Friday, December 28, 2007

Putting the 'Trek' in Voorttrekkers

As a consultant, I've worn many different hats over the past couple of years. One of the more interesting assignments I was given was to put together a brief history of Africa. The overriding goal was to make Africa sound like it might be some place that you'd want to visit. What follows is my absolute best efforts at making the history of this continent seem palatable.

A Brief History of South Africa

While primitive rock art suggest that the southern tip of Africa was inhabited as early as 40,000 years ago, it was not until the Portuguese passed by in 1487 that its recorded history begins. Searching for a sea route to India, Bartholomew Dias dubbed the southern tip “Cabo da Boa Esperanca”, or The Cape of Good Hope. By the time Vasco De Gama followed the same route around the cape ten years later, the settlement of the continent had begun. As the 16th century was drawing to a close, the English and Dutch began to express interest in the area, after seeing the benefits the Portuguese had gained from their time in the Mozambican coast. The defining moment in the settlement of South Africa came in 1647 when a Dutch vessel met its untimely end in what is now Cape Towns Table Bay. The crew built a fort nearby and waited an entire year for rescue. During that year, their letters home spoke of the ideal conditions they had found. As a result of these letters, the Dutch East India Company decided to establish a permanent settlement there.

The Dutch presence expanded northward, building strength as Germans and French joined the rapidly growing farming communities that provided materiel for the Dutch settlements. This expansion lead to numerous and frequent clashes with the indigenous population. As with many such expansions, the local populations were significantly impacted by the new diseases, weapons and technology. The rapid growth lead to a new breed of resident known as the Boers. These wandering burgher farmers were courageous individualists whose only knowledge often came from the bible.

Near the beginning of the 19th century, the British seized the cape as their own. At the time of their arrival, institutionalized racism was already in place. Power was in the hands of the whites, despite being an underwhelming minority of the population. Relations between the various parties grew more stressful when the British abolished slavery, a notion regarded by the Boers as the God given order.

What followed over the next hundred years was a series of battles between the British and the Boers. For each new find the Voortrekkers (wandering Boers) stumbled onto in the continent, the British would seize it in the name of the empire. The friction caused by these tactics often lead to bloodshed.

Early in the 20th century, as Africa was producing enormous bounty for the occupying countries, the “Union of South Africa” was brought together by the British. With this came a reinforced version of the institutionalized racism seen earlier. Only whites could vote and hold office. These policies reached their ultimate conclusion when Boer extremists, under the banner of the “National Party” launched Apartheid in 1948. 13 years later, the Republic of South Africa came into existence.

As the reign of apartheid continued, resistance groups cropped up frequently. The most well known involved a young man named Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned for crusading against white domination. White dominated South Africa tumbled deeper and deeper into separation and brutality until the late 80’s. This overshadowed the rampant spread of AIDS that was blazing across the continent at unprecedented speed.

Finally, in 1990, Apartheid was abolished and after 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela was freed. Though significant problems have been surpassed, South Africa is still in desperate times.

Though this is in NO WAY related to anything stickmen, I thought it might make an interesting read to our blog subscribers.

1 comment:

Swamptooth said...

Plaudits to Matt Munson on this thought provoking Boer-brief, this voortrek through the history of the dark continent. It's also interesting to see Matt's global-historical inclinations have not diminished since those long nights at Harvey Mudd, slaving over my Mac SE/20 writing "World Systems" papers. (Just thought I'd slip in a circuitous tie-in with rock and roll).

Also good to see the Classic Stickmen charter expanding in scope, as always in unexpected directions!