South Africa [2]

contrast sa

Perceptions or reality? This is the issue we’re grappling with on South Africa. Hard to argue with a South African who says he was able to walk about Joburg with impunity decades ago, kept to safe areas after dark a couple of decades ago and today would not venture out unless necessary.

Hard to argue because how would you or I know unless we’d lived there?

Without specifically attributing as we go, the following text is mainly by Chuckles, haiku, various other sources, with me just collating and throwing in pics here and there. It’s about getting this large land in perspective for us, so let’s start with topography and a bit of history.

This map is pretty vital to an understanding of South Africa

It’s interactive but stills have been taken from it for parts further down in the post.

As a country, South Africa is closer to the American model/narrative than some other countries or ex colonies.

The European Dutch seafaring types arrived and set up a toehold on the seashore, any locals that were there, such as Hottentot beachcombers, didn’t last long. The local bushmen were probably wise enough to stay well away.

Very important point – absolutely no local blacks – (bantu variety that is).

The Western cape area has a mediterranean climate – warm wet winters, hot dry summers, so if you’ve never seen such a thing before, you plant your crops in the spring, and they die. No rain. After a year or two you starve.

As a result, any Bantu southward migrations had ground to a halt with the Xhosas, on the other side of the Fish River 600km away to the east.

fish river

To the north from just past Paarl and Stellenbosch, was a vast semi arid scrub desert for hundreds of kilometres. So no-one except bushmen were coming in that way either.

paarl stellenbosch

It stayed just like that for hundred of years, the place meandered along in a state of sleepy benign neglect and independence of spirit, then the British took over.

Many of the Afrikaner locals were not happy about this, for a variety of reasons, and headed off into the interior with their wagons. Bit like the ‘opening of the west’ in the USA.

Round about the same time, there were some initiatives further up the coast from Cape Town to establish more ports, colonies and settlements, and it was these two movements that were really the first extended contacts between the interior and coastal blacks and the expanding settler whites.

anysburg nightjar

Anysburg [nightjar travel]

So in a sense you had an established complacent, content and lasses-faire group who stayed in the Cape Town area, sans blacks but very much plus a number of imported Malay slaves, and a more adventurous lot who headed out into the unknown, and that distinction percolated through to the modern day.

Bit like Oz in parts with a ribbon of coastal settlements but few venturing into the interior.

This inward and onward expansion continued, with some, lots or no argy bargy with any black tribes encountered, together with the odd disagreements with Great Britain and such, till the late 19th and the 20th century came along.

The likes of the Cecil Rhodes etc wanted to colonise Africa from Cape to Cairo, etc etc, and of course the discovery of large quantities of gold and diamonds were a fairly large spur to such ideas. Wherever such were found, urban areas sprang up, as always happens in such matters.

mining in sa

Globalization SA

So, the country had one old established centre, and a newish interior and coastal urban developments, together with Dutch/Afrikaans and English settlers and farmers sprinkled here and there amongst black tribes and settlements, and doing their own thing.

If any unpleasantness ensued, the redcoats came along and banged heads together until everything settled down and went back to sleep.

Transport wise, there was a transport ribbon from Cape Town to the Johannesburg-Pretoria area, joined at Bloemfontein by one from the Port Elizabeth East London area, and a third independent one to Johannesburg from the Durban area. From Johannesburg-Pretoria, another one meandered north to Rhodesia, and one east to Mozambique.

ct to jhb road

Bluebird marine systems ltd

The urban developments as always, particularly with the mining incentive, required labour. As such, you got the usual industrialisation movement to the cities, where better money and potentially better lives were available than the often boring and back breaking work of farming. And naturally, the businessmen in the urban areas were very much in favour of this.

Over the years, there were various efforts to control or restrict this, but as always with such things, if people were determined to move to the city, they did. Others were content to stay where they were.

the overview natal the overview natal 2 the overview natal 3

In Natal, the province developed such that Durban sat on the coast, with a ribbon of development of small to medium towns scattered along the coast. The national road inland also had a ribbon of development along it as it rose like an elevator to Pietermaritzburg, the flattened out to the rolling hills plateau of the Natal Midlands, all the way to the Drakensberg mountains – very much like northern Europe.

To the right of the road, and up the coast was Zululand, thousands of kraals scattered all over, together with an odd sprinkling of white settler farms and small towns and villages.


Tim Brown Tours

To the left of the road, nothing much, some small towns and farms, Pondoland and eventually the Transkei and the Xhosas.

The Natal midlands is mainly rural farmland, again with the odd Zulu kraal and small to medium towns scattered about.

A local scene might be something like this:


House might be on an acre of land, one house next door, two across the road. Sand road.

In one direction, a house about 200 yards away, then nothing for a mile or so. In the other direction, two houses 200 or 300 hundred yards away, a T junction a couple of hundred yards further.

Everything else open fields of savannah grass, eucalyptus plantations, local coastal bush forest and such.

Behind, more open fields to the next road along, with nothing on it but field and plantations.

Repeat for miles in any direction, with a couple of Indian families here and there, odd house or two, and a couple of factories and a power station, and a piece of Zululand five or six miles away.

Coastal areas are predominantly English speaking, even if not necessarily of English descent.

The Drakensberg area and some of the Midlands are far more Afrikaans/Dutch speaking.

Round Durban, there are also a half million Indians, indentured labourers and their descendants, who’d completed their contracts and settled there, all happily co-existing in the Natal heat and humidity. The whites lived where they wanted, ditto the blacks and the Indians, sometimes in big groups sometimes scattered willy-nilly amongst each other.

This sort of setup was duplicated in most of the country, but remember that in the 1950s, when Verwoerd came along, there were about 9 million blacks in the country, 3 million or so whites, 1 1/2 million Malays and mixed race, and half a million Indians.

All in half a million square miles of country.

So, when he looked at his ‘big picture’, he’d see that all or most of the Malays were in Capetown and environs.

Keep them there.

Ditto the Indians in Durban., the Zulus in Zululand, Xhosas in the Transkei, Tswana in the Western Transvaal, Venda in the Northern Transvaal etc etc.

Keep them there.

In the urban areas, you make rules about who can move there and why, and set aside areas where they can live, and when they have to leave. Sorted. Next week we can square the circle.

That’s how it came about.

In Part three, we’ll get back more to the political history.

3 comments for “South Africa [2]

  1. Ljh
    February 22, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    Your err in describing the slave population as Malay. The Malay slaves were the artisan class, often working from their own workshops, very much a small elite group, brought from Indonesia by the Dutch, often as political prisoners from Batavia. They remained separated by religion and hereditary trades to this day. The bulk of the hard work was done by slaves from West Africa and Madagascar, those working for the VOC, finding life particularly brutal. The second Dutch governor married his domestic slave Sarah from Bengal.
    The Khoi were pastoralists and the San hunters not averse to cattle or sheep rustling, to acquire herds, the distinction being fluid. Within ten years of settlement the Dutch found themselves arbitrating leadership in Khoi tribes due to epidemics of disease introduced from Europe. The remaining Khoi lost their land and ended up as itinerants, settled farmworkers, or settled in mission villages in the Cape.
    The Malays, Khoi, slaves from elsewhere, plus products of white:other relations form the heterogenous Coloured population.
    The British acquired the Cape as a result of the Napoleonic Wars but only attempted to settle people in any number in 1820 when they recruited selffunding parties of artisans and sponsors and plonked them on the periphery of the Xhosa, on their occassional pasturage as a buffer, in a war zone. Unsurprisingly most decamped to towns servicing the still mainly Boer farmers.
    The dissatisfaction caused by collecting payment from the British for emancipated slaves directly led the the Boers trekking beyond British rule into the interior, recently depopulated by Zulu marauding, most famously by Shaka.

    • February 22, 2017 at 3:02 pm

      Have just received a reply personally from a South African and this is difficult, as I can’t reply on my own, not knowing the country. There seem to be slight differences of opinion even within South Africa – I’m assuming you, Ljh, are South African and you’ve been called a “good commenter” on SA by those in the know.

      Best I think OoL can do is leave it all up here, side by side and it gives an overview.

  2. Ljh
    February 22, 2017 at 8:14 pm

    I am South African, with a solidly classical liberal, middle class, urban background. I comment because the subtleties of South African history and present day society are usually lost in pursuit of a simplified narrative, especially as regards the heterogenous Coloured(not Malay) and nonsocialist liberal English minorities. It has always been a complicated place.

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