World History

South Africa Timeline and History Highlights

South Africa Timeline Highlights


1000 – The San people, hunter-gatherers, have inhabited South Africa for thousands of years.

500 – The San of South Africa form larger tribes and start herding cattle. These people are known as koi koi.


250 – Bantu people begin migrating from the north to South Africa. They carry iron tools and knowledge of agriculture.

1488 – Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Diaz sails to the southern tip of Africa. He calls the Cape of Good Hope the “Cape of the Storm”.

1497 – Vasco da Gama circumnavigates the tip of South Africa en route to India.

1652 – The Dutch East India Company establishes the Dutch Cape Colony. Originally a small port town for ships bound for India, it eventually grew into a full settlement.

1795 – British forces occupy the Cape Colony after the Battle of Muizenberg. 1802 – The Treaty of Amiens restores control of the Cape Colony to the Dutch.

1806 – Britain regains the initiative after the Battle of Brauberg.

1814 – The Dutch formally agree that the colony is part of the British Empire.

1816 – Shaka Zulu establishes the Zulu Kingdom. The Zulu have become a powerful nation.

1828 – Shaka Zulu is murdered by his brothers. The Zulu empire begins to crumble.

1833 – Slavery is abolished by England. The Great Trek begins with Dutch settlers (the so-called Boers) moving inland and establishing their own Boer Republics, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.

1856 – The Boers of Transvaal declare themselves a republic.

1866 – Diamonds are discovered in Kimberley.

1877 – Transvaal is annexed by Britain.

1880 – The First Boer War begins between the Boers and Great Britain. The Boers win and gain independence from the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

1886 – Gold is discovered, triggering the Witwatersrand Gold Rush. The city of Johannesburg is growing rapidly.

1889 – The Second Boer War broke out. The British won the war and occupied the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

1910 – The Union of South Africa is formed from four colonies: Cape Colony, Natal Colony, Transvaal Colony and Orange Colony. It is under the rule of the British Empire.

1912 – The African National Congress (ANC) is founded.

1913 – The Indigenous Land Act mandates racial segregation of land.

1919 – Jan Smuts is elected prime minister for the first time.

1930 – The right to vote is guaranteed to all whites over the age of 21, including women.

1934 – South Africa’s independence from Great Britain is declared by the Status of Union Act.

1939 – World War II begins. South Africa serves as a valuable port for the Allies.

1948 – Apartheid government policy is adopted. Laws have been enacted to classify the population by race and segregate the country.

1950s – ANC and other groups protest apartheid.

1960 – The Sharpeville Massacre occurs and 69 protesters are killed by police.

1961 – South Africa is declared a republic. ANC leader Nelson Mandela forms an armed branch of the ANC to fight apartheid.

1962 – Nelson Mandela is arrested and imprisoned. He will remain in prison for 27 years. He becomes a global icon in opposition to apartheid.

1976 – Soweto Uprising erupts during high school protest marches. At least 176 people, including 13-year-old Hector Peterson, were killed in clashes between police and demonstrators.

1989 – Frederick Willem de Klerk is elected president. He begins a campaign to end apartheid. Racism will be abolished in public institutions.

1990 – Nelson Mandela is released from prison.

1993 – Nelson Mandela and Frederick Willem de Klerk win the Nobel Peace Prize.

1994 – Apartheid is completely abolished. Black people vote in elections and Nelson Mandela is elected president.

1996 – The Truth and Reconciliation Commission begins conducting public hearings on events under apartheid.

2010 – The World Cup will be held in South Africa.

2013 – Nelson Mandel passes away.

South Africa History Highlights:

Humans have lived in South Africa for thousands of years. The Bantu tribe migrated to the area early in history. Most people living in South Africa today speak some form of Bantu.

The first European to come to South Africa he was the Portuguese in 1488. It was only a few years later, in 1652, that the Dutch East India Company established a small settlement on the Cape of Good Hope. Over time, more Europeans immigrated, including Germans, French and Dutch. These people became known as Africans.

In 1948 the People’s Party was elected to power. They introduced a policy called Apartheid. Here people were divided by race. In particular, whites and blacks were separated, and whites ruled the country. In 1961 South Africa became an independent country.
The African National Congress called for the abolition of apartheid and equal treatment for South African blacks. Nelson Mandela was the leader of the ANC. He spent 27 years in prison fighting for equality. Apartheid was abolished in 1994 and blacks were given the right to vote.