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Africa and South Africa: History

 South Africa Nations

 History: Background / South Africa




National Flower: Giant or King Protea      (image source)        National Animal: Springbuck/Springbok



 History: Background / South Africa

1. Slavery

15th - 19th century: Waystations on the the African coasts and slavery

Motivation 1: middle station to Asia -- The Arabs were blocking access to Asia.  The Europeans (Portuguese in the vanguard), began to explore Africa's coastline and to establish bases. 

1482 -- the first trading post at Elmina 
1498 -- Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and sailed to India. (Asbury et al, p. 11)

Motivation 2: slavery -- The development of sugar plantation in the Caribbean and Americas leads to the need for )labour.   (See Slavery & The Middle Passage.)

1. enabled Europeans to industrialize at the expense of Africa;   
2. disrupted African families and communities; 
3. increased violence of some African elites and states against the other states; 
4. African labour strained.  
5. the beginning of African diaspora.  (Asbury et al, p. 12)

2. Colonialism -- 19th century to the end of World War II: Commercial possibilities --> "Scramble for Africa" 1880s - 1910  

Motivation 1: For European industrialists, the growing need was for raw materials and markets.  Their exploration was made easier by the advance of medicine, weaponry and steam engines.  (Asbury et al, p. 13)

Ways of Exploration--
1. popularity of adventure stories (e.g. Solomon's Treasure by David Livingston)
2. missionary
3. commerce --> production for exportation

Motivation 2: Need to exert more control -- Capitalism leads to intense political struggle and competition.   . . . each nation's businessmen, soldiers, adventurers, missionaries feared that their growing purchase on Africa could be stopped in its tracks or even reversed by rivals.  (Asbury et al, p. 14)

colonial control (Scramble for Africa)--
1. Land occupation -- Berlin Conference in 1884 --agreement to divide up Africa among European nations such as Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Belgium.
2. exploitation of labour power --> direct production away from the growing of food
3. economic 'thumbscrews' -- Africans were taxed, and failure to pay the tax was a criminal offence (Asbury et al, p. 15)
4. cultural imposition -- "the civilize" the colonized

Effects: (Besides those mentioned above)
1. 'tribalism': colonial borders split some ethnic groups into two, while bringing into the same political unit previous relationships or, worse, hostile to each other. 
2. position of women:
1) the burden of food production and child care increasingly fell on women
2) their position lowered in commerce and local crafts (e.g. textiles)
3) seen as inferior, not offered education or employment (Asbury et al, p. 14)

3. Different Kinds of Colonization

1. invasion and settlement
2. The British -- 'indirect rule,' using any traditional elitocal elites like local chiefs they could find, or create, as intermediaries.  . . . As long as they did not act as foci of resistance, or offend Victorian sensibilities, traditional cultures were tolerated. 
    The French --more interventionist and culturally committee.  . .  .creating local elites who would serve them and, in the process, become Frenchmen in language and cultural outlook, though never quite equal to whites.  
   The Belgians and Portuguese were the most authoritarian of colonialists.  

4. The End of Colonialism

1. resentment against economic exploitation;
2. reception of and resentment against third-rate education; --> Africans began to turns ideals that colonialists espoused--of national independence, democracy and human rights--against colonialism.
3. social changes, e.g. the forming of trade unions.
4. Pan-Africanism;
5. World War II: Africans helped fight the war for democracy, but the Europeans planned to keep colonial rule after the War.   (Asbury et al, p. 18-19)



South Africa: History of Racial Conflicts

Time Line: 
  • mid-17th century -- the Dutch East India Company set up a provisioning station on the Cape
  • By the end of the 18th century--over 10,000 whites were living there, expelling indigenous peoples like the Khoihoi and San. 
  • 1795 -- The British seized Cape Town, and the Afrikaaners began the 'Great Trek' to find new bases.  
  • 1867 -- diamonds were discovered.
  • 1886 -- gold was discovered.  
  • 1899-1902  Anglo-Boer war
  • 1910, the four colonies were joined together under the Act of the Union, and the British handed the administration of the country over to the White locals.
  • 1913/14 -- The Mines and Works Act and the Land act: a 'color bar' was legalized and blacks were prohibited from owning land anywhere but in 'native reserves'--7 percent of the whole.
  • apartheid officially began in 1948 

-- e.g. Population Registration Act:  Divided people into three groups (Black, Colored, or White), prohibiting interracial marriages.
-- e.g. Group Areas Act: Restricted the entrance of Blacks into the urban, industrial, and agricultural areas, reserving these areas only for the Whites. 
-- e.g. The Abolition of Passes and Coordination of Documents Act: required all Africans to carry a pass-book
-- e.g. The Bantu Authorities Act: assigned all Africans to their native land

  • 1960/3/21 -- Sharpville Massacre -- The police opened fire at a group demonstrating against pass laws and killed 69 people.  Cause: against carrying pass-books; 
  • the 60's -- banning, censoring and detaining dissidents 

 Sharpville Massacre

  • 1976 -- student riots originated in Soweto  -- 16-month protest saw 575 dead, 2389 injured.  Cause: against imposing Afrikaan on secondary education.  (Before 1974, the policy was to use both English and Afrikaan.  In 1974,
    however, the government decided to impose the use of Afrikaans in at secondary school level.  The students resisted it since the language was seen as that of the oppressor's.
Hector Peterson

"It was a picture that got the world's
attention: A frozen moment in
time that showed 13-year-old
Hector Peterson dying after being
struck down by a policeman's

At his side was his 17-year-old sister. 

"I saw that he was bad, but I thought
that he was just wounded, you
know," remembers Hector's sister
Antoinette Sithole, " because I
couldn't figure out where." (source)

Soweto student protest  

  • 1985-1990 -- state of emergency

  • 1990 -- lifting the ban on ANC and PAC, release of Nelson Mandela, abolition of Apartheid

(another chronology)



1. William Kentridge

"Mine is an art (and politics) in which optimism is kept in check, and nihilism is kept at bay."  (source)
"I have spent all my life in Johannesburg.  School, university, my studio, are all within a three-kilometer radius of where I was born.  So even when my pictures are set in Paris or New York, in the end they are about Johannesburg--that is to say, a rather bewildered provincial city.  The pictures are not all little morals or illustrations of apartheid life.  But they are all provoked by the question of how it is that one is able to construct a more or less coherent life in a situation so full of contradiction and disruption."

   William Kentridge, born in Johannesburg in 1955, works on film, animation and painting.

(image source)


William Kentridge: his bio, work and interview; another intro

His works in South African Art Virtual Library


2. Signs of Resistance and Ironies on Ad Billboards


The following two photographs (by S. Sack) "were taken in Soweto during 1986.  As one frives into Soweto on the Baragwanath Hospital highway, these [two] signs were the visual landmarks of the township landscape.  They have all been removed and replaced with new signs.  The advertising billboards in Soweto tend to dominate the landscape and become transient landmarks.  They get woven into the social fabric and serve as literal and metaphorical indicators of the underlying social forces.

The sign only stayed for display for a few months before it was removed.  

The Deadliest Doom Even sign takes an ironic meaning, particularly with soweto in the background. 

An ad in Braamfontein Johannesburg, contrasting the South African reality, the good time, Coke is it, and the security Peaceforce that makes it possible and impossible.  In the background is the Johannesburg to Soweto train. (image source)


3. Dumile Feni

"One of the finest of South Africa's artists, who never tasted his country's freedom from apartheid's yoke, and who died largely unappreciated in New York, Dumile's work embodies the suffering and turmoil of the oppressed under apartheid, the resistance and defiance of the human spirit, and the pathos of exile." (source: Dumile Feni : profiles

born in Worcester in the western Cape, on May 21, 1939.  "Remembering the case paintings of his ancestors seen as a child--paintings which still inspire the style and sensibility of his work--Feni says, "I am amazed by one thing that I'm glad never left me--that is the beauty of the line, the fine lines."  . .  .He was also an active sympathizer of the banned African National Congress.  After being in and out of prison, and often in hiding, he was finally forced into exile"

Mother and Son

 Statements . . .  


Another piece of his work

Feni, Dumile - Profiles


  Insight Guides: 南非》。  繆靜芬譯。  臺北︰台灣英文雜誌社有限公司。1995.
Ashbury, Roy, Wendy Helsby and Maureen O'Brien.  Teaching African Cinema.  London: British Film Institute, 1998.
Campschreur William & Joost Divendal eds.   Culture in Another South Africa.  Zed Books, 1989. 
Bunn, David, and Jane Taylor, eds.  From South Africa: New Writing, Photographs, and Art.  U of Chicago P, 1987.
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