When discussing the history of South Africa, it is convenient to divide the discussion into four distinct phases.
Firstly, there is the prehistoric era in South Africa, which has been documented by archaeologists. During this era, the region was populated by nomadic hunter-gatherers, who produced rock art in caves. These early people did not develop construction or farming techniques. They are known as the San people today, or sometimes as “Bushmen”, but this latter term is seen as derogatory. They were still present in South Africa when the next era dawned.
During the second era, tribes entered the area of present-day South Africa from further north. These tribes were cattle herders who built villages and farmed the land. Cattle are still very important in the surviving culture of these tribes, such as the lobolo custom, according to which a prospective husband must pay his wife’s family a certain number of cattle, calculated in rands, so that he can marry her. These tribes were involved in inter-tribal wars, which left large areas of South Africa unpopulated. The most notable of the warring chiefs was King Shaka of the Zulu tribe, who went on a campaign of violent conquest against neighbouring tribes.
During the third era in South African history, the region was colonised by European powers. This era of colonisation, which started in the 1400s and involved Portuguese, Dutch and eventually English colonisation, ended with the racist Apartheid regime. It was essentially the discovery of mineral wealth in South Africa that led to the wholesale annexure of South Africa by England. Apartheid, on the other hand, involved the subjugation of the indigenous tribes, as part of a racist system of disenfranchisement and control. The Apartheid government declared South Africa to be an independent republic in 1961.
The final era in South Africa’s history was heralded in 1994, with the end of the Apartheid regime and the commencement of democracy in the country. The new constitution of South Africa was passed in 1996, and nowadays every citizen has the right to vote and also various other social rights.