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Abeja Dispatch

Get Off My Turf

South Africa seems to me, right now, to be a peaceful country of kind, good-natured people. It's hard to believe that this is the same place where so much racial violence has occurred. Until I came here, I thought the violence was strictly along the line between "whites" and "blacks." Now I know that it's just not that simple. For example, it was here that the first concentration camps in history were created, with British "whites" using them against Afrikaner "whites." The warlike King Shaka Zulu caused one of the biggest migrations of Africans off their land. Learning a bit about the history of the country is essential for understanding how it got to be the way it is now, so bear with me for an enlightening lesson in South African history, okay?

The first people in South Africa were the Sans people, also known as the Bushmen. Around 2000 years ago, they were joined by the Khoi-Khoi people, who took over the far South. It wasn't until the 11th century that the Bantu speaking tribes came south and eventually took over the eastern half of Southern Africa. So the stage is set. This is what Southern Africa looked like when the first Europeans arrived in 1488. It wasn't just one big happy tribe of Africans, but three completely separate linguistic groups. Meanwhile, everybody in Western Europe wanted a trade route to India so they could get all those yummy spices and teas and exotic stuff. So, when the Portuguese found a way around the huge continent of Africa--it was a big hit--and everyone wanted in on it.

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Two modern day Zulus re-enact battle techniques from the days of the great Shaka Zulu.
On the Southern tip of Africa, called the Cape, they found the Khoi-Khoi people, and decided to call them Hottentots. (They probably didn't even ASK their real name.) Being farmers and herders, the Khoi-Khoi didn't know that they were in a really strategic location for sea merchants. In 1652, a Dutch trading company formed a colony at what is now Cape Town, where the hundreds of European ships that were headed to and from India could restock. In typical European colonist style, the founding of this colony included killing and driving off the Khoi-Khoi people, who considered the area their home. Those who survived the massacre eventually died of diseases brought by the settlers, so there are no Khoi-Khoi people alive today.

More Dutch settlers poured into the Cape from Holland. They were farmers and Calvinists: a fairly strict fundamental Christian sect known as the Boers. They believed that the Africans, who revered their ancestors and were polygamous, were inferior heathens. The British controlled India, where all the trading ships were headed. When the French captured Holland in 1795 during the Napoleonic wars, the British kindly offered to take care of the far-off colony in order to keep trade flowing freely. Later, they reneged and didn't give it back. Then entered the British, who began sending in settlers of their own. So now we also have two different groups of whites. Is it crazy enough for you yet? Well, this is where everything explodes. The proud and independent Boers didn't like these British coming and taking over their land, and they started to move even farther away, into Bantu territory. This is a classic example of "what goes around comes around." The Bantu tribes are now being pushed around by Boers coming up from the South and West, and the British, who also are settling another port at Durban, to the East.

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These Zulu men, dressed in traditional skins, show me how they would prepare for war.
In the midst of this, the throne of the Zulus (a Bantu family) was usurped by a warlike leader named Shaka, who placed an ultimatum on all surrounding tribes -- submit to Zulu rule or go to war. Many Bantu tribes submitted, joining the growing Zulu army. Many others fled, creating a huge migration to other parts of Southern Africa. Shaka Zulu's war on all the neighboring tribes was called the mfecane (the "crushing") and caused immense suffering.

At this time in Europe, people were starting to get smart and realized that slavery just isn't cool. In 1834, the British abolished slavery in South Africa. This really angered the Boers, who were sick and tired of the bossy Brits meddling in their affairs. I mean, they moved all the way here from Holland to get their freedom, right? So another migration began, called the "Great Trek," when the Boers headed north over the Orange River with plans to create their own country, free of British rule. These settlers were known as 'Voortrekkers,' not to be confused with World Trekkers, OK? In fact, the word "trek" originated with the Boers in South Africa and continues today to represent grueling quests across unknown (or sometimes known) lands. Of course, as they headed north, the Boers headed right into Shaka Zulu's strong kingdom.

Shaka Zulu
Shaka Zulu is known as a military genius, and he won several battles against the Boers and the British, even though his army was equipped with only spears and hide shields, whereas the Europeans had guns. Eventually, though, the British won, and everything calmed down for a while... until diamonds and gold were discovered in the area where the Boer farmers had settled.

Suddenly, the gold-seeking British were invading the Boers again, and the Africans were being forced off their land in order to create a cheap pool of labor. Between 1899 and 1901, the Boers and the British fought for control of South Africa. During this time, the Boers were again uprooted from their land and placed into British concentration camps. The war ended with British victory but, in 1910, they drew up an "Act of Union" in which South Africa became independent of Britain. With independence, the Boers (or present-day Afrikaners) once again had control of South Africa. Black South Africans realized that under Afrikaner rule, they would have no chance of being treated fairly, but the British still gave up their power. This is when The African National Congress and other black organizations first formed to peaceably struggle for equality. It is also the beginning of the policies that would, in 1948, become Apartheid.


Abeja - Immersion in Zulu Culture
Abeja - Abeja Meets the Great King Shaka Zulu
Kevin - Harare: a Capital City that feels like a Village
Monica - A Typical Day in the Life of a Trekker
Kevin - Somebody Stole my House!
Kavitha - Soweto: Young Lives Lost in Battle

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