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Interactive video lesson plan for: A Brief History of South Africa, with Dave Steward

Activity overview:

Dave Steward recounts the extraordinarily complex history of South Africa. Steward is the former Chief of Staff to South African President FW de Klerk and Executive Director of the FW de Klerk Foundation.

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Transcript - One of the things that's very important to understand about South Africa is that it is like so many other African countries an artificial entity created by the Brits. The South Africa that we know in its present borders is only 104 years old. And in 1990 when we went through our transition it was only 80 years old. It was the creation of the British Empire. Britain acquired possession of most of the territories of Southern Africa in the nineteenth century in what one historian referred to as a fit of absentmindedness. At the beginning of the century it found itself in possession with a rag bag of territories which were difficult to manage and very expensive. The whole of the nineteenth century had been about the British conquest of Southern Africa. First of the Xhosa people in nine wars of the axe that finally led to in 1856 to a national suicide by the Xhosa people where they decided that they would kill their cattle and destroy their crops on the advice of a prophetess who said that if they did this the British would be driven into the sea. But of course they weren't.

And tens of thousands of Xhosa people died. The second major people who were conquered in the nineteenth century by the Brits were the Zulus. The Zulus had been the dominant tribe in Southeastern Africa after the foundation of their nation by their great King Shaka. The British settled what is now the Natal Province of South Africa and they brought in white settlers and Indians to work on sugar farms. But they were very nervous about this powerful Zulu kingdom to the north of them the Tugela River. And so they found a reason to declare war against the Zulus. And to their enormous surprise at the Battle of Isandlwana in 1878 a whole British army was wiped out, 1500 men. This was just a few years after the Little Bighorn but it's five times as big. And the Zulus wiped out a whole British army. Of course the Brits sent more troops and they were -- they defeated the King Cetshwayo by the next year in 1879. The third people that the Brits conquered were the Afrikaners or the Boers who had been settled in South Africa since 1652. They didn't like British rule so in the nineteenth century they trekked into the interior. They founded two republics, the Republic of the Orange Free State and the Republic of The Transvaal.

But then the people in the Free State made the big mistake of discovering the biggest diamond load in history at Kimberley. So the Brits annexed that. And then in the 1880s the Transvaal Republic made the huge mistake of discovering the biggest gold bearing body in the world, the famous Johannesburg reef. And the result of this was that the British again sought a pretext for war with these two republics. And that led to the Anglo-Boer War in 1899. Now the Anglo-Boer War was the biggest war that the British fought between the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War. They deployed over 438,000 imperial troops in South Africa. They conquered the two territories and then having taken them over at the beginning of the twentieth century they didn't know what to do with them. So they looked around the empire and said oh well look, in Canada we had this dominion. We had a federation there and that's worked very well. We did it in Australia and in different states. We created a federation there. Why don't we do that in Southern Africa. So they did.

But they decided to keep some territories in and some territories out. They included the Zulus and the Xhosas of the new society but they gave control of the new country, the Union of South Africa which was established in 1910 to the whites. Because at that time black people in Africa throughout the world didn't really have political rights. So for most of the twentieth century the big question in South Africa was not the relationship between whites and blacks but the relationship between English speaking whites and Afrikaans speaking whites. And the Afrikaans speaking whites wanted to reestablish their republics. That was the driving force behind the National Party which came to power in 1948. Now they then instituted or they -- not racial segregation. They gave it a new name -- apartheid. And it was straightforward racial domination. But before we become too morally self-righteous, that is what was happening in the rest of Africa, unacceptable indefensible. It was what was happening in the South in the United States at the time. Undefensible, unacceptable ...[transcript truncated]...

Tagged under: Big Think,BigThink,BigThink.,Education,Educational,Lifelong Learning,EDU,South Africa (Country),FW de Klerk,Nelson Mandela (Author),Xhosa People (Ethnicity),Dave Steward,Brittain,War,Conquest,National Party,Zulu,Afrikaans

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