History of the Western Cape

Introduction: the movement of peoples

The history of the Western Cape can be summed up as a movement of peoples under vastly unequal conditions and opportunities.

 

One of the things that characterises South Africa is its physical isolation. It is at the blunt-end of a huge continent and a long way from Europe, India and the Americas.

 

The landmass of South Arica is bounded to the north-west and centre by desert and the inhospitable and agriculturally unattractive high veld and to the east by difficult terrain of the Okavango delta and the forests and mountains of Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

 

The coast is not endowed with natural and safe harbours and the seas are tumultuous and riven with strong currents and fierce gales from the south-east in summer and the north west in winter.

 

The first pulse of migration into the Western Cape came from the San and Khoikhoi peoples, followed in the east of South Africa by the gradual extension south and westwards of Bantu speaking peoples. The Western Cape became the centre of the pastoral Khoikhoi people whilst the hunter-gatherer San moved on the drier northern edges in the Karoo and Little Karoo.

The representation of South Africa on Sir Henry Doulton’s (1820-97) ‘Doulton Fountain’, the largest terracotta fountain in the world. It celebrates Britain's Imperial achievements and Queen Victoria’s
The representation of South Africa on Sir Henry Doulton’s (1820-97) ‘Doulton Fountain’, the largest terracotta fountain in the world. It celebrates Britain's Imperial achievements and Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee (1887). Now located on Glasgow Green in

There then followed the movements of settler and colonial peoples – the Dutch, Huguenots, German, and British. This was very slow at first and gradually gathered pace first through agricultural expansion pursued by land-hungry frontier Boer, and later British, farmers and then through the rush of immigration occasioned by the discovery of gold and diamonds.

 

At the same time the Xhosa people, who butted up and lived convivially with the Khoikhoi were expanding and began to move west.

 

These different waves of migration at different speeds eventually broke the rowdy and often oppressive and sometimes violent co-habitation of the first phase of the colonization definitively and led to pen and prolonged conflict resulting in the defeat of the Xhosa and then Zulu peoples.

 

In the twentieth century with the rapid expansion of the commercial activities of Cape Town and a growing demand for agricultural and domestic labour, (plus effects of after the abolition of slavery) led to the extremely controlled migration through the mechanisms of Apartheid’s pass laws and its predecessors of black South Africans into the Western Cape. This process was accelerated in the 1970s and 1980s with the abolition of the Coloured Labour Preference Area and the weakening of Apartheid’s control of its own internal contradictions between labour demand and meticulously controlled migration, particularly from the impoverished Eastern Cape. After the liberation from Apartheid the free movement of people under their own will became possible and labour migration to the Western Cape increased dramatically.


History: Language and Identity