For ease of reference, the history of South Africa can be roughly divided into four unique phases.
The first phase is the prehistoric phase, during which, according to archaeological findings, the area of present-day South Africa was occupied by nomadic hunter-gatherers, who left behind a rich heritage of rock art. These early peoples lived off the land and did not establish permanent urbanised settlements. They are referred to nowadays as “Bushmen” (although this term is seen as derogatory) or “San” (which is more acceptable). They were still very much present when the next phase occurred.
The second phase can be described as one of tribal migration, during which various tribes entered the area of South Africa and took up residence there. These tribes were different to the San in that they formed permanent settlements and they farmed cattle. To this day, cattle are still very important in the remaining culture of these peoples. They fought several inter-tribal wars, causing widespread disruption of their lifestyle and migration. This is why European settlers sometimes encountered vast open tracts of land when they began their northward migration out of the Western Cape, and at other times they met with tribes travelling south, fleeing the onslaught of King Shaka’s Zulu army.
The third phase involved the colonisation of South Africa, and then the emergence of the apartheid regime. Starting in 1652, European settlers gradually increased their presence in South Africa, until the advent of the mining economy saw the wholesale social and economic subjugation of the indigneous tribes, a process that did not occur without considerable violence and aggression on the part of all roleplayers. Apartheid was merely an extension of this system of subjugation, although it took the principle of racial discrimination to extreme (sometimes absurd) lengths. Although South Africa was declared a Union in 1910, the Nationalist government declared the country a Republic in 1961, and it has remained one to the present day.
The fourth phase in South Africa’s history started in the 1980s, when intensifying economic and social pressures caused the apartheid government to collapse. This heralded the democratic era in South Africa, and since 1994 the country has been a constitutional democracy in which every citizen above the age of 18 years has the right to vote in national elections.