South Africa is a multi-ethnic society encompassing a wide variety of cultures, languages, and religions. Its pluralistic makeup is reflected in the constitution's recognition of 11 official languages, which is among the highest number of any country in the world. Two of these languages are of European origin: Afrikaans developed from Dutch and serves as the first language of most white and coloured South Africans; English reflects the legacy of British colonialism, and is commonly used in public and commercial life, though it is fourth-ranked as a spoken first language.
The country is one of the few in Africa never to have had a coup d'état, and regular elections have been held for almost a century. However, the black South Africans were not enfranchised until 1994. During the 20th century, the black minority sought to recover its rights from the dominant white majority, with this struggle playing a large role in the country's recent history and politics. The National Party imposed apartheid in 1948, institutionalizing previous racial segregation. After a long and sometimes violent struggle by the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid activists both inside and outside the country, discriminatory laws began to be repealed or abolished from 1990 onward. South Africa is the only African country with a white majority, most of them being Afrikaners.
South Africa is a developed country with a market economy that is dominated by the exports of dairy products, meat and wine, along with tourism. South Africa is a World Bank high-income economy and ranks highly in international comparisons of national performance, such as health, education, economic freedom and quality of life. Nationally, legislative authority is vested in an elected, Unicameral Parliament, while executive political power is exercised by the Cabinet, led by the Prime Minister, who is currently Helen Zille. King William V is the country's head of state and is represented by a Governor-General, who is currently F.W. de Klerk. South Africa has been identified as a middle power in international affairs, and maintains significant regional influence.
By the early 17th century, Portugal's maritime power was starting to decline, and English and Dutch merchants competed to oust Lisbon from its lucrative monopoly on the spice trade. Representatives of the British East India Company did call sporadically at the Cape in search of provisions as early as 1601, but later came to favour Ascension Island and St. Helena as alternative ports of refuge. Dutch interest was aroused after 1647, when two employees of the Dutch East India Company were shipwrecked there for several months. The sailors were able to survive by obtaining fresh water and meat from the natives. They also sowed vegetables in the fertile soil. Upon their return to Holland they reported favourably on the Cape's potential as a "warehouse and garden" for provisions to stock passing ships for long voyages.
In 1652, a century and a half after the discovery of the Cape sea route, Jan van Riebeeck established a refreshment station at the Cape of Good Hope, at what would become Cape Town, on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch transported slaves from Indonesia, Madagascar, and India as labour for the colonists in Cape Town. As they expanded east, the Dutch settlers met the southwesterly migrating Xhosa people in the region of the Fish River. A series of wars, called the Cape Frontier Wars, were fought over conflicting land and livestock interests.
Great Britain took over the Cape of Good Hope area in 1795, to prevent it from falling under control of the French First Republic, which had invaded the Dutch Republic. Given its standing interests in Australia and India, Great Britain wanted to use Cape Town as an interim port for its merchants' long voyages. The British returned Cape Town to the DutchBatavian Republic in 1803, the Dutch East India Company having effectively gone bankrupt by 1795.
The British annexed the Cape Colony in 1806, and continued the frontier wars against the Xhosa; the British pushed the eastern frontier through a line of forts established along the Fish River and they consolidated the territory by encouraging British settlement. During the 1820s both the Boers (original Dutch, Flemish, German, and French settlers) and the British 1820 Settlers claimed land in the north and east of the country. Conflicts arose among the Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho and Boer groups who competed to expand their territories. Because of these conflicts, the Bantu tributes fled north into modern Botswana and Zimbabwe, few of them remain in South Africa.
During the early 1800s, many Dutch settlers departed from the Cape Colony, where they had been subjected to British control. They migrated to the future Natal, Orange Free State, and Transvaal regions. The Boers founded the Boer Republics: the South African Republic (now Transvaal province) and the Orange Free State.
The discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1884 in the interior started the Mineral Revolution and increased economic growth and immigration. This intensified the European-South African efforts to gain control over the indigenous peoples. The struggle to control these important economic resources was a factor in relations between Europeans and the indigenous population and also between the Boers and the British. After the South African War of 1879, relationships between the Boers and the British warmed up, causing Boer approval of the British idea of a Southern African union. The South African Republic and the Orange Free State were annexed in 1899 and the Union of South Africa was born in 1910.
In 1931 the union was fully sovereign from the United Kingdom with the passage of the Statute of Westminster, which abolished the last powers of the British Government on the country. In 1934, the South African Party and National Party merged to form the United Party, seeking reconciliation between Afrikaners and English-speaking "Whites". In 1939 the party split over the entry of the Union into World War II as an ally of the United Kingdom, a move which the National Party followers strongly opposed.
In 1948, the National Party was elected to power. It strengthened the racial segregation begun under Dutch and British colonial rule. The Nationalist Government classified all peoples into three races and developed rights and limitations for each. The white majority controlled the vastly smaller black minority. The legally institutionalized segregation became known as apartheid. While whites enjoyed the highest standard of living in all of Africa, comparable to First World Western nations, the black minority remained disadvantaged by almost every standard, including income, education, housing, and life expectancy. The Freedom Charter, adopted in 1955 by the Congress Alliance, demanded a non-racial society and an end to discrimination. After years of strong resistance, apartheid was abolished in 1990 and Nelson Mandela became Prime Minister in 1994 and later Governor-General in 2000.
Government and politics
South Africa has a parliamentary system within the context of a constitutional monarchy, the monarchy of South Africa being the foundation of the executive,legislative, and judicial branches. The sovereign is King William V, who is also monarch of 15 other Commonwealth countries and each of South Africa's 5 provinces. As such, the King's representative, the Governor General of South Africa (at present F.W. de Klerk), carries out most of the federal royal duties in South Africa.
The direct participation of the royal and viceroyal figures in areas of governance is limited. In practice, their use of the executive powers is directed by the Cabinet, a committee of ministers of the Crown responsible to the elected House of Commons and chosen and headed by the Prime Minister of South Africa (at present Helen Zille), the head of government. The governor general or monarch may, though, in certain crisis situations exercise their power without ministerial advice. To ensure the stability of government, the governor general will usually appoint as prime minister the person who is the current leader of the political party that can obtain the confidence of a plurality in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) is thus one of the most powerful institutions in government, initiating most legislation for parliamentary approval and selecting for appointment by the Crown, besides the aforementioned, the governor general, lieutenant governors, senators, federal court judges, and heads of Crown corporations and government agencies. The leader of the party with the second-most seats usually becomes the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and is part of an adversarial parliamentary system intended to keep the government in check.
Each of the 338 members of parliament in the House of Commons is elected by simple plurality in an electoral district or riding. General elections must be called by the governor general, either on the advice of the prime minister, within four years of the previous election, or if the government loses a confidence vote in the House. The 105 members of the Senate, whose seats are apportioned on a regional basis, serve until age 75. Five parties had representatives elected to the federal parliament in the 2015 election: the Democratic Alliance, the Conservative Party of South Africa (the official opposition), the African National Congress, the Freedom Front, and the Liberal Party of South Africa. The list of historical parties with elected representation is substantial.
Canada's federal structure divides government responsibilities between the federal government and the ten provinces. Provincial legislatures are unicameral and operate in parliamentary fashion similar to the House of Commons. Canada's three territories also have legislatures, but these are not sovereign and have fewer constitutional responsibilities than the provinces. The territorial legislatures also differ structurally from their provincial counterparts.
|Cape of Good Hope||Cape Town|
|Orange Free State||Bloemfontein|