South African history has been
dominated by the interaction
and conflict of several diverse
ethnic groups. The aboriginal
Khoisan people have lived in
the region for millennia. Most
population, however, trace
their history to immigration
Although the Portuguese basked in
the nautical achievement of
successfully navigating the
cape, they showed little interest in
colonization. The area's fierce
weather and rocky shoreline posed
a threat to their ships, and many of
their attempts to trade with the
local Khoikhoi ended in conflict.
The Portuguese found the
Mozambican coast more
attractive, with appealing bays to
use as way stations, for
prawning, and as links to gold ore
in the interior.
The Boers meanwhile persevered with
their search for land and
freedom, ultimately establishing
themselves in various Boer
Republics, e.g. the Transvaal or South
African Republic and the Orange Free
State. For a while it seemed that these
republics would develop into stable
states, despite having thinly spread
populations of fiercely independent
Boers, no industry, and minimal
As the burghers, too, continued to expand into the rugged
hinterlands of the north and east, many began to take up a semi-
nomadic pastoralist lifestyle, in some ways not far removed from that
of the Khoikhoi they displaced. In addition to its herds, a family might
have a wagon, a tent, a Bible, and a few guns. As they became more
settled, they would build a mud-walled cottage, frequently
located, by choice, days of travel from the nearest European
The early 19th century saw a time of
immense upheaval relating to the
military expansion of the Zulu
Kingdom. Sotho-speakers know this
period as the difaqane ("forced
migration"); while Zulu-speakers call
it the mfecane ("crushing").
The full causes of the difaqane
remain in dispute, although certain
factors stand out. The rise of a unified
Zulu kingdom had particular
significance. In the early 19th
century, Nguni tribes in KwaZulu-
Natal began to shift from a loosely
organised collection of kingdoms into
a centralised, militaristic state. Shaka
Zulu, son of the chief of the small
Zulu clan, became the driving force
behind this shift.
The Republic of South Africa is a
unitary, parliamentary republic.
The President of South Africa is
both head of state and head of
government; the President is
elected by the National Assembly
(the lower house of the South
African Parliament) and must
enjoy the confidence of the
Assembly in order to remain in
office. South Africans also elect
provincial legislatures which
govern in respect of each of the
country's nine provinces.
South Africa is a federal
republic, wherein the
President of South
Africa, elected by
parliament, is the head of
government, and of a multi-
party system. Executive
power is exercised by the
power is vested in both the
Following the 1994 elections,
South Africa was governed under
an interim constitution. This
constitution required the
Constituent Assembly (CA) to
draft and approve a permanent
constitution by 9 May 1996.
The Government of National
Unity (GNU) established under
the interim constitution
ostensibly remained in effect
until the 1999 national elections.
General elections are held every 5
years. The first fully multi-racial
democratic election was held in
1994, the second in 1999, the third in
2004, and the most recent in 2009.
Until 2008, elected officials were
allowed to change political
party, while retaining their
seats, during set windows which
occurred twice each electoral
term, due to controversial floor
crossing legislative amendments made
in 2002. The last two floor crossing
windows were in 2005 and 2007
The post-apartheid Government
of South Africa have made
remarkable progress in
consolidating the nation's
peaceful transition to
democracy. Programs to improve
the delivery of essential social
services to the majority of the
population are underway.
Access to better opportunities in
education and business is
becoming more widespread.
South Africa's society to remove
the legacy of apartheid will be a
long-term process requiring the
sustained commitment of the
leaders and people of the
nation's disparate groups
Mangosuthu Buthelezi was chief minister of
his Kwa-Zulu homeland from 1976 until 1994.
In post-apartheid South Africa he has served
as President of the Inkatha Freedom Party. He
was a Minister in President's Mandela
cabinet. He also acted as President of the
country when President Nelson Mandela was
out of the country.
Bantubonke Holomisa, who was a general in
the homeland of Transkei from 1987, has
served as the president of the United
Democratic Movement since 1997. Today he is
a Member of Parliament.
General Constand Viljoen an Afrikaner who
served as chief of the South African Defence
Force sent 1500 of his militiamen to protect
Lucas Mangope and to contest the
termination of Bophuthatswana as a
homeland in 1994. He founded the Freedom
Front in 1994. He was also a Member of
The new constitution's bill of rights provides
extensive guarantees, including equality
before the law and prohibitions against
discrimination; the right to
life, privacy, property, and freedom and
security of the person; prohibition against
slavery and forced labor; and freedom of
speech, religion, assembly, and association.
The legal rights of criminal suspects also are
enumerated. The constitution provides for an
independent and impartial judiciary, and, in
practice, these provisions are respected.
Citizens' entitlements to a safe
environment, housing, education, and health
care are included in the bill of rights, and are
known as secondary constitutional rights. In
2003 the constitutional secondary rights were
used by the HIV/AIDS activist group the
Treatment Action Campaign as a means of
forcing the government to change its health
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