The San (Bushmen) are among the oldest indigenous peoples of South Africa. The pastoral Khoikhoi (called Hottentots by Europeans) settled in the southern coastal region. By the 8th century, Bantu speaking groups developed their own complex community organizations. In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias, a Portuguese navigator, became the first European to round the Cape of Good Hope (so named by King John II of Portugal).
The Dutch East India Company landed the first European settlers on the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 and established a stopover point on the spice route between the Netherlands and the Far East, founding the city of Cape Town. After the British seized the Cape of Good Hope area in 1806, many of the Dutch settlers (the Boers) trekked north to found their own republics.
The discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1886 brought an influx of "outlanders" into the republics and spurred Cape Colony prime minister Cecil Rhodes to plot annexation. Rhodes's scheme of sparking an "outlander" rebellion, to which an armed party under Leander Starr Jameson would ride to the rescue, misfired in 1895, forcing Rhodes to resign. War with the Boers broke out on October 11, 1899. The defeat of the Boers in 1902 led to the Union of South Africa in 1910. Louis Botha became the first prime minister.
Jan Christiaan Smuts brought the nation into World War II on the Allied side and South Africa became a charter member of the United Nations in 1945, but he refused to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Apartheid - racial separation - dominated domestic politics as the Nationalists gained power and imposed greater restrictions on Bantus (black Africans), Asians, and Coloreds (in South Africa the term meant any non-white person). Black voters were removed from voter rolls in 1936. The non-white population was forced out of designated white areas. The Group Areas Acts of 1950 and 1986 forced about 1.5 million Africans to move from cities to rural townships, where they lived in abject poverty under repressive laws.
South Africa declared itself a republic in 1961 and severed its ties with the Commonwealth, which strongly objected to the country's racist policies. The white supremacist National Party continued to rule for the next three decades.
In 1960, 70 black protesters were killed during a peaceful demonstration in Sharpesville. The African National Congress (ANC), an anti-apartheid organization, was banned. In 1964, ANC leader, Nelson Mandela, was sentenced to life imprisonment. Black protests against apartheid grew stronger and more violent. In 1976, an uprising in the black township of Soweto spread to other black townships and left 600 dead.
In 1989, F. W. de Klerk replaced P. W. Botha as president. De Klerk removed the ban on the ANC and released Nelson Mandela after 27 years of imprisonment. The Inkatha Freedom Party, a black opposition group led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, which was seen as collaborating with the apartheid system, frequently clashed with the ANC.
In 1991, a multi-racial forum led by de Klerk and Mandela, the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), began working on a new constitution. In 1993, an interim constitution was passed, which dismantled apartheid and provided for a multi-racial democracy with majority rule. Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
The 1994 election, the country's first multi-racial one, resulted in a massive victory for Mandela and the ANC. The new government included six ministers from the National Party and three from the Inkatha Freedom Party. A national constitution was approved and adopted in May 1996.
Nelson Mandela retired in 1999. On June 2, 1999, Thabo Mbeki, the deputy president and leader of the ANC, was elected president in a landslide.
Mbeki wrestled with a slumping economy and skyrocketing crime rate. South Africa has the highest number of HIV-positive people in the world. Mbeki held controversial views. He denied the link between HIV and AIDS, and claimed that the West exaggerated the epidemic to boost drug profits.
On April 15, 2004, the African National Congress won South Africa's general election in a landslide and Thabo Mbeki was sworn in for a second term.
Mbeki dismissed Deputy President Jacob Zuma in June 2005 after Zuma's financial adviser was convicted of paying the deputy president bribes. The ANC refused to remove Zuma from his deputy party leadership post, even after he was arraigned on corruption charges.
In December 2005, Zuma was charged with rape and suspended his participation in the ANC leadership for the duration of that case. After his acquittal on the rape charge in May 2006, he resumed ANC duties. The corruption case was dismissed in September 2006 for procedural reasons.
In December 2007, African National Committee delegates chose Jacob Zuma as their leader, ousting Mbeki. In late December, prosecutors re-opened corruption charges against Zuma and ordered him to face trial for various counts of racketeering, money laundering, corruption, and fraud. He was accused of accepting more than $440,000 in bribes in exchange for helping Schabir Shaik secure $5 billion in an arms deal and other government contracts. Zuma's lawyers accused Mbeki of trying to sabotage Zuma's political career. A High Court judge dismissed the corruption charges against Zuma in September 2008, saying the government mishandled the prosecution.
Under pressure from leaders the African National Congress (ANC), Mbeki announced he would step down just days after Zuma was cleared. On September 25, 2008, Parliament elected Kgalema Motlanthe, a labor leader who was imprisoned during apartheid, as president.
Motlanthe acted to move beyond Mbeki's resistance to using modern methods, such as antirretroviral medicines, to tackle its AIDS crisis by replacing South Africa's health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who has suggested that garlic, lemon juice, and beetroot could cure AIDS, with Barbara Hogan. More than 5.7 million South Africans are HIV-positive.
In November 2008, about 6,400 dissident members of the ANC held a convention in Johannesburg and decided to form a new party. The delegates, many of whom supported former president Mbeki, expressed dissatisfaction with the leadership of the party, calling it corrupt, authoritarian, and "rotting." In December, the new party, the Congress of the People (COPE), selected former defense minister Mosiuoa Lekota as its president.
South African's Supreme Court reinstated corruption charges against Zuma in January 2009, saying that a lower court had "overstepped" its authority in dismissing the charges. The country's prosecuting authority dropped all charges against Zuma in April, citing "intolerable abuse" by investigators who were loyal to former president Mbeki.
In April's general election, the African National Congress, won 65.9% of the vote, just shy of a two-thirds majority, which is required to change the constitution. Parliament elected Zuma president in May 2009.
In 2010, South Africa became the first African nation to ever host FIFA's World Cup.
In December 2012, Zuma was re-elected as leader of the ANC.
Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius was arrested in February 2013 and charged with the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. She was found dead in his apartment. Pistorius said the shooting was accidental.
On December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela died at age 95. South Africans and people all over the world mourned his death and celebrated his life.
In May 2014 elections, the ANC took 62.2% of the vote, handing Jacob Zuma a second term as president.
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