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Exploring the history and experiences of mixed heritage persons and inter-racial relationships across the world

South Africa

Map Of South AfricaProving the ‘rainbow nation’ status that it is, South Africa has eleven official languages; nine of these are spoken by the some 80% Bantu African population, Afrikaans – a Dutch like dialect and English and has the largest communities of European, Asian, and racially mixed ancestry in Africa.

South Africa - Race MapSouth Africa’s large mixed population are called Coloureds. Unlike other parts of the world, this term is not regarded as derogatory and is proudly born all over Southern Africa. The Coloureds make up nearly 8.8% of the current population and they are the predominant population group found in the Western Cape Province at about 4 million strong. The predominance of this group in this part of South Africa is historical. This is where the first European settlers came into contact with the indigenous people of the region, the pastoral Khoikhoi. The Khoikhoi and their closest relatives, the San people, and are collectively referred to as Khoisan. Both peoples had names that are now considered inappropriate, the Khoikhoi being labelled Hottentots, now considered a derogatory term, and Bushmen being used for the San. Archaeological evidence suggests that modern humans have lived in Southern Africa for at least 170,000.

The Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias and his crew are regarded as the first Europeans to have sighted the Cape in 1488 which he named Cabo das Tormentas (Cape of Storms). This was later changed to Cabo da Boa Esperança or Cape of Good Hope by the Portuguese King John II. After this, it is probable that many European excursions to the East Indies stopped at the Cape for refreshments. These Europeans came into contact with the pastoral Khoikhoi, despite Afrikaner historian claims to the contrary, and in many cases the encounters were violent.

It was over 150 years later that Jan van Riebeeck on behalf of the Dutch East India Company established a settlement at the Cape of Good Hope which became Cape Town. The Europeans brought with them the curse of the Old World, smallpox, to which these indigenous people had no immunity and despite the continuing conflict with the Khoikhoi, the beginning of what was to become the coloured community happened around this time. As usual, the early settlers were mostly men and they took up with Khoikhoi women who bore them mixed children. Like in most colonies, particularly Dutch ones, these mixed children were elevated a step up from natives and obtained certain ‘privileges’. However they did not obtain the social or legal statuses of their fathers. These early mixed children came to be known as Basters or Baasters (bastards) and the colonialists were not averse to conscripting these offspring into commandos to fight against their mother’s people.

The constant demand for fresh produce by the passing ships mean that the settlers had to expand into Khoikhoi territory and it is believed that some of the Dutch East India Company’s employees were released from their contracts in exchange for land for farming. These new farmers were successful and many took on local wives. Additionally, the Dutch were importing slaves from Indonesia, Madagascar and India for the new colonialists. Slaves were interbred and the women bore children both to the Europeans and other slaves fuelling the growth of the Cape Coloured community.

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