South Africa is a young democracy and a middle-income developing country. Her citizens are like the inhabitants of other developing countries, in that most of them must wage bitter struggles for access to scarce resources in a highly unequal society. But many of them also consider themselves to be a special people: their uniqueness derives from their particular history of colonisation, racial segregation, and political liberation. At the heart of that exceptional history is ‘apartheid’ – literally ‘apartness’ or separation. The inheritance of segregation and apartheid, together with irreconcilable differences over its significance, still obstruct efforts to create a national identity and a coherent and inclusive social order. South Africa’s modern history was decisively shaped by the discovery of diamonds and gold in the last three decades of the nineteenth century, and by the responses of the imperial power, Britain, to the opportunities and threats these finds presented. Yet, if modern South African history begins with the ‘minerals revolutions’, the ramifications of these discoveries cannot be understood without first comprehending the complex balance of forces that characterised the area that is today South Africa in 1870 (see Box 2.1). Four great historical narratives are represented in any political map of the time: the stories of the Khoisan peoples, the African pastoralists and farmers, the ‘Boer’ European-descended settlers, and the British imperialists (see Map 2.1). The least widely known history concerns the subjugation of the earliest inhabitants of what was to become South Africa. Hunting and herding societies, known today as Khoikhoi, San, or collectively Khoisan, had been present in the west and northwest since around 1000 bc. They were devastated during the early period of European settlement as the Dutch East India Company established control over much of the Cape from the mid-seventeenth century. Often-violent European settlers, and the diseases they brought with them, rapidly subjugated the Khoisan across the entire Cape region.
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