History of Cape Town

In 1486 Bartholomew Diaz, a Portuguese explorer, discovered the Cape during the course of his travels. In the year of 1652 Jan van Riebeeck was sent to the “fair” Cape.

The Beginning

Dating back to 100 000 years ago, the south-western area of the Cape was inhabited by the first modern human beings who hunted, used stone tools and fire. Plus-minus 20 000 years ago the San wondered the Cape as hunter-gatherers. Known as wanderers, they moved from area to area, never staying in one place for long periods of time.

They were officially the original inhabitants of the Cape and most of Southern tip of Africa. More than 10 000 years later, the San evolved to hunting with bows and arrows, making poison from a certain caterpillar and other substances.

Over 7000 years went by, when Phoenician mariners circumnavigated Africa, on a mission by Egyptian Pharaoh Necho II. Their time spent in Africa was not documented, but they are known as one of the first visitors.

A little over 2 000 years ago, the Bantu speaking tribes arrived in South Africa during the Great Migration. Various tribes spread all over South Africa, inhabiting a number of the provinces. Some of them moved to Cape Town, bringing agricultural skills with them.

The San and the Bantu people were involved in bartering goods. However, there were spats in-between because the Bantu took land to live on and the San wondered all over. The Bantu people were never happy when cattle disappeared.

The First Explorers

In 1486 Bartholomew Diaz, a Portuguese explorer, discovered the Cape (the Cape of storms - named this due to rough sea conditions and many ship wrecks on the coast) during the course of his travels. Vasco da Gama from Portugal rounded the Peninsula in 1497. The reason for this was to find a trade route between Europe and the East.

Jan van Riebeeck

In the year of 1652 Jan van Riebeeck and 90 employees of the Dutch East India Company were sent to the "fair" Cape to establish a port with water, vegetables and meat for Dutch East India trading vessels coming from the East.

During their time in South Africa, they created vegetable and orchard gardens. An irrigation system was instituted for the water emanating from Table Mountain. The Dutchmen bartered with the Khoi-San and Bantu people for land, sheep and cattle.

The wood from the forests of Table Mountain and Hout Bay were used for timber for the building of houses and ships. During this period of time, the Dutch East India Company controlled the trade, allowing no private sector trade.

During the mid-seventeenth century many animal species could be found in the Cape. Some of the animal species included the Cape Buffalo, Elephant, Hippopotamus, Rhino, Leopard, Hyena, black-maned Cape Lion, various antelope species and more. In 1662 Jan van Riebeeck was promoted to a position on the Council of Justice in Batavia and left the Cape.

The 1660's saw the arrival of more slaves, the building of Castle, the arrival of the French Huguenots and modernised development of the Cape. A government was installed in the Cape and Simon van der Stel reined. He introduced wine to the Cape, promoted colonial expansion, brought Dutch architecture into being and completed the road to Hout Bay via Constantia Nek.

The 1700s

The early 1700s saw the development of a safe port and finding ways of avoiding shipwrecks. Slaves were still being brought to the Cape as part of development. During the 1780s there was a war between France and England, with the Netherlands backing France. Therefore, French troops were sent to guard the Cape against the English until 1784. The ensuing years included battle between England, France and the Netherlands.

The 1800s

By 1802 peace was made between England and France, but the peace making stood on tender ground. In 1805 France and Britain were at war again, and the British set sail for the Cape as the Netherlands supported France.

The following year, Britain arrived in the Cape and overthrew the Dutch governor. While the British ruled the Cape, Hottentots were not allowed to move around as they did before unless they had written authority. More development took place with taps and iron pipes instituted in the city in 1811.

In 1814, the British had defeated France and bought the Cape from the Dutch who were too poor to say no to a handsome offer. In 1822, Lord Charles Somerset was still governor of the Cape and made English the official and only language of South Africa.

The first newspaper was printed in 1824 which caused a lot upset with the government and freedom of the press. In 1826 Governor Somerset left the Cape.

By 1828 the vagrancy and pass laws were abolished and the Hottentots were equal to the Europeans. The year of 1834 brought freedom to the slaves. At this time over 39 000 slaves were living in the Cape. The Muslim community of slaves moved to the area of Bo-Kaap. 1836 saw the start of the Great Trek. An average of 10 000 Dutch families, who were unable to adapt to the changes, moved inland.

In 1838 the municipality of the Green Point-Sea Point area was formed. The Cape Town Municipality was only formed in 1840. In 1859 the first railway was started. The construction of the first of the Table Bay docks, Alfred Dock, was started in 1860 and completed in 1870. On 1 April 1863 the first tramway company in Cape Town commenced operations.

Then, 1867 saw the institution of the first Cape Town mayor. In 1880 Cape Town got linked to Europe by means of an overseas cable. In 1882 Dutch was once again an official language, next to English. The official inauguration of the Houses of Parliament took place in 1884. The year of 1899 was the start of the Anglo-Boer War and Green Point Common was turned into a military camp. The Cape was made the legislative capital in 1905 and still allowed non-Whites to vote.

The 1900s

From the early 1900s to 1933 there was a lot of development in the Cape. From the setting up of electricity, town councils, suburbs and various building structures, the Cape was growing very fast. It was a lively city, where all could enjoy it. 1936 saw the first set of laws from National Parliament which stopped non-Whites from having voting rights in the Cape.

By 1948, the National Party created apartheid, separating people of different races. In 1949, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act was instituted. Whites and non-Whites were sent to separate counters at the Post Office as the start of apartheid.

By 1950 a variety of Acts were passed by the Government, namely the Population Registration Act (officially dividing South Africans into 'White', 'Coloured', 'Asian' or 'Native'). All the citizens of Cape Town had to carry ID cards specifying their race if they were over 16 years old.

In 1951 a multi-racial front formed to work against the Nationalist Party. In 1955 the Group Areas Development Act was passed which stated that people of a specific race could only have land in a certain area. Non-white people were moved off land that was marked for whites.

By 1956, segregation was introduced on the buses as well. By 1961 the ANC (African National Congress) realised that force would have to be used. This saw the start of uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), and secret training camps were established in Cape Town.

In 1962 Robben Island was turned into a maximum security prison, and many black political prisoners were sent to the island. In 1964 Nelson Mandela was sentenced to imprisonment on Robben Island. From the 1970s to the late 1980s there was growth of the city, and unfortunately rioting amongst people of different races for freedom and fair treatment. Cape Town called a number of State of Emergency's trying to bring order and control.

In 1990 President FW de Klerk stopped all racial political organisations. Some of the political prisoners were released, which included Nelson Mandela. During the April elections of 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected as State President and the ANC was the ruling party. In 1995 South Africa won the Rugby World Cup and plans were made at the same time to abolish race discrimination in schools.


Since 1994 to present day, the ANC has been the ruling Government party in South Africa.
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