Cape Colony and Cape Town

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Cape Colony and Cape Town

The Cape Colony was a Dutch and later British colony at the southern tip of Africa, with Cape Town as its capital and largest city. The region was originally inhabited by the San and Khoikhoi peoples (known together as Khoisan), who were nomadic hunters and pastoralists, and by Bantu-speaking Africans. Europeans first reached the Cape region in 1488, when the Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias (ca. 1450–1500, also spelled Diaz) rounded what he named the Cape of Good Hope. The Portuguese did not establish any permanent settlement, but used the Cape as a stopping place on their way to India and East Africa.

European settlement began in 1652, when Jan van Riebeeck (1619–1677), in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, founded Cape Town as a permanent supply station linking the Netherlands with its colonies in Southeast Asia. Khoisan were recruited as laborers for the settlement, but the Dutch also imported slaves from Indonesia and other parts of Asia. Intermingling among these peoples and the European settlers created a population of mixed race, known in South Africa as "colored" people, in addition to the European and African populations.

Dutch, as well as French Huguenot, settlement increased and the European population at the Cape reached one thousand by 1745. By this time many settlers began moving away from Cape Town, and established farms further into the interior of Africa. These early pioneers, known as trekboers, lived independently but often came into conflict with the indigenous African population. Some of the French Huguenot settlers were instrumental in establishing a wine industry near Cape Town, which still flourishes.

Events in Europe had a significant effect on the later colonization of the Cape region. As a result of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, Britain occupied the Cape Colony in 1795 and acquired it from the Dutch in 1806, renaming it the Cape of Good Hope Colony. British settlers brought a different language and legal system to the Cape and abolished slavery, to the dissatisfaction of the original Dutch settlers. In 1835 another group of Dutch Boers (meaning "farmers") left the Cape on a long migration, or trek, into the interior of Africa, much as the earlier trekboers had done. This movement, known as the Great Trek, resulted in the formation of independent Boer republics in interior South Africa. British settlers also expanded their territory eastward, which brought them into a series of wars with the indigenous Xhosa people.

British development of the colony and of Cape Town continued, especially after the annexation of the important diamond-producing region of Kimberley in 1880. The colony had expanded in size to encompass over half the area of present-day South Africa, had become self-governing in 1872, and was one of the most important British colonies in Africa. In 1910, after the defeat of the Boer republics in the Boer War, the Cape became one of the original provinces in the Union of South Africa. Since 1994 the former Cape Province has been divided into several smaller provinces, but Cape Town remains one of the most important cities in Africa.

see also Colonial Cities and Towns, Africa.


Beck, Roger B. The History of South Africa. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000.

Davenport, T. R. H., and Christopher Saunders. South Africa: A Modern History, 5th ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Worden, Nigel, Elizabeth van Heyningen, and Vivian Bickford-Smith. Cape Town: The Making of a City. Cape Town: David Philip, 1998.

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Cape Colony and Cape Town

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