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White Africans

Buitenverwachting Estate, Cape Town - White Africans | Southern African Safaris | Classic Africa

Initial European interest in southern Africa was merely as a staging post to resupply trading ships en route to and from the East Indies, with first the Portuguese and then the Dutch leading these voyages of exploration. The first European to set foot on southern African soil was Diogo Co who erected a limestone cross on the Skeleton Coast in 1485; he was followed shortly thereafter by Bartholomew Dias, who rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, thereby opening the sea route to India. For nearly 200 years there were temporary European settlements at the Cape of Good Hope before the first permanent settlement was to be established in 1652 by Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company.  

During the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, Britain's growing maritime power and it's conflict with France drew her into the scramble for southern Africa and, from 1814 onwards, Britain was the primary colonizing power in the region. The last major entrant into the colonial race for southern Africa was Germany, which acquired South West Africa (today Namibia) under Bismark, in 1884.

The arrival of so many disparate, and often competing European powers generated conflict not only between the new arrivals and the existing inhabitants, but between the Europeans themselves. The imposition of British rule over the Cape Colony infuriated the Dutch settlers, and sparked the Great Trek, which took the Dutch Trekboers ever deeper into the hinterland. After a series of struggles with the Bantu-speaking tribes of the north, the Boers established their own short-lived republics. Relations between the British and the Boers deteriorated over time, and the discovery of first diamonds and then massive gold fields in the Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek finally pushed the two European powers into the devastating Anglo-Boer war, from 1899 to 1902.

Over the next 100 years, white southern Africans gradually coalesced into two predominant cultural groups, based on language - English speakers (descendants of original British settlers as well as more recent immigrant groups from southern and eastern Europe) and Afrikaans speakers (descendants of the very early Dutch and French settlers, as well as German immigrants in South West Africa). Despite residual animosity on the part of the Afrikaans speaking majority towards British domination and atrocities during the Anglo-Boer War, South Africa fought alongside Britain and her allies during both World Wars.

The influence of white southern Africans is to be found across the region, from local languages to religion, infrastructure, political institutions, and architecture. That part of South Africa originally settled by the earliest Europeans - today's Western Camp Province (including Cape Town and the Winelands, as well as the "Garden Route")  - remains the area most reflective of white African culture. Swakopmund along Namibia's Skeleton Coast is a fascinating relic from that country's German colonial past, while the European origins of virtually every city and larger town in southern Africa are reflected in the physical structures as well as various aspects of urban social life.

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