,
An African Explains Apartheid, quoted by Godfrey Mwakikagile, Africa and The West, Huntington, New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc., 2000, pp. 20 21; 21 – 22, from
Jordan Ngubane, An African Explains Apartheid, New York: Pall Mall, 1963, pp. 75 – 76; 76 –
The Nyakyusa and other Africans have the same belief, what black South Africans
call ubuntu, but use different terms to define it. Yet there are striking similarities
in the terms used among many of them.
While black South Africans say ubuntu,
the Nyakyusa say ubundu, sometimes simply bundu depending on the context; hardly any difference even in linguistic terms between what black South Africans
call ubuntu and what the Nyakyusa of Tanzania and Malawi call ubundu or bundu.
In Kiswahili, or Swahili, it is called utu.
All those linguistic and philosophical similarities clearly point to a common origin of these people
and their languages as members of the Niger-Congo family who migrated from what is today eastern Nigeria and Cameroon about
2000 years ago and spread throughout East, Central and Southern Africa.
There are still more similarities. For example, according to studies done by British anthropologists
Godfrey Wilson and Monica Wilson, who were husband and wife, the Venda of South Africa and the Nyakyusa of Tanzania and Malawi
also have many strong cultural similarities.
Godfrey Wilson's study, “The Nyakyusa of South-Western Tanganyika,”
is contained in a book, Seven Tribes of Central
Africa, published in
And some of the best anthropological studies ever conducted in the field
were done by Monica Wilson on the Nyakyusa and published as books, Good
Company: A Study of Nyakyusa Age-Villages, and Rituals of Kinship Among the
Nyakyusa, among other
works by her on the Nyakyusa and other tribes in the region.
The Venda are also related to the Lemba of South Africa and Zimbabwe who, according to genetic (DNA)
evidence, are also partly Jewish, tracing part of their heritage to Yemen more than 2,000 years ago.
But in spite of being partly Jewish, the Lemba are predominantly of Bantu stock, and their language is
related to other Bantu languages in East, Central and Southern Africa.
The Lemba became part of the Venda community long after the Venda had settled
in the region. They believe that they are Black Jews and descendants of the lost tribe of Israel.
They usually keep to themselves and only marry within their own group.
They also sometimes refer
to themselves as Vhalungu, which means “non-Negroid” or “respected foreigner.” But this is
just a form of inferiority complex on their part, ashamed of what they are as a black African people. Although they have some
Jewish genes, they are mostly black African of “Negro” stock or origin some of them despise so much.
And there area lot of
things all these communities have in common as an African people.
In fact many of these ethnic groups – or tribes – use identical terms in many cases to identify
the same objects and natural phenomena.
It is from such linguistic similarities that the term Bantu is derived to identify the people who speak
these related languages. And the term Bantu – or any other term similar to that – simply means “people”;
except that in this case the term Bantu means “these particular people”and not just any other people.
term Bantu – as a collective term used to identify the people mostly in East, Central and Southern Africa who speak
related languages – was coined in the 1850s by W.H.I. Bleek, a librarian of the British government of the Cape Colony
and has been used since then, although it had derogatory connotations during the apartheid era.
because of its racist connotations in the past, most blacks in South Africa don't accept the term when it's used to identify
them as a people or as individuals who are members of the Bantu family of ethnic groups. In fact, in the minds of most black
South Africans, it's still a pejorative term even today.
it is widely used in other parts of Africa - East and Central - without any problems to identify Bantu speakers. However,
it must be emphasised that there is no Bantu race. “Bantu” is, simply, a linguistic term more than anything else.
Bantu linguistic group has more than 200 languages belonging to the Niger-Congo family. They include Kiswahili (Swahili),
Zulu and Xhosa; the latter two being the most prominent black African languages spoken in South Africa by the country's two
largest black ethnic groups.
Bantu were agriculturalists and they developed their own complex community organisations which came into collision with European
cultures when Europeans settled in South Africa and other parts of the continent. And South Africa became the scene of some
of the bloodiest conflicts between Africans and Europeans.
Bartolomeau Dias became the first European to round the Cape of Good Hope (originally named the Cape of Storms), other navigators
and explorers followed, including Vasco da Gama. What they found, saw and recorded was highly significant in terms of history
and clash of civilisations between Africa and the West.
were some people who years later claimed there were no Africans when the first European settlers arrived in South Africa.
The presence of the San and the Khoikhoi proved them wrong. So did the presence of the Bantu who preceded whites in other
parts of South Africa.
The diaries of shipwrecked Portuguese sailors attest to a large Bantu-speaking
population in present-day KwaZulu-Natal by 1552. There is no question
that Africans had settled there long before Europeans arrived in that part of South Africa, despite claims to the contrary
by those who want to re-write history.
Portuguese frequently passed by South Africa on their way to East Africa – mainly to what is Mozambique today, and sometimes
to what became Tanzania and Kenya – and India. They even stopped for some rest and to pick up some food and other provisions
for the long sea journeys. But no permanent European settlement was established anywhere in South Africa until 1652 when Jan
van Riebeeck and about 90 other persons set up a provisioning station for the Dutch East India Company at Table Bay on the
Cape of Good Hope.
was a milestone in the history of South Africa and the beginning of a new era of European colonisation of this part of the
thereafter, Jan van Riebeeck began to trade with the indigenous people in the area, the Khoikhoi. He also acquired large areas
of fertile land and gave it to European settlers for farms. He also brought in Africans from West and East Africa as well
as Malays from Malaysia and used them as slaves working for white settlers. The indigenous people, the Khoikhoi and the San,
were also enslaved.
1662, there were about 250 Europeans living near the Cape. They gradually moved inland and founded Stellenbosch in 1679.
1689, about 200 Huguenot refugees arrived from Europe. They were mostly French Huguenots and they went on to establish a thriving
wine industry in the region. They also intermarried with the Dutch settlers who had arrived earlier.
1707 there were about 1,780 freeholders of European descent in South Africa, and they owned about 1,100 slaves, mostly African.
foundation for the establishment of a white-dominated society had been laid, and it had a devastating impact on African communities
for the next 300 years.
the early part of the 1700s, most of the San had migrated to other parts of the country. They fled from European domination
and chose inaccessible regions for sanctuary to make sure that Europeans would not follow them. The other group of Africans
indigenous to that part of South Africa also adopted survival techniques. They far outnumbered the San. Some of them chose
to remain near the Cape, while others dispersed into the interior.
the different groups were adjusting or re-adjusting themselves, with some of them staking out new claims of territory, tragedy
struck. A great smallpox outbreak in 1713 killed many European settlers and most of the Khoikhoi who lived near the Cape.
the same period, a new society was evolving around the Cape, involving racial intermarriage.
the 1700s, intermarriage between Khoikhoi slaves and European settlers began to create what came to be known as the Coloured
population. At the same time, white farmers – known as Boers or Afrikaners – began to trek (journey) increasingly
farther from the Cape in search of pasture and farmland.
was another important milestone in the history of South Africa and came to be known as the Boer trek. It had profound impact
on the evolution of the South African society or of South Africa as a country and as a nation and played a critical role in
determining the nature of race relations for generations.
1750, some white farmers had migrated to the region between the Gamtoos and Great Fish rivers, where they encountered the
Xhosa, the second-largest ethnic group after the Zulu to whom they are also closely related. It was another turning point
in South African history.
first the encounters were friendly. Whites and blacks engaged in commerce, exchanging goods, and sometimes goods from Europeans
for labour from Africans. But in 1789, the first of a long series of Xhosa Wars broke out between them. The conflicts were
mostly over land and catle ownership. White settlers wanted to establish the Great Fish River as the southern frontier of
the Xhosa nation. The Xhosa refused to accept that. They knew their land more than Europeans did. And the stage was set for
was the beginning of almost 100 years of war between Europeans and the Xhosa in one of the longest campaigns of resistance
against European domination by Africans. The wars were fought in 1789, 1799, 1812, 1819, 1834, 1846, 1850, and 1877.
The late Jordan Ngubane, a South African journalist and author, in his book An African Explains Apartheid, is one of the people who have written eloquently about African resistance to white domination in South Africa.
And he wrote with pride about the Xhosa and the way they resisted white domination during the 100 years of war in their native
land and the land of their ancestors. It was a campaign, among several others, whose memory Africans invoked through the years
during their struggle against apartheid.
While white settlers were waging military campaigns against Africans, they also had their own conflicts
within. It was a house divided. The conflict was between the British and the Boers.
During the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, the British replaced the Dutch at the Cape as the
dominant force from 1795 to 1803, and again from 1806 to 1814, when the territory was assigned to Great Britain by the Congress
In 1820, 5,000 British settlers were given small farms near the Great Fish River. The farms were intended
to form a buffer zone and a barrier to the southern movement of the Xhosa, but most of the British settlers soon gave up farming
and moved to nearby towns such as Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown. Their arrival and settlement in South Africa was another
important milestone in the history of the country.
They were the first large group of European settlers not to be assimilated
into the Afrikaner culture that evolved in the 17th and 18th centuries and they changed the demographic configuration
of the white settler community. It was, before then, a homogeneous or monolithic whole. But with their arrival, it now became
two communities of whites in what was gradually becoming a new nation dominated by whites, although predominantly black.
There was also a conflict of perceptions and realities between the two groups. The Afrikaner or Boer
community – or one dominated by them – was very conservative and opposed to any kind of improvement in the lives
of Africans and Coloureds, although even back then Coloureds were given preferential treatment over blacks who were considered
to be the most inferior.
The British, on the other hand, were not opposed to that, although they also, like the Boers, did not
believe that blacks and Coloureds were entitled to racial equality across the spectrum.
But they alienated the Boers by restructuring the administration of the Cape Colony along British lines,
by calling for better treatment of the Coloureds and blacks who worked for the Boers as servants or slaves, by granting free
nonwhites legal rights equal to those of the whites, and by restricting the acquisition of new land by Boers who robbed blacks
of their right to land ownership they had always enjoyed before Europeans came.
And in 1833, the British further infuriated the Boers when they abolished slavery throughout the British
Empire, including the Cape Colony.
A disproportionately large number of slave owners were Boers – or Afrikaners – but other
whites also owned a significant number of slaves who were mostly African. Although the emancipation of slaves angered South
African slave owners, they were consoled by the fact that the freed slaves remained oppressed and continued to be exploited
by white land owners.
The transfer of power from the Dutch to the British in the Cape Colony, and the restrictions the British
rulers imposed on the Dutch community, led to another development which became critical to the future of the country.
To escape British domination and the restrictions imposed on them by the British rulers, about 12,000
Boers left the Cape Colony between 1835 and 1843 in what came to be known as the Great Trek.
The Voortrekkers, as the Boer trekkers are called in Afrikaans (the language of Afrikaners), migrated
beyond the Orange River. Some remained in the highveld of the interior, forming isolated communities and small states highly
defensive of the Afrikaner way of life. And a large group travelled eastwards into what became Natal.
In February 1838, 70 Boers were killed in Natal by Zulu forces led by Dingane. In December the same year,
Andries Pretorius (after whom the capital Pretoria was named) defeated the Zulu in one of the bloodiest conflicts in South
African history, the Battle of the Blood River, during which the water of the river turned red with blood from the Zulus killed
during the conflict. And the Boers proceeded to establish farms in Natal.
But fortunes changed again. Britain annexed Natal in 1843, depriving the Boers one of their most prized
possessions. After the annexation, most of the Boers left Natal and returned to the interior. Natal gradually became a British
stronghold and the most British province in South Africa.
The Boers were undeterred, in spite of the defeat and humiliation they had suffered at the hands of the
British, and in the 1850s went on to establish the Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. This was nother
critical development in the history of South Africa.
Yet another important milestone was the arrival of the first indentured labourers in the country. They
came from India and arrived in Natal in 1860 to work on the sugar plantations. The coming of the Indians would later have
a dramatic impact on the country and forever change the face of South Africa.
The Indians changed the demographic composition of the country and became the largest non-black ethnic
group in Natal. By 1900, they outnumbered whites in that province. Even today, Natal has the largest Indian population in
The history of South Africa in the early years was also shaped by its abundant resources. Some of the
resources which played a critical role in the transformation of the country were minerals. And they still determine the fate
of South Africa today.
In 1867, diamonds were discovered along the Vaal and Orange rivers. More were discovered in 1871 at what
became Kimberley. And in 1886, gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand.
All these discoveries, especially the discovery of gold, spurred great economic development in South
Africa between 1870 and 1900. Foreign trade increased dramatically, more roads, railways and other infrastructure were built,
and the number of whites sharply rose from 300,000 in 1870 to about 1 million in 1900.
While all this was going on, dramatic changes were also taking place in the political arena. In 1871
the British annexed the rich diamond-mining region of Griqualand West despite protests by the Boers in Orange Free State of
which this region was an integral part. Then in 1877, they also annexed Transvaal. But the Boers revolted and Transvaal regained
its independence in 1881.
In 1889, another important political development took place. The British-ruled Cape Colony and the Boer-dominated
Orange Free State formed a customs union but Transvaal, led by Paul Kruger, adamantly refused to be a part of it.
Then there emerged on the scene a political figure who would have an impact beyond the borders of South
Africa for many years. That was Cecil Rhodes.
His name still conjures up images from the past, and his presence is still felt in many ways even today,
including the land crisis in Zimbabwe, a country that probably would not have existed as it does today, or become what it
did, had it not been for him and his adventures and imperial ambitions which took him into regions far beyond the Cape and
outside South Africa.
Besides his ambition to expand the British empire, Cecil Rhodes was also a staunch advocate of federation
in South Africa. In 1890, he became prime minister of the Cape Colony, a position which enabled him to pursue his goals and
implement policies which also had a profound impact on the future of South Africa.
He was determined to reshape South Africa and, by 1894, he was busy encouraging non-Afrikaner whites
– known as the Uitlanders – in the Transvaal to overthrow Prime Minister Paul Kruger.
In December 1895, Leander Starr Jameson, a close associate of Cecil Rhodes, invaded the Transvaal with
a small force. His intention, which was also Rhodes', was to help the non-Afrikaner whites in the Transvaal in an uprising
against the Boer government of Prime Minister Paul Kruger. But the uprising never took place, and Jameson's small force was
defeated by early January 1896 in only a few weeks.
Tensions increased between the British and the Boers in the following years when the British government
under Prime Minister Joseph Chamberlain and the British high commissioner (ambassador) in South Africa, Alfred Milner, supported
the non-white Afrikaners (the Uitlanders) against the dominant Afrikaners. It was clear the two sides were headed for war.
In 1896, the Boer colonies of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State formed an alliance. And in 1899,
they declared war on Britain.
It was the beginning of one of the bloodiest conflicts in African colonial history. The conflict was
called the South African War but also came to be known as the Boer War. It was fought from 1899 to 1902 and was won by the
It was also the British who were involved in another major conflict, Mau
Mau, years later which was compared to the Boer War. As George Padmore stated in his book, Pan-African or Communism? The Coming Struggle for Africa, published in 1956 when Mau Mau was going on:
What started as an 'emergency' has already become a full-scale military operation – the biggest colonial
war in Africa since the Boer War. - (George Padmore, Pan-Africanism or Communism? (London: Dennis Dobson), p. 254).
Not only was it a major conflict; it changed the course of South African history. The Afrikaners never
forgot their loss and humiliation and it helped fuel Afrikaner nationalism which culminated in the establishment of apartheid
years later, making white-dominated South Africa one of the most racist countries in the history of mankind.
With the British now firmly in control, the transformation of South Africa began in earnest. In 1910,
the Union of South Africa was established. It included the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal
It was a unitary state as stipulated by the constitution. Also under the union constitution, the Dutch
language – and later in 1925 Afrikaans as well – had equal status with English, and each province retained its
existing franchise qualifications. The Cape already allowed some nonwhites to votes but the other provinces did not.
The establishment of the Union of South Africa also underscored one very important point.
White people, in spite of the conflicts they had – especially between the British and the Boers
– submerged their differences to secure their interests and created a white-dominated society in which Africans had
no rights equal to whites. This bond among whites was also an important lesson for blacks. It clearly showed that without
unity among blacks, there was no hope for fundamental change in South Africa and the country would continue to be dominated
Only two years later, in 1912, African leaders from all over the country, and from all walks of life,
met in Bloemfontein to form an organisation which would fight for their rights as one people regardless of their tribal or
ethnic differences. That was the beginning of the African National Congress (ANC) which 80 years later finally ended white
Nelson Mandela, in his book Long walk to Freedom, paid tribute to the founders of the African National Congress who met in Bloemfontein in 1912, and to all
those who went before him, for the sacrifices they made in the struggle for freedom and racial equality which almost 100 years
later enabled him and others to finally walk and live free in the land of their homeland.
The Union of South Africa also led to the evolution of the most advanced country on the African continent.
After elections were held in 1910, Louis Botha, an Afrikaner, became the first prime minister of the
Union of South Africa. He led the South African party which was an amalgam of Afrikaner parties which advocated close cooperation
between Afrikaners and South Africans of British descent. And in 1912, J.B.M. Hertzog founded the Afrikaner-oriented National
Party. It was this party which almost 50 years later instituted apartheid.
Even before the diabolical institution of apartheid, racial discrimination was a way of life in South
Africa, with Africans suffering the most. But it did not have the legal underpinnings across the spectrum apartheid had years
Efforts were made to fight discrimination and one of the most important figures in this struggle on the
South African scene was Mahatma Gandhi. He led a relentless campaign against racial injustices and, as a leader in the Indian
community, he played a major role in helping alleviate the plight of the Indians in South Africa. By 1914, the Indians were
receiving somewhat better treatment than before, and were even accorded rights black people never had and which they only
The year 1914 was also critical in the history of the world. It was the year in which the First World
War started and Prime Minister Louis Botha led South Africa into the war on the side of the Allies. He also quickly suppressed
a revolt by Afrikaners who were opposed to his policy of supporting the Allies.
The following year witnessed the expansion of South Africa as the dominant force in the region and as
a true supporter of the Allied forces against Germany. In 1915, South African forces captured South West Africa, what is Namibia
today, from the Germans. South West Africa was then a German colony.
After the war, the territory was placed under the Union of South Africa as a League of Nations mandate.
It remained under South African control for more than 70 years even after the League of Nations was replaced
by the United Nations (UN) The apartheid regime refused to relinquish control of the territory in spite of the resolutions
passed by the UN terminating its mandate over the former German colony.
In 1919, Louis Botha was succeeded as prime minister by J.C. Smuts, his close associate. It was also
a period of unrest at the mines and consolidation of white rule over blacks and other non-whites. Between 1921 and 1922, skilled
mine workers on the Witwatersrand organised a major strike to protect their jobs. They were worried about losing their jobs
to lower-paid nonwhites. Prime Minister Smuts was determined to end the strike and he used troops to suppress the strikers,
but at a heavy price. At least 230 people were killed.
The violence had great implications for the future of South Africa, leading to the election of J.B.M.
Hertzog as prime minister in 1924. He remained in office until 1939, which was also the beginning of World War II.
But the two leaders – Smuts and Hertzog – were not enemies, although Hertzog replaced Smuts
as prime minister. From 1934 to 1939, Smuts supported Hertzog and the two leaders went on to form the United South African
Prime Minister Hertzog played a major in shaping the destiny of the Afrikaner community in South Africa.
More than anybody else before him, he led an Afrikaner cultural and economic revival which improved the overall well-being
of Afrikaners who felt that they had been pushed to the periphery by the British.
He was also influential in gaining additional British recognition of South African independence –
through the Balfour Declaration of 1926 and the Statute of Westminster of 1931. South Africa became a legal sovereign entity
And in December 1932, he took South Africa off the gold standard, thus raising the price of gold and
stimulating the gold-mining industry and the economy in general.
But Prime Minister Hertzog will also always be remembered for paving the way for apartheid because of
the policies he implemented. He was, in fact, one of the architects of apartheid.
He curtailed and restricted the rights of nonwhites in many areas of life including the right to vote;
he expanded the creation of reserves for blacks as their permanent homes, and he regulated their movement in the remainder
of the country where they were not even considered to be citizens but mere guests and expendable commodity good only for serving
whites by providing them with cheap labour.
But the alliance between Hertzog and Smuts did not last much longer. It fell apart because of their differences
over World War War II. They differed on whether or not to support Britain in the war.
In September 1939, Smuts won a crucial vote in parliament and was back in office as prime minister. He
was already on the British side and with his renewed mandate as prime minister, he brought South Africa into the war supporting
Britain and the Allied forces.
Hertzog, on the other hand, was resolutely opposed to South African involvement in the war in support
of the Allies. He had little affection for Great Britain and was not worried about the Nazis; which was interpreted as sympathy
for Nazi Germany. In fact, South Africa already had many Nazi sympathisers, especially among the Afrikaners. And Hertzog himself
was an Afrikaner and one of the staunchest supporters of Afrikaner causes.
But nothing could be done to stop South Africa from going to war, and South African troops played a very
important role in the conflict. They fought with distinction in Italy and Madagascar, and helped to end Italian control of
Ethiopia which was invaded by Musollini in 1936.
South African involvement in the war, which was opposed by many Afrikaners, helped to galvanise the Afrikaner
community. It was yet another reminder of how powerless they were at the hands of the British in South Africa. They also resented
the more liberal policy towards nonwhites pursued by some South Africans of British descent and even by a few Afrikaners such
as Jan Hofmeyr.
Hofmeyr was a close associate of Smuts and he supported policies which would give nonwhites more rights
although not equal to whites. But even that was bad enough in the eyes of most Afrikaners and other whites. And that set the
stage for the 1948 general election whose results would change South Africa as never before.
The Afrikaner-dominated National Party won the election, and D.F. Malan became prime minister. He served
from 1948 to 1954. It was during his tenure that the government instituted apartheid as official policy.
In fact, apartheid also became a religion. Whites were taught and many of
them believed that blacks were inferior to them. Even some ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church preached from the pulpit the separation of the races
and about the inferiority of black people as no more than hewers of wood and drawers of water for whites who had been “ordained”
by God - had the divine mandate - to rule members of “the lesser breed”,
especially black people.
Apartheid became the lasting legacy of the National Party, and the party remained in power until the
early 1990s when apartheid was formally ended.
Dr. Malan was succeeded by J.G. Strijdom who served as prime minister from 1954 to 1958. He was succeeded
by Hendrick Verwoerd whose tenure lasted from 1958 to 1966 when he was assassinated – stabbed to death – by a
discontented white employee whom the authorities later described as deranged man.
Verwoerd was succeeded by John Vorster who served from 1966 to 1978. And “The Great Crocodile,”
P.W. Botha, the last of the “great” architects and enforcers of apartheid, served as prime minister from 1978
to 1989. He was one of the most ruthless leaders apartheid ever produced.
Botha was also responsible for launching military attacks on neighbouring countries which supported the
freedom fighters, whom the apartheid regime called “terrorists.” The military strikes targeted the offices and
training camps of the freedom fighters but also entailed heavy collateral damage. The apartheid regime also deliberately targeted
installations and other infrastructure of the neighbouring countries to stop or discourage them from harbouring the freedom
All that was in pursuit of the apartheid regime's policy of “hot pursuit,”
going after the freedom fighters. And Botha was good at it. In fact, as far back as August 1968, when he was defence minister,
he issued an ominous warning to countries which he said harboured “terrorists.” He said “they should receive a sudden hard knock”
– quoted by Colin Legum and John Drysdale in Africa
Contemporary Record 1968 – 1969 – in pointed reference to Tanzania and Zambia....
Seth, South Africa: The Land, Its People and History