At the time of European contact, the dominant ethnic group were Bantu-speaking peoples who migrated there thousands of years before. The two major groups were the Xhosa and Zulu peoples, whose languages are still today the most spoken, along with Afrikaans (developed from Dutch) and English (reflecting the legacy of British colonialism).
The Dutch East India Company established the first European settlement in Table Bay by 1652, following an eastward expansion that marked the start of a series of wars against the migrating Xhosa tribe. The discovery of diamonds and gold in the 19th century increased economic growth and immigration, but also British efforts to gain control over the region. Thus, a series of migrant groups of Dutch settlers (known as Voortrekkers, meaning “Pioneers”) departed from the Cape Colony, where they had been subjected to British control, and founded the Boer Republics.
The republics successfully resisted British attacks during the First Boer War (1880–1881). However, the Second Boer War (1899–1902) was ultimately successful for the British. After years of negotiation, in 1909 an act of the British Parliament granted nominal independence and led to the Union of South Africa. In 1948, the National Party rose to power and became known as apartheid for the institutionalisation of the racial segregation that began under colonial rule.
In fact, while whites enjoyed the highest standard of living, the black majority remained disadvantaged by almost every standard. Apartheid eventually became increasingly controversial within and outside the country, while anti-apartheid organisations such as the African National Congress (ANC), the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO), and the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) carried out guerrilla warfare, several countries began to boycott business with the South African government. After a long struggle, a repeal of discriminatory laws began and with the first democratic elections in 1994 (won by the ANC party, with Nelson Mandela as its leader) all ethnic and linguistic groups have held political representation in the country’s liberal democracy, which comprises a parliamentary republic and nine provinces with three capital cities: Pretoria as executive, Bloemfontein as judicial, and Cape Town as legislative capital. Despite South Africa is still struggling with the consequences of the historic disparities, daily life became better for most of its multiethnic society, as well as its culture and arts, which were often forced into silence or exile during the apartheid era.