5. Southern Africa

Britain’s involvement in Southern Africa began when the Cape of Good Hope, inhabited by native San people and Dutch colonists, known as Afrikaners or Boers, was taken during the wars with revolutionary France. The Cape served as a service station for ships of the British East India Company and soon attracted farmers, traders etc. from Britain who settled and began competing for land with the Boers and African or mixed race pastoralists and farmers. The expanding area under British rule became known as Cape Colony, which was evacuated by many Boers when the British Government declared slavery illegal in 1834. They departed on the Great Trek to new territories over the Orange River. Much of the future history of Southern African developed from the continuing antagonism between the two European colonial peoples and the discovery of immense deposits of gold and diamonds in the region.

[swpm_protected custom_msg=’If you wish to read or listen to the complete account of this section and gain permanent access to all the other parts of Annals Britannica, please Login now or Join via Credit/Debit card on PayPal for only £5.‘]

The Union of South Africa

1488 The Cape of Good Hope is sighted by Portuguese mariner Bartholomew Dias.

1652 The area is settled by the Dutch East India Company as a provisioning station for its merchant ships. Original inhabitants were the Khoi people referred to as ‘Hottentots’ by the European settlers and the San people or Bushmen.

1687 French Huguenot refugees begin to settle land inland from the Cape. The climate is found to be suitable for European settlement and the Boer people speaking Afrikaans spread into a large inland area and come into conflict with Xhosa pastoralists.

1797 The Dutch republic has been conquered by revolutionary France and Britain occupies the Cape to help maintain the route to India and Australia, but relinquishes it as part of the Treaty of Amiens 1802.

1806 Britain reoccupies the Cape and retains it as the Cape Colony in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty 1814 at the end of the Napoleonic wars.

1836 The abolition of slavery in the British Empire caused many slave-owning Boer farmers to seek escape from British jurisdiction in the Cape with the Great Trek. At first they try to take over the thinly settled Natal in the east, before moving on into the more arid high veldt beyond the Drakensburg Mountains in the South African interior.

1843 Natal is declared a Crown Colony governed from Cape Town (a separate colony from 1856).

1848 Cape Colony lays claim over an area north of the Orange River called the Orange River Sovereignty.

1853 The Cape colony becomes a self-governing colony with a Parliament elected by voters based on a minimum level of property ownership, regardless of race. The governor retained executive power.

1854 The Cape Colony renounces the Orange River Sovereignty and the Boer Orange Free State is formed, soon followed by the other Boer state of the South African Republic or Transvaal.

1870 Rich diamond deposits are discovered near what is now Kimberley in Griqualand West. Ownership of the territory is disputed by Cape Colony and the president of the Transvaal republic, Marthinus Pretorius. Diggers declare their own republic.

1871 The Griquas, a mixed-race, Afrikaans-speaking people, are fearful of Boer domination and agree with the diggers to choose British protection. The Griqualand West Colony is taken into British protection.

1872 the Cape Colony becomes a self-governing dominion.

1876 The struggling Orange Free State receives from Britain an indemnity for the full satisfaction of its claims in Griqualand West.

1877 Britain annexes bankrupt Transvaal which is under threat from the Zulu nation.

1879 The Zulu War. After a severe defeat at Isandlwana and the celebrated defence at Rorke’s Drift, the British conquer King Cetshwayo and make Zululand a British protectorate later annexed into Natal colony.

1880 the diamond-rich Kimberley mining area in Griqualand West, occupied by the multi-racial Griquas and great numbers of diamond-seeking diggers, is subsumed into Cape colony. Both Griquas and Boers are unhappy at the turn of events.

1881 The First Boer War.  Major gold deposits have been found in Transvaal. Kruger becomes president of the Transvaal after Boers defeat the British at Majuba Hill.

1890 The head of the De Beers diamond monopoly and imperialist politician Cecil Rhodes becomes prime minister of Cape Colony.

1895/6 The Jameson Raid on Johannesburg, organised by Cecil Rhodes, fails to provoke the uitlanders’ population to support a rebellion against the exclusive Boer rule in Transvaal. Rhodes is obliged to resign as the Cape prime minister.

1899 – 1902 the Second Boer War. After fierce Boer resistance, the war ends with Transvaal and the Orange Free State becoming colonies of the United Kingdom.

1910 The dominion of the Union of South Africa is created from the two Boer colonies, the Cape Colony and Natal.

1919 The former German colony of South West Africa becomes a League of Nations mandated territory governed by South Africa. The mandate is terminated in 1966 and the territory is renamed Namibia by the UNO in 1968, becoming the independent republic of Namibia in 1990.

1939-45 South African forces fight alongside other Empire troops in World War II.

1956 The South African government formed by the Boer-dominated Nationalist party arrests Nelson Mandela and most of the African National Congress leaders, who are seeking majority rule in the white-dominated country; they are accused of treason.

1960 The Sharpeville Massacre. Sixty nine black protestors are killed by police which arouses anti-apartheid condemnation around the world.

1961 South Africa, becomes a republic with a segregated apartheid regime and withdraws from the Commonwealth.

Mandela and other defendants are found not guilty of high treason.

1964 The Rivonia trial. Mandela and others are convicted of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment. He is sent to Robben Island penitentiary.

1990 The segregation laws are repealed. Nelson Mandela is freed.

1994 Mandela becomes president of South Africa which re-joins the Commonwealth.


1868 The territory’s ruler requests British protection against the neighbouring Orange Free State and is declared a Crown colony. The king continues to rule with assistance of a British Resident Commissioner.

1966 It becomes the independent kingdom of Lesotho, a sparsely populated, mountainous enclave within South Africa.


1885 The territory is first defined after a military expedition, requested by a missionary of the London Missionary Society to resist the encroachment of Boers from the south, makes treaties with local African chiefs and declares it a British protectorate. The region south of the Malapo River is declared a Crown colony, British Bechuanaland, and becomes incorporated into the Cape colony in 1895.

1891 After the northern boundary is extended to include the Caprivi Strip and land inhabited by the Matabele tribe, administration of the protectorate is granted to the High Commissioner of South Africa and is based at Mafeking.

1966 The Bechuanaland protectorate gains independence as the republic of Botswana.


A small Bantu territory finding itself squeezed between the Zulus to the south and the Boers in Transvaal.

1889 Britain intervenes and forms a joint administration of the Swazi with Transvaal.

1902 At the end of the Second Boer War, Britain makes Swaziland a full protectorate.

1968 Swaziland gains independence as the Kingdom of Swaziland.

2018 Swaziland changes its name to Eswatini.


Follow by Email