Social Ties in Stone Age South Africa: Experts Find Stone Tools Connected Far Away Communities

Social Ties in Stone Age South Africa: Experts Find Stone Tools Connected Far Away Communities

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Stone tools that were discovered and examined by a group of international experts showed for the first time that various communities that lived during the Middle Stone Age period were widely connected and shared ideas around tool design.

The tools – mainly blades and backed knives from the Howiesons Poort – were found in various layers in the Klipdrift Shelter, in the southern Cape in South Africa. They were examined by a group of lithic experts, who found distinct similarities to tools from sites in South Africa’s Western Cape, over 300 km ( 186.41 miles) away, in particular with the Diepkloof Rock Shelter site.

Overview of Klipdrift Complex From Sea. (Credits Magnus Haaland)

“While regional specificities in the tools from the various sites exist, the similarities of Klipdrift Shelter with the site of Diepkloof Rock Shelter are astonishing,” says Dr. Katja Douze, the corresponding author of the study that was published in PlosOne on November 7.

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Thousands of Stone Tools

The team, under the leadership of Professor Christopher Henshilwood from Wits University and the University of Bergen’s SapienCE Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour, examined thousands of stone tools that were excavated from seven layers that represent a time period of between 66,000 years ago and 59,000 years ago, to establish the differences in stone tool design over time. They then also compared the stone tools to various other sites in Howiesons Poort.

“The site of Klipdfrift Shelter is one of the few containing a long archaeological sequence that provides data on cultural changes over time during the Howiesons Poort,” says Douze. “This makes it perfect to study the change in culture over time.”

Examples of Howiesons Poort stone tools from Klipdrift Shelter. (Credits Anne Delagnes and Gauthier Devilder)

Long Distance Connections in Stone Age South Africa

However, what was even more exciting for the researchers was the fact that for the first time they could show closely networked interaction between distant communities through the way they designed stone tools.

“There was an almost perfect match between the tools from the Klipdrift and Diepkloof shelters,” says Douze. “This shows us that there was regular interaction between these two communities.”

“This is the first time that we can draw such a parallel between different sites based on robust sets of data, and show that there was mobility between the two sites. This is unique for the Middle Stone Age,” says Douze.

The Middle Stone Age in Africa stretches from 350,000 years ago to 25,000 years ago and is a key period for understanding the development of the first Homo sapiens , their behavioral changes through time and their movements in-and-out of Africa.

Howiesons Poort Techno-Culture

Named after Howieson’s Poort Shelter archaeological site near Grahamstown in South Africa, the Howiesons Poort is a specific techno-culture within the Middle Stone Age that evolves in southern Africa after 100,000 years ago at the Diepkloof Shelter, but between 66,000 – 59,000 years at most other Howiesons Poort sites. The characteristics of the Howiesons Poort are strongly distinctive from other Middle Stone Age industries as it is characterized by the production of small blades and backed tools, used as hunting armatures as much as for cutting flesh, while other MSA industries show flake, large blade and point productions.

The tools found in the deeper layers of the Klipdrift Shelter that represent the earlier phases of the Howiesons Poort were found to be made from heat-treated silcrete, while those from later phases were made from less homogeneous rocks such as quartz and quartzite. This change happens together with changes in tool production strategies. “The changes over time seems to reflect cultural changes, rather than immediate alterations forced on the designers by changes in climate”, says Douze.

Location of Klipdrift Shelter and other South African Howiesons Poort sites. (Credits Katja Douze)

“Our preconceived idea of prehistoric groups is that they just struggled to survive, but in fact they were very adaptable to environmental circumstances. There seem to be no synchrony between modification in design choices and environmental changes. However, the aridification of the area over time might have led to a very gradual change that led to the end of the Howiesons Poort.”

Analyzing the Decline of Howiesons Poort

The team also attempted to establish why and how the Howiesons Poort ended, and to see whether it came to a sudden, or gradual end.

“The decline of the Howiesons Poort at Klipdrift Shelter shows a gradual and complex pattern of changes, from which the first “symptoms” can be observed much earlier than the final abandonment of typical Howiesons Poort technology and toolkits,” says Douze.

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“This does not support a catastrophic scenario involving alarming demographic drops or massive population replacements. The fact that a similar pattern of gradual change has been described for at least three other southern African Howiesons Poort sites (Rose Cottage Cave, Diepkloof Rock Shelter and Klasies River main site), further ascertains convergent evolutions in cultural trajectories rather than isolated groups promptly reacting to locally determined pressures.”

Stone tools

One of the features that distinguishes humans and their hominid ancestors from the rest of the animal kingdom is their possession of complex culture, which includes the ability to communicate with spoken language, create art and make tools. The oldest stone tools dated so far are nearly 2.6-million years old and come from Ethiopia.

Our ancestors only began to make more refined tools from bone much more recently, probably only within the last 100,000 years. Bone tools dated to about 80,000 years ago have been found in Blombos Cave, on the southern Cape coast of South Africa.

Some scientists have argued that hominids such as Paranthropus robustus were making bone tools in the Cradle of Humankind far longer ago – perhaps more than 1-million years ago – though this is controversial.

There are two main types of stone tool – those based on flakes chopped off cores of rock, and those made on cores themselves.

The stone flakes, or flake tools, that were struck off the cores, were more usually the desired end-product and were used for cutting and skinning animals or to work plant materials.

Stone cores result from striking flakes of stone off a rock. They are commonly no more than by-products of stone tool making. But some cores could have been used to break open bones for their protein-rich marrow and to chop up tough vegetation for eating. Rocks that weren’t fashioned into stone tools could also have been by hominids for pounding or crushing seeds and for throwing, for example.

Sterkfontein has produced the oldest stone tools in Southern Africa – cores and flakes of the Oldowan industry dating to nearly 2-million years ago.


Kasteelberg est une colline importante et une localité archéologique réputée sur la côte ouest de l’Afrique du Sud. Il contient de nombreuses preuves de pratiques d’élevage précoloniales. Dans cet article, je décris les matériaux mis au jour à KBDe, un site situé au sommet de la colline. Je soutiens que KBDe n’est qu’une partie d’un vaste site qui couvre le sommet de Kasteelberg et inclut la localité précédemment publiée, KBA. De la fin du VIIe siècle au milieu du XIe siècle, le sommet de la colline servait de lieu de fête. Les villages perchés sont souvent associés à un statut social élevé, et Kasteelberg est peut-être l’exemple le plus ancien de ce type de signalisation en Afrique du Sud.


Un problema muy grave que enfrentan los enfoques norteamericanos a la arqueología histórica es la manera excluyente en que se define la disciplina. Al confinar a la arqueología histórica a la era del capitalismo y del colonialismo, declaramos que las historias indígenas de muchas áreas del mundo no le interesan a dicha agenda intelectual. Si practicamos una arqueología histórica que s lo valoriza la experiencia colonial, entonces, ¿qué ocurre con la historia hecha por las culturas que participaron en la era precapitalista y premoderna? Tales enfoques separan las historias de los pueblos de África de las del Occidente y, de hecho, es un apartheid académico. Para remediar esta coyuntura, interrogamos cómo la arqueología histórica puede escapar a los límites del racismo implícito en su negación de la autenticidad histórica antes de la alfabetización. Sugerimos que la única manera de realizar una arqueología inclusiva, sensible a todos los proyectos de hacer historia, es romper las cadenas de la exclusión.

Materials and Methods

Acacia gum collected from Acacia karroo and Acacia tortilis trees fluctuated between being highly viscous, and dry and crystalline. Its pH varied between 3.0 and 4.4 (Table 1). Natural yellow and red ochres were collected from a Snuffbox Shale quarry in the vicinity of Sibudu Cave. Ochre no. 15 came from the Waterberg, Limpopo. Ochre was powdered by rubbing nodules on coarse, flat sandstone slabs (Sibudu roof-spall Fig. S2) because such slabs with ochre stains have been found at Sibudu.

Three adhesive recipes are reported here: (i) Acacia gum alone (5 mL) (ii) Acacia gum (5 mL) mixed with either natural ochre powder (2.5 mL) or synthetic hematite powder (2.5 mL) and (iii) Acacia gum (5 mL) mixed with natural ochre powder (2.5 mL) and heated beeswax (1.2 mL).

All of our replications were conducted with open wood fires whose temperatures varied depending on the type and amount of wood used but did not exceed 726 °C. Temperatures were recorded by using an MT 632 thermometer (manufactured by MajorTech Pty Ltd) with a 50-cm-long thermocouple.

The adhesive was partially dehydrated on a stick rotated near fire for 1.5 min at a temperature that varied between 250 °C and 300 °C. The adhesive was then used to mount the stone insert to its wooden haft (Fig. S3), and the hafted tool was placed near the fire (60–100 °C) for 4 hours to dry and harden the adhesive. Each tool was rotated at 10-min intervals (more frequently with wet adhesive) and was moved closer or farther from the fire depending on the heat.

Samples of adhesives and/or ochre were analyzed as follows:

Particle-size analysis was conducted by weighing each powdered ochre sample on a digital balance, then sieving it through a stack of geological sieves (1,180, 425, 300, and 180 μm). Each component was weighed after sieving.

Inductively coupled plasma-optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES) was used for elements in Table 2. Nitric acid [5 mL (55%)], hydrofluoric acid [4 mL (40%)], and hydrochloric acid [0.5 mL (33%)] were added to each sample of iron powder (0.25 g). The samples were heated in a Multiwave 3000 V1.27 microwave oven (manufactured by Anton Paar) before transfer to the ICP-OES (manufactured by Spectro Genesis).

X-ray fluorescence spectrometry was used to characterize chemically the elements in Table S2.

EDS analysis was used for additional elemental analysis of adhesives. A spot-mode technique was performed on different areas (for example, featureless versus granular areas) of 6 adhesives. The spectra show peaks of elements (Fig. S1), but these are not an indicator of precise quantities of the elements represented they correspond to the strengths of energy pulses emitted from the samples.

Replicated adhesives were pressed into molds when wet and were dried near an open fire before measuring their hardness with a Superficial Rockwell T Hardness tester (HR15X) (manufactured by Time Testing Instruments) with a 15-kg full load, 3-kg preload, and 6-mm steel ball indenter. Several measurements were taken from each sample, and outliers were excluded.

pH was measured by using a pH probe, pH indicator papers, and a Malvern Zetasizer Nano system Z3600 (for the samples submitted for ZP readings).

ZP was measured by using a Malvern Zetasizer Nano system Z3600 (manufactured by Malvern Instruments Ltd). Temperature was maintained at 25 °C. One set of samples used 0.05 M KCl as a diluent, and another identical set used deionized water. A total of 0.1 g of each sample was added to 50 mL of either 0.05 M KCl or deionized water. To acidify the solutions, 0.01 M HCl was used. Four samples were selected for ZP readings: A. karroo gum, red ochre no. 15, yellow ochre no. 10, and adhesive made from A. karroo gum and red ochre no. 15.

Each tool was used for chopping Ozoroa paniculosa branches for 5 min at a constant rate of 2 strokes per second to test the resilience of the adhesives. Adhesive was considered successful if it survived the 5-min task without breaking.

CHAPTER THREE: Autism and earliest human origins

Their strengths and deficits do not deny them humanity but, rather, shape their humanity.

We saw in chapter one that many assume that individuals with autism were either not present in human societies in the distant past or, if they were, were unable to have influence or make any contribution. In chapter two, however, we saw that the skills and talents possessed by individuals with autism, and the role of such individuals in society today, argue that autism might be part of natural human variation and that autism may have played a role in human evolutionary history.

There is no direct evidence for autism from human remains. However, by considering the treatment of individuals with weaknesses or differences and the nature of social relationships along the human evolutionary journey we can begin to build up a picture of the involvement of difference and diversity in what makes us human.

We saw in chapter two that for some people autism, particularly when associated with intellectual disabilities, is a disabling condition, requiring extensive support. However, for many, if not most, their autism is best seen as a difference bringing with it weaknesses and challenges but also particular compensatory strengths. These individuals might sometimes need support in some contexts, but at other times contribute valued skills and talents.

In this chapter we consider what support and accommodation might have been available for weaknesses and disabilities which required support in the distant evolutionary past. We shall see that from the time of our last common ancestor with chimpanzees, living around 6-8 million years ago, early human societies developed along their own unique path. The extent of support which might have been available for any vulnerability is likely to have developed slowly through time, alongside the social and cognitive abilities to appreciate the autistic talents we saw in chapter two, and the social means to support particular roles.

We follow in the next chapter by considering where autistic differences and the autistic extreme of personality variation might have been acknowledged and appreciated, and when and how individuals with autism could have been able to hold particular valued roles within communities and contribute to human evolutionary success.

Ape ancestors, 6-8 million years ago

Genetic research argues that autism occurs right at the very start of the human evolutionary story, at least 8 million years ago. Genes for autism appear to be part of the evolvability of the ape and human genome, or its capacity to adapt (Gualtieri 2014), present due to other cognitive advantages which autism confers and which mitigate the costs (Marques-Bonet and Eichler 2009). For example, DUF120 domain dosage appears to be a primary factor in evolutionary brain expansion in higher primates, coding for neural stem cells and cortical volume (Dumas et al. 2012) but also correlating linearly with the three primary symptoms of autism (Davis et al. 2014). Genes for autism may even pre-date the emergence of apes, with autistic behaviour having been associated with genetic markers for autism in macaques (Yoshida et al. 2016) further confirming the long evolutionary history of autism.

How would individuals with autism have been treated in ancestral ape societies?

Our best evidence comes from comparative studies of our nearest relatives, chimpanzees, as well as other apes and primates. Although chimpanzees have evolved since the far distant past communities of our last shared ancestor (from which both humans and chimpanzees evolved), living around 6-8 million years ago, they provide us with the best source of possible analogies for such societies.

Nurturance and care in apes

Maternal bonds are strong amongst apes. We can be certain, therefore, that ancestral ape mothers will have had the ‘hard wiring’ to care for the vulnerable in the form of strong maternal instincts to look after offspring. Ape mothers (though not fathers) devote many years to caring for dependant offspring (and chimpanzees, for example, take around nine years to reach adulthood).

Figure 3.1. Bonds between our mothers in our nearest living relatives (chimpanzees) and their infants are strong, and mothers go to great length to nurture and support their young.

Even an infant that is less socially engaged or less socially responsive nonetheless stands a good chance of being cared for by its mother in an ape society. An example comes from the case of a chimpanzee mother in the Mahale mountains who carefully cared for her infant with Down’s Syndrome (Matsumoto et al. 2016). The mother, Christina, occasionally helped by her older infant, cared for the severely disabled baby, walking on three legs so that she could support the baby underneath her, and breast feeding for longer than usual. Christina seemed able to accommodate the differences which resulted from her baby’s disability. She learnt to carry her differently, didn’t let others carry her (which might have been dangerous if they didn’t know how) and held her in a particular way so that she could breastfed. The others in the group didn’t show any negative reactions to the infant. The disabled chimp lived for 23 months however, she was never seen eating plant foods or walking, probably struggling to survive as soon as she needed to eat solid foods.

The motivation to nurture a baby who was less socially engaged or disabled in other ways is likely to have existed even as far back as many millions of years ago. However, in non-human great apes, it is mothers who shoulder almost all the infant care. This effectively places a limit on the extent of disability, vulnerability or weakness that can be supported, and mothers single-handedly caring for severely disabled infants often show signs of stress (Matsumoto et al. 2016).

An ancestral ape with autism who reached adulthood would not necessarily have been excluded from ancestral ape society. A study of Japanese macaques, for example, showed that there was no social selection against disability, with physically disabled macaques treated equally (Turner et al. 2014). However, there is no evidence of support or accommodation for disability. Turner showed that disabled macaques have to manage on their own, which means that they have less time for socialising and fewer allies. This is significant as allies are important to survival. We know that injuries lower the ‘rank’ of chimpanzees and their previous allies often abandon them: the rank of the Tai forest chimpanzee Jomeo was substantially reduced when he injured his foot, for example (Boesch 1992), and the Gombe forest chimpanzee Faben was reduced to a lower rank, submissive to his younger brother Faben, after he could no longer use his arm (Goodall 1986).

Social astuteness matters for apes who live in large social groups. Common and pygmy chimpanzees (bonobos) have a strict dominance hierarchy, and social deficits carry notable disadvantages in this hierarchy. It is evident that social life revolves around particular alliances, and there are strict ranks of dominance, with one’s allies and one’s rank dependant on one’s social skills as well as physical power. Life can be intensely political, as individuals compete for their place, and vie to form the strongest alliances (de Waal 1998). Although rare in bonobos, violence within groups of common chimpanzees is common, particularly against low ranking individuals (Wrangham, Wilson, and Muller 2006), who have much lower reproductive success than those of high rank. Moreover, when attacked by a chimpanzee of higher rank chimpanzee take out their aggression on those of lower rank (Boehm 2011), and within group aggression can be lethal (Kaburu, Inoue, and Newton-Fisher 2013). Chimpanzees can also be cunningly manipulative for their own ends and there is little commitment to others – they readily discard allies who lose rank (Gilby et al. 2014). Even amongst more peaceful bonobos, social and emotional astuteness is a key determinant of alliances and rank (Clay and de Waal 2013). Understanding all the complexities of social relationships is likely to have been significant in determining the social and reproductive success of any ancestral ape.

In a fascinating study of personality variation and traits of autism in chimpanzees, Marrus et al. argue that chimpanzee groups have a similar personality variation in social responsiveness (a trait lowered in autism) as human populations (Marrus et al. 2011). Chimpanzees who were less socially adept than others were clearly present and survived within the group as adults. However, these chimpanzees were consistently lower ranking (Faughn et al. 2015). The equivalent of autism in chimpanzees is clearly not the same condition as in humans. Apart from any other consideration, researchers found compensatory technical skills in terms of engagement and manipulation of objects (Marrus et al. 2011). However, the study at least gives us some insight into both the presence and the social effect of autism in our most distant ancestors.

Though adults with an ancestral version of autism would receive no accommodation or support and are likely to have been lower ranking, they may still have had some cultural influence. Hobaiter and Byrne, for example, found that several able bodied chimpanzees copied the unique back scratching technique of a severely disabled chimpanzee who had near paralysis in both hands, clearly being influenced to emulate him (Hobaiter and Byrne 2010). Autism in communities many millions of years ago is likely to have been a disability with little compensatory advantages, nor any significant contribution to evolutionary success, but nonetheless one which might be nurtured in infants and have some potential cultural significance.

Early hominins from 3 million years onwards

Over the following millennia as ancestral apes evolved their social characteristics were to change profoundly.

Though there is very limited archaeological evidence available for this period we do know that whilst other apes retreated to stable forested environments during periods of increasing aridity around five million years ago, human ancestors, called hominins, moved into new niches in more open environments. Making a success of a life which was more in the open was a key evolutionary change, and one which also demanded a change in how social relationships worked.

A major change in evolutionary pressures came from predation. More open environments put hominins into the reach of entirely new and dangerous predators, against which these small bodied and defenceless creatures were easy prey. We know, for example, that australopithecines, early ancestors of humans living around 3 million years ago, were often eaten by carnivores. The crania of an australopithecine found at Swartkrans cave in South Africa, for example, is punch marked with tooth holes from a leopard (Pickering et al. 2004). Since leopards don’t scavenge for food, the small hominin must have been leopard kill. The Taung child, a famous cranium from Taung cave in south Africa, is likely to have been killed by eagles (Berger and McGraw 2007). Hominins from Olduvai Gorge in Kenya showed signs of having been killed by crocodiles (Njau and Blumenschine 2006). Clearly predation was a key selection pressure on these groups.

In response to their dangerous environment hominins had to work together to survive, to find food and to protect their vulnerable offspring. The collaborative potential in ancestral apes would have been under pressure to intensify to meet these pressures. Hominins probably threw stones together as a defence against carnivores, for example (Rose and Marshall 1996). This was also probably the time when humans collaborated to raise young, with other mothers as well as fathers likely to be involved in raising and protecting offspring (Blaffer Hrdy 2008 Hrdy 2011). Collaborative parenting meant that supporting offspring with more demanding needs became feasible. We also find stone tools being produced at sites in east Africa from at least 3.3 million years ago (Harmand et al. 2015), opening up a new niche for scavenging carnivore kills for bone marrow and scraps of meat and for technology to become important in subsistence.

The scene was set for more fundamental changes in society.

Early humans from 1.5 million years ago

The collaboration which is widely seen as the key to early human success – allowing a vulnerable ape to move into new ecological niches – comes ever more clearly into view in the archaeological evidence surviving from around one and a half million years ago.

Some of the earliest evidence for collaborative hunting appears from around one and a half million years onwards (Domínguez-Rodrigo et al. 2014). Hominins may have often collaborated to scare predators from existing carcasses and scavenge the remains themselves. However, species such as Homo erectus left animal bones and stone tools at sites such as BK and FLK Zinj at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, which illustrate that they were able to hunt small, medium and large size animals such as hippopotamus and early forms of giraffe and cattle. Active hunting of game, and we assume, sharing the results of that hunting, put early humans at risk from the hunted animals themselves as well as in direct competition with carnivores, and increased pressure on abilities to work together.

A greater dependence on meat also implied that stone tools, used to butcher carcasses, were essential to survival. There is no evidence that anyone specialised in making stone tools (and we don’t even know if handaxes were made by everyone, just by males or even just by females). However, for the first time stone tools such as handaxes conformed to a particular design, and became not only more efficient but also more difficult to produce, therefore most likely involving a period of learning. Stone tools could also become a means of displaying valued technical skills as well as demonstrating patience and focus (Spikins 2012). An aptitude for working with objects, a strong sense of patience and an ability to focus became an advantage, as did having an understanding of animal behaviour.

Figure 3.2. This handaxe, from Olduvai Gorge, dating to 1.2 million years old, illustrates an increasing technological skill and attention to aesthetics and symmetry in stone tools.

Both the social and the technical elements of human cognition were under pressure to become more complex.

Human evolutionary success certainly depended on social skills. The ability to collaborate with others became increasingly important both inspiring trust in others (Spikins 2012) and knowing who to trust became important skills (Nowak and Sigmund 2005 Rand and Nowak 2013). There were also pressures to be increasingly empathetic, responding to the needs of not only infants but also kin and other group members (Decety et al. 2012) and to have higher levels of theory of mind and understanding of others’ feelings and motivations (Shultz, Nelson, and Dunbar 2012 Gamble, Gowlett, and Dunbar 2011). Commitments and collaboration became a key to survival (Nesse 2001).

However, evolutionary success also depended on technology. Tools became more essential to survival, and increasingly complex over time. The earliest tool forms were simply made of easily produced flakes, for example however, after 1.8 million years ago, handaxes demanded an understanding of process and symmetry (Stout et al. 2008). In later periods the control of fire became important (Roebroeks and Villa 2011), as did hafting tools, and ultimately multi-component tools allowed survival in extreme environments.

An increased component of meat in the diet was important in providing the protein for brain expansion in response to pressures to be more sophisticated in both social and technical ways. After around 2 million years ago we see marked increases in brain size.

Figure 3.3. Homo erectus, with a larger body form, increased brain size and more complex technology appeared around 1.8 million years ago.

Significant changes were taking place in how societies worked together to survive. For the first time we see vulnerable adults being supported and cared for. The earliest evidence for possible support of a vulnerable adult comes from the Dmanisi mandible in Georgia, an almost ‘toothless’ hominin that many argue must have been provided food by others around 1.8 million years ago (Lordkipanidze et al. 2005). This interpretation has been contested, however, with others arguing that the individual might nonetheless have been able to fend for himself. More convincing is the find of a young female dating to around 1.6 million years ago who suffered from crippling and eventually terminal hypervitaminosis (Walker, Zimmerman and Leakey 1982). This female lived long enough, suffering extreme pain and probable loss of consciousness, for the disease to show in her bones. It is undeniable that she must have been given food and water and protected from predators whilst she was ill by others in her group. There were clearly motivations to both include and to support those who were vulnerable.

Figure 3.4. A ‘toothless’ crania from Dmanisi in Georgia, dating to 1.8 million years ago, has been argued to be evidence of food provisioning of those who were vulnerable.

Figure 3.5. A layer of bone in the femur of a female dated to 1.6 million years ago illustrates that she had severe hypervitaminosis and must have been looked after for several weeks before her death.

Support for those who needed it was very unlikely to be a conscious choice or strategy. More probably, stronger bonds and attachments developed through selection for those more willing and motivated the support of others with vulnerabilities, as this provided the ‘give and take’ which allowed survival. Humans had already demonstrated capacities for long term commitment to adults well beyond those seen in other primates.

Whiten and Erdal (2012) argue that several significant new social elements were emerging. Food sharing allowed vulnerable individuals, such as pregnant or nursing females, to be supported. From the ranked hierarchies with constant competition for status and physical power seen in other social primates, this period may have seen the origins of much more egalitarian societies, driving the economic benefits and long term ‘give and take’ of collaboration. These can perhaps be seen as the first steps towards communities made up of different individuals working together for the benefit of the group and supporting each other when needed.

From half a million years ago and the emergence of early communities

Diversity becomes much more clearly in evidence from half a million years ago.

Reconstructions of humans from our distant past always show a group of young strong (typically male) individuals, who are remarkably similar to each other, brandishing spears and looking invulnerable. However, by half a million years ago the archaeological record tells a different story. Many individuals in each human group must have suffered from temporary or more permanent weaknesses or vulnerabilities which needed accommodation and few people fitted the concept of ‘normal’ which we impose on our past.

Our best example of variation within human groups comes from the site of Sima de los Huesos, Atapuerca, northern Spain dating to around 450,000 years ago. Life hunting and gathering was evidently harsh for these populations, with injuries common. However, social support clearly kept injured or vulnerable individuals within the group. At this site 28 individuals have been deposited in a mortuary pit, some of the earliest evidence of funerary activity. Of these, several suffered from conditions which required support and accommodation. A child of around five to eight years old suffered from craniosyntosis and a torsioning of the crania which may have led to mental disability, yet was clearly looked after with as much care as any other child (Gracia et al. 2009). One elderly man had a disfigured pelvis and must have walked with difficulty, at the very least needing a stick. Another man was deaf (Bonmatí et al. 2010). All three had been supported within the group. Communities were clearly both willing and able to support differences which required individual accommodation.

By the time of later archaic humans such as Neanderthals, social support for vulnerabilities was clearly widespread. One individual from Shanidar Cave, for example, suffered from a withered arm, damaged leg and probably blindness in one eye and is likely to have been dependant on others for his survival. However, he was cared for, probably through shared collaborative care, for around ten to fifteen years (Trinkaus and Zimmerman 1982). Others with marked injuries and disabilities, such as individuals from La Ferrassie and La Chapelle aux Saints, were also clearly carefully looked after (Tilley 2015a 2015b). Care for vulnerability was widespread (Spikins, Rutherford and Needham 2010 Spikins 2015).

Figure 3.6. Care and support was widespread by the time of archaic humans such as Neanderthals.

Figure 3.7. The arm bones of the Shanidar Neanderthal illustrate his disability, which was supported by the rest of his group for 10-15 years.

Many find the extent of care seen in archaic humans difficult to understand. Surely it would have been economically more efficient to abandon the vulnerable?

It is clear that selective pressures created early humans that cared deeply about each other, and strong bonds will have motivated care and support. Nevertheless, the extent of collaboration and willingness to take risks on behalf of others which allowed early humans to survive and be successful was likely to have only been possible with the right social and emotional climate. Even today we only naturally become altruistic adults if we grow up in an environment of care and support (Gilbert 2005 Mikulincer and Shaver 2010). Abandoning the vulnerable was probably not only unthinkable for archaic humans in a moral or emotional sense, but also deeply damaging to the social environment and culture of unquestioning support within which sharing and collaboration existed.

Whilst there is nothing visible on human bones to provide direct evidence of autism in prehistory, in the context of the widespread care seen in archaic humans we would have to find a special explanation for why the challenges which autism brought were not supported.

Did autism bring advantages in such societies? We don’t know when in an evolutionary sense human societies became sufficiently complex to support not merely individuals with autism but a collaborative integration between different types of mind and different cognitive skills. There is little evidence for craft or technological specialisation before the emergence of our own species, for example. The particular skills of individuals with autism might have been supported and integrated, bringing particular advantages in the far distant past of archaic species. However, it is after 100,000 years ago, sometime after the emergence of our own species, that it becomes easier to see roles for individuals with autism (Spikins, Wright and Hodgson 2016).

To understand the world of the hunter-gatherer societies that developed after this date, and the potential role of autism within it, we will consider in the next chapter both the archaeological record of this period and analogies with modern hunting and gathering populations.


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Southern African Stone Age

The Southern African Stone Age covers the longest period in human history, that is, the last three million years of human evolution and adaptation in a region south of the 18th parallel south. The region includes the countries of Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe, with a northern border marked by the Kunene River between Angola and Namibia, the Cuando River on the borders of Angola, Namibia, and Botswana, and the Zambezi River. It is divided into three main phases, known as Early, Middle, and Later Stone Age. The Early Stone Age had its beginning about three million years ago with the development of Australopithecus, found in South Africa in the region called the Cradle of Humankind. The earliest stone tools in the region were discovered in the cave of Sterkfontein and are dated to around two million years ago. These first stone tools, which include choppers, polyhedrons, and subspheroids, among other artifacts, are part of an industrial complex known as the Oldowan, which lasted for a few hundred thousand of years. It was followed by the Acheulean, known by its unique large cutting tools, the handaxes, cleavers, and picks, starting about 1.8 million years ago. During this period, species such as Homo habilis and Homo erectus/ergaster walked over southern Africa. The Middle Stone Age, starting about three hundred thousand years ago, seems to be directly associated with the emergence of a new species, Homo sapiens. This phase shows a wide cultural diversity in the region, and in fact across the whole African continent, both in time and space. This is a phase drastically marked by technological and cultural innovations, such as the use of bow and arrow, hafting, bone tools, lithic heat treatment, use of pigments, production of body ornaments such as beads, art in the form of engravings, and, finally, the systematic inclusion of shellfish and plants in the human diet. These innovations, however, were not used all in the same location. This congregation of techniques and innovations took place only during the next phase, the Later Stone Age, which started around thirty-five thousand years ago. It is likely the result of an important demographic change that occurred as a response to climatic oscillations that took place at the world level. Like the Middle Stone Age, the Later Stone Age saw an incredible range of cultural diversity in the large region of southern Africa. Traditionally, it was believed that the main differences between the Middle and Later Stone Ages were based on a dichotomy where, on one side, points and flake industries resulting from prepared cores such as Levallois were present, and on the other, simple cores producing microlithic assemblages, sometimes geometric, together with art, and beads and organic tools were present. Today, however, that simplistic contrast is known to be wrong, and the differences in cultural complexity are more a matter of concentration than innovation. The Later Stone Age hunter-gatherers were finally slowly replaced by farmers and herders and later by Iron Age populations, between twenty-five hundred years ago and the recent historical present.



The Southern African Stone Age

The southern African Stone Age provides one of the most important records in the world for the understanding of origins and evolution of humankind. Perhaps not as eloquent or extensive as eastern Africa for the earliest phases of human development, southern Africa, together with the European archaeological record and the discovery of the Neanderthals in the mid- 19th century , has a longer research history that goes back to the discovery of the Taung child by Raymond Dart (1925), around Christmas time in 1924 (Falk 2019). Since then, southern Africa has provided an incredible and diverse array of data, particularly for the Middle and Later Stone Ages of the African continent, including fundamental and key elements for understanding the development of complex cognition and its relationship with anatomically modern humans.

From a geographical point of view, southern Africa includes a large portion of the African continent, starting at around latitude 5° south, corresponding broadly to the northern borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania. The geopolitical definition by the United Nations, however, limits southern Africa to Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland. Here, southern Africa is seen as the region south of the Great African Rift, effectively separating southern and eastern Africa, an important unique region on its own, with very particular characteristics for the study of human evolution.

In addition to the southern African countries listed by the UN, and for the issue at hand, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are also included, representing the African region south of the 18th parallel south, with a northern border marked by the Kunene River between Angola and Namibia, the Cuando River within the borders of Angola, Namibia, and Botswana, and the Zambezi River, which divides southern and northern Mozambique. This region is marked by a wide variety of ecological zones, including coastal and lacustrine environments, as well as deserts, savannah, grassland, and tropical forests.

The chronological framework of the southern African Stone Age seems to last close to three million years. It starts during the second half of Late Pliocene times, with the presence of Australopithecus in the fossil record in South Africa, in sites such as the Makapansgat Limeworks in the region called the Cradle of Humankind, and the presence of Taung, both likely dated between 3 and 2.6 million years ago (Herries et al. 2013). The first stone tools found in the cave of Sterkfontein likely date to around two million years ago (Klein 2000) and mark the beginning of the Early Stone Age (ESA) in the region. The next phase, the Middle Stone Age (MSA), seems to start around three hundred thousand years ago (Wurz 2014), giving place to the Later Stone Age (LSA) sometime after forty thousand years ago (Bousman and Brink 2017), which ended with the arrival of Neolithic farmers/herders around twenty-five hundred years ago (Lander and Russell 2018 Sadr 2015), followed by Iron Age pastoralists five hundred years later (Jerardino et al. 2014 Lander and Russell 2018). It should be noted, however, that while these chronological boundaries are generally accepted by all archaeologists, there is an important variability across regions that do not necessarily follow those dates. In addition, the two most important transition phases (i.e., ESA–MSA and MSA–LSA) are murky and are not represented by clear-cut divisions but are marked by some chronological instability with, sometimes, long periods of change and overlap, causing multiple interpretations as well as raising issues about the archaeological record and dating results.

The Early Stone Age

The ESA of southern Africa, much like that of eastern Africa, seems to have two main phases, the Oldowan and the Acheulian (Klein 2000), followed by a transition period marked by the presence of different traditions, including that of the Fauresmith (Barham 2012 Herries 2011) in the region.

The Oldowan is an industrial complex characterized by a very simple stone technology (Toth and Schick 2018) and has been dated back in the African continent to more than 2.58 million years ago (Braun et al. 2019). This, however, is not the earliest evidence for human technology in Africa, since there is other evidence of human technology prior to the Oldowan, specifically cut-marks on bone at the site of Dikika (McPherron et al. 2010), as well as a different stone tool technology at the site of Lomekwi 3 (Harmand et al. 2015). The Oldowan is mostly known from eastern Africa, but a few sites are known in South Africa in the Cradle of Humankind region in the Muldersdrift area near Johannesburg, Gauteng Province (Toth and Schick 2018). In southern Africa, the Oldowan is likely dated sometime between 2 and 1.7 million years ago (Kuman 2003 Kuman and Field 2009), with a likely origin in the Great Rift Valley (De la Torre 2011).

Figure 1. Map of Africa below the equator, showing the approximate locations of sites mentioned in the text. (1) Apollo 11 (2) Blombos Cave (3) Boomplaas (4) Border Cave (5) Broken Hill (6) Bundu Farm (7) Bushman Rock Shelter (8) Cape St Blaize (9) Cave of Hearths (10) Cornelia (11) Die Kelders (12) Diepkloof Rock Shelter (13) Cradle of Humankind (Drimolen, Gladysvale, Kromdraai, Makapansgat, Malapa, Plover’s Lake, Rising Star, Sterkfontein, and Swartkrans) (14) Duinefontein (15) Elands Bay Cave (16) Elandsfontein (17) Fauresmith (18) Florisbad (19) Gemsbok (20) Hoedjiespunt (21) Hollow Rock Shelter (22) Kathu Pan (23) Klasies River (24) Klein Kliphuis (25) Klipdrift Rock Shelter (26) Lincoln Cave (27) Montagu Cave (28) Namib IV (29) Erb Tanks (30) Nelson Bay Cave (31) Ntloana Tsoana (32) Oakhurst (33) Peers Cave (34) Pinnacle Point (35) Melikane (36) Rietputs (37) Wonderwerk (38) Rooidam (39) Rose Cottage Cave (40) Sehonghong (41) Sibudu Rock Shelter (42) Taung (43) Txina‑Txina (44) Umhlatuzana (45) Howiesons Poort (46) Ysterfontein (47) Wilton Large Rock Shelter.

These small assemblages are found in Member 5 of Sterkfontein (Deacon and Deacon 1999 Klein 2000 Kuman 1994, 2003), Swartkrans Members 1–3 (Brain 1981 Klein 2000), Kromdraai B (Kuman 2003 Toth and Schick 2018), and Wonderwerk Cave (Chazan et al. 2008). The Oldowan lithic assemblages are marked by the presence of hammerstones, cores, and flakes made by both unidirectional and multidirectional reduction, resulting, respectively, in unifacial and bifacial choppers, and in polyhedrons and subspheroids (Domínguez‑Rodrigo 2013). The initial nodules tended to be small, about fist-size, producing small flakes (Sahnouni et al. 2013), which were frequently retouched.

While there is no clear agreement on who produced the first lithic assemblages in Africa, there seems to be an association between Australopithecus garhi and cut-marked bones from the site of Bouri dated to around 2.5 million years ago (Asfaw et al. 1999 Domínguez‑Rodrigo 2013 Dominguez‑Rodrigo et al. 2010). The earlier evidence of cut-marks published by McPherron and colleagues from the Dikika location in the Lower Awash Valley, Ethiopia (McPherron et al. 2010), raises the possibility of Australopithecus afarensis as the first hominin stone tool producer in our past, although not without some questions (Domínguez‑Rodrigo et al. 2010).

In southern Africa, however, the earliest hominins known in the region are Australopithecus africanus, named after the Taung child discovery, and the more recent and robust form known as Paranthropus robustus (De la Torre 2011 Toth and Schick 2018), found in Kromdraai in 1938 by Robert Broom, respectively dated to 3.3–2.1 and 2.0–1.2 million years ago. The more recent discovery in the region is that of a new species of Australopithecus, A. sediba (Berger et al. 2010), found at the Malapa site and dated to more recent times, around 1.98 million years ago (Herries et al. 2013). A. africanus fossils were found at four sites, Makapansgat Limeworks, Sterfontein, Taung, and Gladysvale. While the first likely dates to 3–2.6 million years ago (Herries et al. 2013 Toth and Schick 2018), the other sites are younger, likely postdating the 2.6 million years ago date of Makapansgat (Herries et al. 2013). Paranthropus robustus has been found at the sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kroomdraai (Phillipson 2005), and Drimolen (Keyser 2000). The latter two locations are said to be associated with various bone tools dated to 2–1.4 million years ago (Stammers et al. 2018).

Homo is also present in some of these sites (Kromdraai, Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, and Drimolen) although it is not clear if it is habilis (Phillipson 2005) or the later species erectus/ergaster (Toth and Schick 2018), dating to after 2.0 million years ago (Herries et al. 2013 Stammers et al. 2018).

About 1.8–1.7 million years ago (De la Torre 2011 Lepre et al. 2011), a new technological entity appeared in Africa—the Acheulean, perhaps the longest-lasting cultural tradition in human history (Sahnouni et al. 2013). The Acheulean seems to have developed in eastern Africa (Semaw et al. 2009), based on the innovation (Lepre et al. 2011) of large cutting tools such as handaxes, cleavers, and picks (Sahnouni et al. 2013 Semaw et al. 2009). While it is still a topic of contention, there seems to be a chronological association between the emergence of the Acheulean and the appearance of the earliest Homo erectus/ergaster (Lepre et al. 2011). In fact, this idea is supported by the argument that Acheulean technology requires certain neurologic attributes that appeared with a major change in human brain evolution present in the Homo erectus/ergaster group (Klein 2009 Stout and Chaminade 2007 Stout et al. 2008) and that previous hominins (Homo habilis) did not have and did not need to in order to produce the Oldowan (Semaw et al. 2009).

Figure 2. Examples of one cleaver (left) and two handaxes from the Limpopo basin, Mozambique.

Acheulean lithic assemblages are marked by the presence of handaxes and cleavers, usually known as formal tools (to separate them from those artifacts with less standardized morphologies such as flakes and cores). Handaxes (also known as bifaces) are usually fairly large, between ten and twenty centimeters long. They are amygdaloid in format, that is, almond-shaped with a round base and a pointed end, flaked on both faces, creating a long edge. Bifaces are tendentially symmetric in their longitudinal axis. Their edge and symmetry tend to become more regular through time. They also became thinner in the later phases of the Acheulean. Cleavers are also large cutting tools, made of a single large flake, usually partially cortical, characterized by large bulbs of percussion and retouch on at least one edge. Unlike the biface, cleavers have a straight edge transversal to their longer axis. Picks are also large tools, with similar general formats to the biface, but they are tendentially flaked on one side only, and their tip is usually shaped by the intersection of three flaking planes. The function of these tools, particularly of the bifaces, is still unclear, partially due to their size, in many instances difficult to handhold, but they may have been used for butchering animals, digging, or woodworking (Domínguez‑Rodrigo et al. 2001 Keeley 1980 Sahnouni et al. 2013), very much like a Swiss army knife of the past.

In southern Africa, the Acheulean was initially called the Stellenbosch Culture (Klein 2000). While evidence for the presence of Acheulean in southern Africa goes from the Atlantic coast in Namibia (Corvinus 1983 McCall 2016) and Angola (Matos 2015) to the Indian Ocean in Mozambique (Bicho et al. 2015), reaching the southern tip of South Africa (Deacon and Deacon 1999 Klein 2000), with hundreds of sites and thousands of artifacts, the amount of reliable information is still limited (Klein 2000 Phillipson 2005). This is particularly true in what concerns the early Acheulean.

The Acheulean in southern Africa seems to have two main stages: the Early Acheulean, appearing after the previous Oldowan, dating sometime between 1.7 and 1.4 million years (Herries 2011 Sahnouni et al. 2013), and the Late Acheulean, dated to after 1 million years ago (Klein 2000 Kuman 2007). Unfortunately, radiometric data are scarce for the southern African Early Acheulian, known only from a few sites: Sterkfontein (Kuman 2007), Wonderwerk Cave (Chazan et al. 2008), and the Rietputs Formation (Gibbon et al. 2009 Leader et al. 2018), respectively dated 1.7, 1.6, and 1.57–1.3 million years ago. The Late Acheulean is better dated, with chronometric data from Cornelia, Elandsfontein, Power’s Site, Kathu Pan, Namib IV, Wonderwerk Cave, Cave of Hearths, Gladysvale Cave, Montagu Cave, Duinefontein 2, and Rooidam 1 and 2, between one million and around three hundred thousand years old (Chazan et al. 2008 Feathers 2002 Herries 2011 Lauer et al. 2016 Sahnouni et al. 2013). The lithic assemblages found at those sites are characterized by thinner and better-shaped bifaces, associated with Levallois technology. This technology may be related with the possible precursor of our own species, the Homo heidelbergensis (McCall 2016) or Homo rhodesiensis (Herries 2011 Phillipson 2005). Fossil remains have been found in Broken Hill (Zambia), Hopefield, and the Cave of Hearths in South Africa (Phillipson 2005) and Gemsbok in Namibia (McCall 2016).

Important aspects of cultural evolution and human adaptation emerged during the Acheulean. The use of plant resources was added to the exploitation of large fauna, although intermittently in the beginning. At later times, species such as elephants, rhinos, hippos, and buffaloes, among other ungulates, were either hunted or scavenged. Control in the use of fire has also been suggested in various sites, but the evidence is still equivocal and is challenged by various authors.

At the end of the Acheulean, perhaps sometime around three hundred to two hundred thousand years ago, eastern Africa saw a transition phase from the previous Acheulean to the MSA. Various new lithic industries surfaced in various regions in Africa, including the Lupemban, Sangoan, and the Fauresmith, none very well defined. The Fauresmith seems to be present in various sites in southern Africa and is dated as starting at around four hundred thousand years ago (Herries 2011), from the sites of Kathu Pan, Bundu Farm, and Wonderwerk Cave. Levallois technology became more common, and the bifaces less so, although their quality increased, with very fine and regular handaxes, in general of smaller dimensions than the previous Acheulean homologues. In addition, assemblages are also composed of large blades and points (Lombard et al. 2012). Lupemban is characterized by the presence of core axes, picks, large elongated bifacially retouched points, and backed blades, while the Sangoan has axes and picks as well as blades and scrapers (Wurz 2014). When present, assemblages are located in the northern limits of southern Africa and are more characteristic of central Africa.

The Middle Stone Age

In 1928 , John Goodwin coined the term Middle Stone Age, based on his work in South Africa as a direct response to the European terminology and Paleolithic sequence (Underhill 2011), and following his initial efforts for establishing a southern Africa sequence during a round table in 1926 organized in Pretoria by the South African Association for the Advancement of Science. The result of that meeting was the appearance of the terminology of the Earlier and Later Stone Age phases. The regional sequence and its regional terminology were definitively established by Goodwin and Clarence Van Riet Lowe in 1929, that is, the terms Early, Middle, and Later Stone Age that are used in the study of the Stone Age in Africa. Since then, much has developed in southern African archaeology, and this is one of the regions of Africa essential for the understanding of the origin and development during the MSA of “anatomically modern humans” and the appearance of modern human cognition (i.e., sensu McBrearty and Brooks 2000), as well as the processes of human dispersal and migration across the Old and New Worlds (e.g., Blinkhorn et al. 2017 Groucutt et al. 2015 Petraglia et al. 2010 Pickrell et al. 2012 Schlebusch et al. 2012, 2017 Will and Conard 2016).

The MSA is, in general, marked by a wide range of lithic assemblages that diverge both in time and space in sub-Saharan Africa (e.g., Bicho et al. 2018b McBrearty and Brooks 2000 Tryon and Faith 2013), and sometimes new data raises problems to the attained status quo (Conard and Porraz 2015). Nevertheless, the MSA assemblages are characterized by the low frequency or absence of large cutting tools such as the handaxes or cleavers seen during the ESA and the widespread presence of prepared core technologies such as Levallois. Weaponry, both unifacial and bifacial, becomes common during the MSA and geometrics appear for the first time in human history (Brown et al. 2012 Wurz 2013), while bone tool technology becomes common (Brooks et al. 2006 d’Errico and Henshilwood 2007 Henshilwood et al. 2001a). Other elements commonly said to be associated with the development of cognitive capacities of early phases of our species are also found frequently in southern Africa (Wadley 2014 Wurz 2014), usually called symbolic or complex (Wurz 2014). It is the cases of shell bead use (d’Errico et al. 2005 Henshilwood et al. 2004), stone tool heat treatment (Brown et al. 2009), bow and arrow technology (Lombard and Haidle 2012), hafting (Wilkins et al. 2012), the use of pigments (Henshilwood et al. 2011 Marean et al. 2007), engravings, frequently on ostrich eggshell (Henshilwood and d’Errico 2011 Texier et al. 2013), and the earliest use of shellfish (Marean 2014) and plants (Mercader et al. 2008) indicate expanded resource use and important changes in local and regional human sociability. Middle Stone Age assemblages are traditionally characterized by the presence of flakes and flake-blades with convergent or parallel dorsal ridges, triangular flakes, long flake-blades, usually with faceted platforms, and prepared cores such as radial and pyramidal forms (Wadley 1993).

The emergence of our species is likely the key event in human history and potentially was the trigger for the development of the MSA. The earliest fossil remains of Homo sapiens appear in the MSA in north Africa (Hublin et al. 2017) and east Africa (McDougall et al. 2005), respectively dating to c. 300 and 200 K years ago. In South Africa a fossil found in Florisbad (Kuman et al. 1999) has also been attributed to the early Homo sapiens group (Mounier and Mirazón Lahr 2019). Other fossils from southern Africa are known from Sterkfontein (Wadley 2015), possibly within the same time range as Florisbad, that is, more than 250,000 years ago.

In 2013 , a new set of fossils was found in the well-known Rising Star Cave in the Cradle of Humankind. These remains were attributed to a new species (Berger et al. 2015), thought to be fairly ancestral, with some similarities with the Australopithecus and other early hominins, but thought to be within the Homo group. Unfortunately, at the time of the discovery and of the publication describing the new species, the Homo naledi, there was no information on the age of the remains. In 2017 , Berger’s team finally published the results on dating the context where the human bones had been discovered, with a surprisingly recent result of 335,000–265,000 years (Dirks et al. 2017), placing the discovery at the early MSA. The human remains are not associated with any artifacts, so there is no cultural evidence supporting that this context is, in fact, MSA. The authors explain the unexpected date as the indication of a survivorship of morphologically primitive hominin until late Pleistocene times and, as a consequence, the presence of a diversity of hominin lineages in southern Africa, with Homo naledi representing the earliest stages of diversification within Homo and potentially responsible for the lithic assemblages dating to the late ESA and the MSA (Berger et al. 2017).

Later fossil remains from Homo sapiens are dated to around 120,000 years ago and are known from Klasies River (Grine 2012), apparently showing an unusual sexual dimorphism (Grine et al. 1998). Slightly younger fossils, dated to ninety thousand years or later, have been found at Border Cave, Plover’s Lake, Die Kelders, Blombos Cave, Klipdrift Rock Shelter, Pinnacle Point, Diepkloof Rock Shelter, Bushman Rock Shelter and Hoedjiespunt (Wadley 2015).

Most information on the MSA comes from lithic assemblages, many of which are found in surface sites with little or no chronological data and rare organic materials. Fortunately, in southern Africa, mostly from South Africa and Lesotho, there are long, well-dated sequences, many recently excavated with modern techniques, that provide fine-resolution data to build the chrono-cultural framework necessary for the study of the MSA in the region. The result is that some phases of the southern MSA are well defined for South Africa and Lesotho (Lombard 2013), while other phases and other regions still have problems in the attribution of lithic assemblages to industrial complexes, industries, or cultural phases (Lombard et al. 2012) and, consequently, in defining a detailed sequence. Partially, because of that, the backbone of the southern African MSA is the South Africa sequence presented in table 1, which has been refined through the last decades, and still presents differential dating resolution depending on the chronology. Note, however, that Singer and Wymer’s classification (Singer and Wymer 1982) was based on the cave site of Klasies River, and was expanded to other sites by Volman (1984). On the other hand, Will’s work at Sibudu rock shelter was taken into consideration (Will 2016).

Table 1. Schematic representation of the southern Africa Middle Stone Age (MSA) sequence and nomenclature.

The early MSA, still poorly defined, seems to be dated around 300,000–130,000 years ago. It includes discoidal and Levallois techniques for producing flakes and generalized retouched tools, usually in low frequencies. Large blades are also present, together with unifacial and bifacial long points. Some of these are triangular, leaf-shaped points with rounded bases that characterize a particular industry called Pietersburg (Wurz 2014). The most relevant sites for this phase are Border Cave, Bundu Farm, Duinefontein, Florisbad, Kathu Pan, Lincoln Cave, Pinnacle Point 13B, Sterkfontein, and Wonderwerk Cave, but other potential sites, such as Bushman Rock Shelter, Cave of Hearths, Elands Bay Cave, and Peers Cave, may provide important information on the early MSA and Pietersburg (Lombard et al. 2012 Wurz 2014).

Figure 3. Examples of discoidal (left) and Levallois cores (right) from the Elephant River valley, Mozambique.

The second phase is known as Klasies River and corresponds to MSA I ora in previous sequences. It is dated to 130,000–105,000 years ago and corresponds to the beginning of the MIS 5 interglacial. It is marked by recurrent blade and convergent flake production, with frequent small and diffused bulbs of percussion. Blanks are elongated and thin, frequently with curved profiles. Again, retouched tools are present in low frequencies, of which denticulated pieces are common. The most important sites are not only the eponymous site Klasies River but also Cave of Hearths, Pinnacle Point, and Ysterfontein (Lombard et al. 2012 Wadley 2015 Wurz 2014).

The following phase is now known as Mossel Bay and was previously within the MSA II or MSA 2b phases. Mossel Bay corresponds to the second half of the MIS 5 interglacial, 105,000–77,000 years ago. The lithic assemblages seem to be related to the Klasies River industrial complex and are characterized by the dominance of recurrent unipolar Levallois point and blade production. These blanks are usually fairly thick and rarely retouched, and when retouched it is usually confined to sharpening of the tip or shaping of the butt. Unlike those of the previous phase, the blades present straight profiles, and the bulbs are prominent. Only a limited number of sites have been dated (Wurz 2013), but the lithic industries are known from Cave of Heaths, Cape St Blaize, Klasies River, Melikane, Nelson Bay Cave, and Pinnacle Point (Lombard et al. 2012 Wurz 2014). At about the same time, that is, between ninety-six thousand and around seventy thousand years ago, there are a series of lithic assemblages that are not defined yet and have not been assigned to a specific cultural complex. Such is the case of Blombos Cave, where there are deposits dating to this phase, but no secure attribution was attempted by the authors due to a low number of retouched stone tools (Henshilwood et al. 2001b). Other sites in similar circumstances are Erb Tanks, Rose Cottage Cave, and Sibudu rock shelter (Lombard 2012 Lombard et al. 2012). These cases are usually placed in a Pre–Still Bay phase due to the lack of information, although they frequently have associated absolute dates as well as offering very important data related to artistic and symbolic behavior, including shell beads, engravings, and the use of ochre, as well as important bone tool production.

The following phase, Still Bay, is one of the best known industrial complexes in southern Africa, together with Howiesons Poort. This is due to the presence of type-fossils (respectively, double-pointed bifacial foliates and backed geometrics) that were, from very early on, recognized as providing a relative chronological and cultural context for those sites and/or layers. The result is that together with these stone tool types, there has been an intensive and broad-spectrum study of all the materials that has established an understanding of reduction sequences and lithic techniques, as well as knowledge regarding other nonlithic materials (Wurz 2014).

The Still Bay phase is characterized by the bifacial foliates and lanceolate points, finely serrated points, and the presence of points. Both hard and soft hammer percussion, as well as pressure flaking, were used to produce the bifacial stone tools, sometimes based on heat treatment, particularly with silcrete. The main sites where Still Bay has been found are Apollo 11, Blombos Cave, Diepkloof Rock Shelter, Hollow Rock Shelter, Peers Cave, Sibudu, and Umhlatuzana (Lombard 2012 Wurz 2014). Still Bay is dated to around seventy-seven thousand to seventy thousand years ago.

Howiesons Poort follows Still Bay, with a generally accepted starting date around seventy thousand years ago, although there are a few results from Diepkloof Rock Shelter dating to as early as one hundred thousand years ago (Tribolo et al. 2009, 2013). The lithic assemblages are marked by a variety of blanks that include flakes, blades, and bladelets, frequently using Levallois technology. Raw materials are often fine-grained, usually used to make backed artifacts, such as the geometrics (segments and trapezes), usually about four centimeters long, and bladelets. Other stone tool retouched types include denticulated and retouched blades, some bipolar cores, and scaled pieces. Silcrete heat treatment is also very common. The nonlithic component is also present, very much as in the previous Still Bay. Howiesons Poort sites are very common, probably because they can be easily recognized based on the presence of the large geometrics, so different from those present in LSA occupations. Perhaps the most important sites include Apollo 11, Bloomplaas, Border Cave, Diepkloof Rock Shelter, Klasies River, Klein Kliphuis, Klipdrift Rock Shelter, Melikane, Pinnacle Point, Rose Cottage Cave, Sibudu, and Umhlatuzana (Lombard 2012 Wurz 2014), and Howiesons Poort may reach up to southern Mozambique, with a possible appearance at a surface site near the Elephant River, in Massingir (Bicho et al. 2018b).

After Howiesons Poort is another well-known phase (mostly from the rock shelter of Sibudu) with diverse labeling: MSA III, MSA 3, Sibudu, Sibudan, and Post–Howiesons Poort (Conard et al. 2012 Lombard et al. 2012 Will 2016), dated to fifty-eight to forty-five thousands years ago. During this phase, points are common, usually unifacial, and made on Levallois long blanks. Side scrapers are present, but backing is rare. The most important sites are Border Cave, Diepkloof Rock Shelter, Klasies River, Melikane, Ntloana Tsoana, Rose Cottage Cave, Sehonghong, and Sibudu (Lombard et al. 2012 Wurz 2014).

The last phase of the southern African MSA is known as the final MSA, loosely dated as beginning forty thousand years ago, and roughly coinciding with Heinrich Event 4. Perhaps the most important sites are Apollo 11, Boomplaas, Klein Kliphuis, Melikane, Rose Cottage Cave, Sehonghong, Sibudu, and Umhlatuzuana (Lombard et al. 2012 Wurz 2014). As expected, this phase is marked by some regional variability in the lithic assemblages, both in the technology and typology, and includes bifacial points, flake and blade industries, sometimes bipolar technology (both cores and scaled pieces), and backing. This technology includes sometimes geometrics, smaller than those found in the Howiesons Poort phase, and likely indicating the transition moment, that is so complex in most of sub-Saharan Africa.

The Later Stone Age

The traditional perspective of Goodwin and Van Riet Lowe in 1929 proposed a clear-cut sequence of Early, Middle, and Later Stone Age phases, characterized by different hominin species, stone tools, both technological and typological characteristics, and artistic endeavors, for example, rock art. In very simple terms, the difference between the latter two phases was seen as a dichotomy formed, on one hand, during the MSA by the presence of points and flake industries (and later in time by blade tool industries), resulting in prepared cores such as Levallois, absence of rock art, and archaic human fossils on the other hand, the LSA had simple cores, producing microliths, sometimes small geometrics, the presence of rock art, all made by modern examples of our own species. The definition of the LSA was clear and included, among others, organic artifacts such as bone tools and ostrich eggshell beads, and was directly related to modern populations of hunter-gatherers (Wadley 1993). The theoretical paradigm was simple—a set of complex human innovations (e.g., long-distance raw material procurement and exchange, bifacial technology, backed technology, microlithic and geometric production, bone tool manufacture, production of personal ornaments and engraved notational elements, pigment processing and use, grinding stone technology, and the inclusion of marine resources in the diet) appeared during the last Stone Age phase and were the result of the emergence of a new human species, Homo sapiens—what has been termed the Human Revolution (Bar‑Yosef 2002 Mellars 2007 Mellars and Stringer 1989).

Although it is clear that all those technological innovations listed in the MSA section are the result of anatomically modern human inventive and adaptive behavior, they were not introduced in the LSA as was previously thought (Wadley 1993). All, without exception, appeared at one time or another in various regions of the African continent, starting sometime around three hundred thousand years ago (Brooks et al. 2018) and certainly no later than seventy thousand years ago (e.g., Henshilwood and d’Errico 2011 Henshilwood et al. 2004 Marean 2011, 2014 Mourre et al. 2010), much earlier than the beginning of the LSA. Thus, the traditional perspective that the presence of these elements justifies giving the label of LSA to a site has been argued, not only in southern Africa but to some extent all over the African continent (e.g., Bousman and Brink 2017 Leplongeon 2014 Mitchell 2008, 2013 Tryon et al. 2018) and is clearly erroneous, causing severe problems for the attribution of a site or an archaeological layer to either MSA or LSA. The MSA–LSA transition is, thus, still in a hazy cloud and a clear cultural and chronological definition is lacking. The issue has been clearly described by Mitchell (2016, 409): “the difficulty here is the triune falsity that: (a) there is a single ‘MSA’ entity (b) this was followed by an equally unitary ‘LSA’ phenomenon, and (c) only one historical pathway connected the two.”

This issue has been further complicated by the fact that the absolute chronology for the late MSA and early LSA in sub-Saharan Africa does not follow a sequential framework. Middle Stone Age sites and technology tend to be present up to approximately thirty-five thousand years ago, but there are some sites with much later absolute chronologies, frequently with dates as late as twenty-five thousand ago, both in southern Africa (Bousman and Brink 2017) and eastern Africa (e.g., Leplongeon 2013 Tryon et al. 2018). There are also examples from the west coast of Africa with MSA technology dated to as late as around twelve thousand years ago (Scerri et al. 2017). In any case, the general agreement for the beginning of the LSA seems to be around thirty-five thousand years ago. There are, however, various sites with early LSA characteristics dated to forty-five thousand to fifty thousand years ago, in both South Africa, for example Border Cave (Bousman and Brink 2017), and East Africa, including, among others, Mumba Cave (Tanzania), Enkapune ya Muto and Lukenya Hill (Kenya), (Ambrose 1998 Eren et al. 2013 Tryon et al. 2018), and possibly even earlier (Shipton et al. 2018). While strong regional diversity marks the African MSA and LSA, this overlap poses a problem that might be the result of both the lack of sites with long sequences spanning the transition and programs with systematic dating results. It should be noted, however, that sites with recent excavations and dating show, with very few exceptions, an MSA–LSA interface dated to around thirty-five thousand years ago.

In summary, this period between forty thousand and twenty thousand years ago in sub-Saharan Africa in general, and particularly in southern Africa, is a period of great cultural diversity, marked by a variety of human adaptations to very specific ecological conditions. This period saw the arrival of frequent but arrhythmic, rapid, and drastic worldwide cold climatic occurrences, such as Heinrich events 4, 3, and 2, in addition to the Last Glacial Maximum (Castañeda et al. 2016 Harrison and Sanchez Goñi 2010 Rahmstorf 2003). This climatic instability seems to have brought important changes to the local and regional landscapes and ecology—climate change was anything but simple and directional, and was impacted by important millennial, centennial, and even shorter fluctuations (Blome et al. 2012) that were strongly felt in each human life span. The probability is that human cultural evolution and adaptation, very much like the climate, did not follow a progressive and unidirectional path toward a more complex technological, social, and economic setting during this period. In any case, a simple sequence has been accepted, mostly for South Africa and Lesotho, that includes five phases, from oldest to youngest: early LSA, Robberg, Oakhurst, Wilton, and final LSA.

The early LSA phase, dated forty thousand to twenty thousand years ago (Bousman and Brink 2017 Lombard et al. 2012 Wadley 1993), seems to be characterized by two main types of lithic industries, a microlithic and a nonmicrolithic. The first is marked by the presence of informal microlithic technologies, with few formal retouched tools, that still include scrapers and scaled pieces, and MSA tools are, in general, absent. Technology is marked by the presence of bipolar reduction, and quartz is frequently the most common raw material. Associated with these lithic assemblages are bone tools, including points, and ostrich eggshell beads, all in low frequencies. Second, in the nonmicrolithic industries, bladelet technology is rare or absent, but other details tend to be omitted from the bibliography. With these stone tools, there seem to be incised ostrich eggshell, eggshell water bottles and beads, and even some portable art elements (Bicho et al. 2018a Wadley 2014). Some of the most important sites are Apollo 11, Boomplaas, Border Cave, Bushman Rock shelter, Elands Bay Cave, Kathu Pan, Sehonghong, and Txina‑Txina.

The Robberg phase seems to have started sometime between twenty-five thousand and twenty thousand years ago (Bousman and Brink 2017), with its end around the end of the Pleistocene, perhaps related to the Younger Dryas, a climatic cold snap just prior to the onset of the Holocene. Bone points, as well as other bone tools, and bone and ostrich eggshell beads are common. Scarce ostrich eggshell water bottles are also present. The lithic assemblages are characterized by systematic production of small bladelets, usually smaller than twenty-five millimeters long, from single platform cores as well as bipolar technology. Again, there are rare formal tools that include scrapers and scaled pieces. A wide variety of fine-grained raw materials is common in many of these sites. Some of the more relevant sites are Boomplaas, Elands Bay Cave, Nelson Bay Cave, Roe Cottage Cave, Sehonghong, Txina‑Txina, and Umhlatuzana.

The following phase, dated fourteen thousand to eight thousand years ago, is the Oakhurst industry, after the eponymous site, and named as such by Garth Sampson in 1974, although initially called Smithfield A and C (Deacon and Deacon 1999 Wadley 1993). Oakhurst has regional variants (i.e., Albany, Lockshoek, Kuruman) and is a nonmicrolithic industry, based on flake production and use. Flakes are large, with irregular shapes. There are endscrapers of different sizes and adzes as well as natural backed knives. Grinding stones are also common, together with bone tools and bone and eggshell beads (Lombard et al. 2012 Wadley 1993). There is evidence of plant consumption (Mitchell 2013), together with the more common terrestrial and maritime resources. The most important sites are Boomplaas, Bushman Rock Shelter, Elands Bay Cave, Nelson Bay Cave, Ntloana Tsoana, Oakhurst, Rose Cottage Cave, Sehonghong, and Wilton Large Rock Shelter.

The Wilton phase is dated to around eight thousand to four thousand years ago. It seems that this phase saw its earliest appearances in the northern region, in Zimbabwe and Namibia (Mitchell 2013). Wilton is characterized by a fine microlithic assemblage that includes not only small backed bladelets but also small single and double endscrapers, and geometrics, usually segments. At least in Mozambique, these are made with the microburin technique (Bicho et al. 2018a). Bone tools, including polished types, and shell and wooden artifacts are also present, together with ostrich eggshell and ochre (Deacon and Deacon 1999 Lombard et al. 2012). Plant foods, together with coastal resources, were likely very important, as in previous periods, and are seen at some sites, for example the very large shell middens in the southern Cape region of South Africa. There are many sites that belong to Wilton, which is present in most, if not all, regions of southern Africa.

Figure 4. Geometrics from Massingir, southern Mozambique: (a) Howiesons Poort crescent from site S26 (b–e) small crescents and (f–g) microburins, all from Txina‑Txina from Wilton. Note the differences between the Howiesons Poort (Middle Stone Age) and Wilton (Later Stone Age) crescents.

The final LSA phase, dated to the last four thousand years, is marked by a very strong variability in technologies and ecological adaptations. It is during this phase that southern Africa sees the arrival of the Neolithic as well as the first Iron Age populations. Lithic assemblages include both microlithic and macrolithic variants, similar to the previous Wilton and Smithfield industries, respectively. Formal tools tend to be rarer than before, although scrapers, backed tools, adzes, and scaled pieces are present in the assemblages. Worked bones as well as ostrich eggshell and ochre are common. Iron objects are also present, though in low numbers, while ceramics are absent. They appear only in the other contexts such as in Neolithic and Iron Age settlements (Jerardino et al. 2014 Lander and Russell 2018 Sadr 2015).

Final Remarks

It is almost impossible to provide an accurate and full view of the three million years of southern African Stone Age in ten pages. The result is a skeletal perspective of the main aspects, organized so they can be useful for the student or any other person who is not an expert on this topic. This work was organized very much like a historical narrative, from the earliest to the most recent events, using the words (and references) that can support most of the statements made here. Still, various aspects, such as personal ornaments, bone industries, weaponry technology, trapping, and exploitation of marine resources, which may be considered particularly important for the study and understanding of early prehistory in southern Africa, were left out in the foregoing discussion. These are presented here.

Personal ornaments are particularly important to understanding early symbolic behavior of our species. Clearly, ornaments such as beads appeared before the advent of other types of art, including that of rock art. Personal ornaments that were made of marine and land shells, ostrich egg shell, among other materials, likely served two main purposes—the artistic, that is, in the aesthetic sense and the social, as a visual communication aid at both the individual and group level. Both cases are unequivocal means of symbolic expression and thus can be considered archaeological proxies for cognitive complexity and are potential indicators of what is usually known as modern human cultural features. Beads are known from very early on, in MSA contexts, particularly those made on marine shells, such as those found at Blombos Cave or those uncovered at Sibudu, both dated to more than seventy thousand years ago (d’Errico et al. 2008 Henshilwood et al. 2004). Ostrich eggshell beads are present during the late MSA, although they are much more common in LSA sites. Art, as personal ornaments, served the two functions indicated, aesthetics and sociality. Probably not due to coincidence, the earliest art elements have been found at Blombos Cave and dated to between one hundred thousand to seventy thousand years ago (Henshilwood et al. 2009). These were engraved ochre nodules with complex geometric signs, added to other engraved ochre nodules that may have been used for pigment production. Other evidences for early human art are the cases of, among others, Pinnacle Point, where ochre nodules were also engraved (Watts 2010), engraved bones from Klasies River (d’Errico and Henshilwood 2007), and engraved ostrich eggshell at Diepkloof (Texier et al. 2010), respectively dated to around one hundred thousand, one hundred thousand to eighty thousand, and sixty thousand years ago. This tradition of engraved symbols in soft inorganic or organic materials seems to have lasted up to the LSA. Figurative art seems to have appeared only in the LSA, perhaps as early as around thirty thousand years ago (Vogelsang et al. 2010). Rock art, however, seems to be widely used in southern Africa only in the Holocene, dating to siz thousand years ago or perhaps slightly earlier (Barham and Mitchell 2008).

Although without an evident symbolic use, bone tools are an important variable for understanding cognitive evolution and complex human adaptations and thus are usually associated with behaviorally modern humans, very much like art. This association results partly from the idea that bone tools were produced by complex technology, and the morphology of many of those tools, particularly weaponry, results from a complex abstract design. Early bone tool industry is known in southern Africa starting as early as eighty thousand years ago, perhaps even earlier, again in Blombos Cave, Sibudu Rock Shelter, Klasies River, and Apollo 11 (Backwell et al. 2008 d’Errico and Henshilwood 2007 Vogelsang et al. 2010). Awls, points, and notched and engraved tools are among the forms found in these early contexts. The important aspect to note is the presence of systematic bone tool production and use starting around eighty thousand years ago, and with the increasing number of modern discoveries, there is a good chance that the earliest date for the use of bone tools will be pushed back further in the next decade.

Weaponry technologies, including mechanically projected elements, such as darts and atlatls and bow and arrow technology, appeared perhaps as early as one hundred thousand years ago (Brooks et al. 2006 Shea and Sisk 2010), and together with hafting and lithic heat treatment are all elements fundamental for understanding modern human adaptations. A particularly relevant innovation in southern Africa was stone heat treatment, specifically silcrete. This new technology transformed the physical characteristics of that rock, improving its quality for the production of stone tools (Stolarczyk and Schmidt 2018), particularly projectiles, during the MSA, perhaps as early as 160,000 years ago.

Hafting was also a key invention that took place during the MSA, although perhaps more recently than heat treatment. Hafting is one of the first evidences of the presence of composite technologies, which is the production of simple tools with two or more production stages for each tool. Hafting corresponds to a particularly important evolutionary step that was reached during the MSA. Examples are the use of atlatls or the more complex technology of the bow and arrow. In many cases, the composite tool implies the use of two completely different technologies, as in the case of hafting a stone tool, where the lithic retouched tool needs to be made followed by the hafting, which would include the use and production of fibers as well as some kind of compound adhesive to fasten the two projectile sections. Again, it seems that southern Africa saw the development of such technologies some seventy-thousand years ago at Sibudu and followed by other sites (Lombard 2007).

Another particularly interesting aspect of the MSA in southern Africa is the use of trapping, including the use of snares and identical techniques that provide remote animal capture. The concept of trap use, that is, the entrapment of animals at a distance both in time and space, is perhaps more complex than its production. Although these are usually relatively simple contraptions, they still indicate an important cognitive leap that is common during the MSA in the region. Although difficult to find in the archaeological record, snares may have been used in Sibudu some seventy thousand years ago (Lombard et al. 2010 Wadley 2010). Another interesting aspect also at this site is the evidence for the preparation and organization of household spaces seen through sediment micromorphology at Sibudu. There, indication was found of construction and maintenance of sedge-covered bedding places, hearths, and sweeping and dumping events, localized in certain areas of the sites, starting some seventy-seven thousand years ago (Goldberg et al. 2009 Wadley et al. 2011).

The exploitation of marine resources is of particular importance in the general scheme of human evolution, for various reasons. The first is that shellfish may have played a critical role in the development and expansion of the human brain (Parkington 2001) and retinal quality by providing long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, specifically docosahexaenoic acid and arachnoid acid present in the Omega 3 and Omega 6 series. These fatty acids, invaluable during pregnancy and early childhood, are not produced in the human body but occur naturally in aquatic plants and animals, including marine shellfish. Moreover, Marean (2014) has suggested, based on both ethnographic and more recent archaeological data, that the use of shellfish provided a perfect ecological niche with predictable, both in time and space, coastal resources that allowed reduced mobility and an increase in human density. In turn, the sense of territoriality increased as did intergroup conflict, resulting in developed prosocial behavior, based on the presence of predictable high-rank dietary resources and social boundary defenses. After human Stone Age communities got to know local landscapes and understood how tidal mechanics and schedules worked, shellfish become very low-risk resources, certainly when compared with land mammal resources, since encounter risk was very low and success rate was very high. Thus, the use of marine resources, added to the terrestrial lot already exploited, largely improved the success of human adaptation, thanks to a continuously changing environment and ecology. And this innovation and the intrinsic knowledge that appeared with it started some 160,000 years ago in southern Africa in the Pinnacle Point archaeological complex (Marean 2011).

Many other variables may also be considered relevant for the study of the emergence of modern human cognition and the capacity for out-of-Africa migrations and dispersals. However, in the limited space available here, these (personal ornaments and art, bone tool technology, hafting technologies, raw material transport and heat treatment, exploitation of marine resources) seemed to be the most relevant and interesting for the reader and were particularly important for early human adaptations.

This short article has provided a general perspective, both chronological and thematic, on the southern Africa Stone Age. This region is unequivocally one of the most important regions for understanding the evolution and evolutionary success of humans in the past. Still, many issues and questions remain unanswered, and many more come up every day with new research. This updated summary will be outdated in less than a decade, due to the speed and the diversity of types of data that are acquired every day. Scientific advances, for example regarding ancient DNA, proteomics, and isotopes, provide an array of new information that continually changes the archaeological record of Stone Age and human evolution.


Prehistory Edit

Scientists researching the periods before written historical records were made have established that the territory of what is now referred to generically as South Africa was one of the important centers of human evolution. It was inhabited by Australopithecines since at least 2.5 million years ago. Modern human settlement occurred around 125,000 years ago in the Middle Stone Age, as shown by archaeological discoveries at Klasies River Caves. [8] The first human habitation is associated with a DNA group originating in a northwestern area of southern Africa and still prevalent in the indigenous Khoisan (Khoi and San). Southern Africa was later populated by Bantu-speaking people who migrated from the western region of central Africa during the early centuries AD.

At the Blombos cave Professor Raymond Dart discovered the skull of a 2.51 million year old Taung Child in 1924, the first example of Australopithecus africanus ever found. Following in Dart's footsteps Robert Broom discovered a new much more robust hominid in 1938 Paranthropus robustus at Kromdraai, and in 1947 uncovered several more examples of Australopithecus africanus at Sterkfontein. In further research at the Blombos cave in 2002, stones were discovered engraved with grid or cross-hatch patterns, dated to some 70,000 years ago. This has been interpreted as the earliest example ever discovered of abstract art or symbolic art created by Homo sapiens. [9]

Many more species of early hominid have come to light in recent decades. The oldest is Little Foot, a collection of footbones of an unknown hominid between 2.2 and 3.3 million years old, discovered at Sterkfontein by Ronald J. Clarke. An important recent find was that of 1.9 million year old Australopithecus sediba, discovered in 2008. In 2015, the discovery near Johannesburg of a previously unknown species of Homo was announced, named Homo naledi. It has been described as one of the most important paleontological discoveries in modern times. [10]

The descendants of the Middle Paleolithic populations are thought to be the aboriginal San and Khoikhoi tribes. The settlement of southern Africa by the ancestors of the Khoisan corresponds to the earliest separation of the extant Homo sapiens populations altogether, associated in genetic science with what is described in scientific terms as matrilinear haplogroup L0 (mtDNA) and patrilinear haplogroup A (Y-DNA), originating in a northwestern area of southern Africa. [11] [12] [13]

The San and Khoikhoi are grouped under the term Khoisan, and are essentially distinguished only by their respective occupations. Whereas the San were hunter-gathers, the Khoikhoi were pastoral herders. [14] [15] [16] The initial origin of the Khoikhoi remains uncertain. [17] [18]

Archaeological discoveries of livestock bones on the Cape Peninsula indicate that the Khoikhoi began to settle there by about 2000 years ago. [19] In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Portuguese mariners, who were the first Europeans at the Cape, encountered pastoral Khoikhoi with livestock. Later, English and Dutch seafarers in the late 16th and 17th centuries exchanged metals for cattle and sheep with the Khoikhoi. The conventional view is that availability of livestock was one reason why, in the mid-17th century, the Dutch East India Company established a staging post where the port city of Cape Town is today situated.

The establishment of the staging post by the Dutch East India Company at the Cape in 1652 soon brought the Khoikhoi into conflict with Dutch settlers over land ownership. Cattle rustling and livestock theft ensued, with the Khoikhoi being ultimately expelled from the peninsula by force, after a succession of wars. The first Khoikhoi–Dutch War broke out in 1659, the second in 1673, and the third 1674–1677. [20] By the time of their defeat and expulsion from the Cape Peninsula and surrounding districts, the Khoikhoi population was decimated by a smallpox epidemic introduced by Dutch sailors against which the Khoikhoi had no natural resistance or indigenous medicines. [21]

The Bantu people Edit

The Bantu expansion was one of the major demographic movements in human prehistory, sweeping much of the African continent during the 2nd and 1st millennia BC. [22] Bantu-speaking communities reached southern Africa from the Congo basin as early as the 4th century BC. [23] The advancing Bantu encroached on the Khoikhoi territory, forcing the original inhabitants of the region to move to more arid areas. [ citation needed ] Some groups, ancestral to today's Nguni peoples (the Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, and Ndebele), preferred to live near the eastern coast of what is present-day South Africa. [24] Others, now known as the Sotho–Tswana peoples (Tswana, Pedi, and Sotho), settled in the interior on the plateau known as the Highveld, [24] while today's Venda, Lemba, and Tsonga peoples made their homes in the north-eastern areas of present-day South Africa.

The Kingdom of Mapungubwe, which was located near the northern border of present-day South Africa, at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers adjacent to present-day Zimbabwe and Botswana, was the first indigenous kingdom in southern Africa between AD 900 and 1300. It developed into the largest kingdom in the sub-continent before it was abandoned because of climatic changes in the 14th century. Smiths created objects of iron, copper and gold both for local decorative use and for foreign trade. The kingdom controlled trade through the east African ports to Arabia, India and China, and throughout southern Africa, making it wealthy through the exchange of gold and ivory for imports such as Chinese porcelain and Persian glass beads. [25]

Specifics of the contact between Bantu-speakers and the indigenous Khoisan ethnic group remain largely unresearched, although linguistic proof of assimilation exists, as several southern Bantu languages (notably Xhosa and Zulu) are theorized in that they incorporate many click consonants from the Khoisan languages, as possibilities of such developing independently are valid as well.

Colonization Edit

Portuguese role Edit

The Portuguese mariner Bartolomeu Dias was the first European to explore the coastline of South Africa in 1488, while attempting to discover a trade route to the Far East via the southernmost cape of South Africa, which he named Cabo das Tormentas, meaning Cape of Storms. In November 1497, a fleet of Portuguese ships under the command of the Portuguese mariner Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope. By 16 December, the fleet had passed the Great Fish River on the east coast of South Africa, where Dias had earlier turned back. Da Gama gave the name Natal to the coast he was passing, which in Portuguese means Christmas. Da Gama's fleet proceeded northwards to Zanzibar and later sailed eastwards, eventually reaching India and opening the Cape Route between Europe and Asia. [26]

Dutch role Edit

The Dutch East India Company (in the Dutch of the day: Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC) decided to establish a permanent settlement at the Cape in 1652. The VOC, one of the major European trading houses sailing the spice route to the East, had no intention of colonising the area, instead wanting only to establish a secure base camp where passing ships could shelter and be serviced, [24] and where hungry sailors could stock up on fresh supplies of meat, fruit, and vegetables. To this end, a small VOC expedition under the command of Jan van Riebeeck reached Table Bay on 6 April 1652. [27]

The VOC had settled at the Cape in order to supply their trading ships. The Khoikhoi stopped trading with the Dutch [ citation needed ] , and the Cape and the VOC had to import Dutch farmers to establish farms to supply the passing ships as well as to supply the growing VOC settlement. The small initial group of free burghers, as these farmers were known, steadily increased in number and began to expand their farms further north and east into the territory of the Khoikhoi. [24] The free burghers were ex-VOC soldiers and gardeners, who were unable to return to Holland when their contracts were completed with the VOC. [28] The VOC also brought some 71,000 slaves to Cape Town from India, Indonesia, East Africa, Mauritius, and Madagascar. [29]

The majority of burghers had Dutch ancestry and belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church, but there were also some Germans, who often happened to be Lutherans. In 1688, the Dutch and the Germans were joined by French Huguenots, who were Calvinist Protestants fleeing religious persecution in France under its Catholic ruler, King Louis XIV.

Van Riebeeck considered it impolitic to enslave the local Khoi and San aboriginals, so the VOC began to import large numbers of slaves, primarily from the Dutch colonies in Indonesia. Eventually, van Riebeeck and the VOC began to make indentured servants out of the Khoikhoi and the San. The descendants of unions between the Dutch settlers and the Khoi-San and Malay slaves became known officially as the Cape Coloureds and the Cape Malays, respectively. A significant number of the offspring from the white and slave unions were absorbed into the local proto-Afrikaans speaking white population. The racially mixed genealogical origins of many so-called "white" South Africans have been traced to interracial unions at the Cape between the European occupying population and imported Asian and African slaves, the indigenous Khoi and San, and their vari-hued offspring. [30] Simon van der Stel, the first Governor of the Dutch settlement, famous for his development of the lucrative South African wine industry, was himself of mixed race-origin. [31]

British at the Cape Edit

In 1787, shortly before the French Revolution, a faction within the politics of the Dutch Republic known as the Patriot Party attempted to overthrow the regime of stadtholder William V. Though the revolt was crushed, it was resurrected after the French invasion of the Netherlands in 1794/1795 which resulted in the stadtholder fleeing the country. The Patriot revolutionaries then proclaimed the Batavian Republic, which was closely allied to revolutionary France. In response, the stadtholder, who had taken up residence in England, issued the Kew Letters, ordering colonial governors to surrender to the British. The British then seized the Cape in 1795 to prevent it from falling into French hands. The Cape was relinquished back to the Dutch in 1803. [ citation needed ] In 1805, the British inherited the Cape as a prize during the Napoleonic Wars, [24] again seizing the Cape from the French controlled Kingdom of Holland which had replaced the Batavian Republic. [ citation needed ]

Like the Dutch before them, the British initially had little interest in the Cape Colony, other than as a strategically located port. The Cape Articles of Capitulation of 1806 allowed the colony to retain "all their rights and privileges which they have enjoyed hitherto", [32] and this launched South Africa on a divergent course from the rest of the British Empire, allowing the continuance of Roman-Dutch law. British sovereignty of the area was recognised at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the Dutch accepting a payment of 6 million pounds for the colony. [33] As one of their first tasks they outlawed the use of the Dutch language in 1806 with the view of converting the European settlers to the British language and culture. [34] This had the effect of forcing more of the Dutch colonists to move (or trek) away from British administrative reach. Much later, in 1820 the British authorities persuaded about 5,000 middle-class British immigrants (most of them "in trade") to leave Great Britain. Many of the 1820 Settlers eventually settled in Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth.

British policy with regard to South Africa would vacillate with successive governments, but the overarching imperative throughout the 19th century was to protect the strategic trade route to India while incurring as little expense as possible within the colony. This aim was complicated by border conflicts with the Boers, who soon developed a distaste for British authority. [24]

European exploration of the interior Edit

Colonel Robert Jacob Gordon of the Dutch East India Company was the first European to explore parts of the interior while commanding the Dutch garrison at the renamed Cape of Good Hope, from 1780 to 1795. The four expeditions Gordon undertook between 1777 and 1786 are recorded in a series of several hundred drawings known collectively as the Gordon Atlas, as well as in his journals, which were only discovered in 1964. [35]

Early relations between the European settlers and the Xhosa, the first Bantu peoples they met when they ventured inward, were peaceful. However, there was competition for land, and this tension led to skirmishes in the form of cattle raids from 1779. [24]

The British explorers David Livingstone and William Oswell, setting out from a mission station in the northern Cape Colony, are believed to have been the first white men to cross the Kalahari desert in 1849. [36] The Royal Geographical Society later awarded Livingstone a gold medal for his discovery of Lake Ngami in the desert. [37]

Zulu militarism and expansionism Edit

The Zulu people are part of the Nguni tribe and were originally a minor clan in what is today northern KwaZulu-Natal, founded ca. 1709 by Zulu kaNtombela.

The 1820s saw a time of immense upheaval relating to the military expansion of the Zulu Kingdom, which replaced the original African clan system with kingdoms. Sotho-speakers know this period as the difaqane ("forced migration") Zulu-speakers call it the mfecane ("crushing"). [38]

Various theories have been advanced for the causes of the difaqane, ranging from ecological factors to competition in the ivory trade. [39] Another theory attributes the epicentre of Zulu violence to the slave trade out of Delgoa Bay in Mozambique situated to the north of Zululand. [40] Most historians recognize that the Mfecane wasn't just a series of events caused by the founding of the Zulu kingdom but rather a multitude of factors caused before and after Shaka Zulu came into power. [41] [42] [24]

In 1818, Nguni tribes in Zululand created a militaristic kingdom between the Tugela River and Pongola River, under the driving force of Shaka kaSenzangakhona, son of the chief of the Zulu clan. [43] Shaka built large armies, breaking from clan tradition by placing the armies under the control of his own officers rather than of hereditary chiefs. He then set out on a massive programme of expansion, killing or enslaving those who resisted in the territories he conquered. His impis (warrior regiments) were rigorously disciplined: failure in battle meant death. [44]

The Zulu resulted in the mass movement of many tribes who in turn to tried dominate those in new territories, leading to widespread warfare and waves of displacement spread throughout southern Africa and beyond. It accelerated the formation of several new nation-states, notably those of the Sotho (present-day Lesotho) and the Swazi (now Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)). It caused the consolidation of groups such as the Matebele, the Mfengu and the Makololo.

In 1828 Shaka was killed by his half-brothers Dingaan and Umhlangana. The weaker and less-skilled Dingaan became king, relaxing military discipline while continuing the despotism. Dingaan also attempted to establish relations with the British traders on the Natal coast, but events had started to unfold that would see the demise of Zulu independence. Estimates for the death toll resulting from the Mfecane range from 1 million to 2 million. [45] [46] [47] [48]

Boer people and republics Edit

After 1806, a number of Dutch-speaking inhabitants of the Cape Colony trekked inland, first in small groups. Eventually, in the 1830s, large numbers of Boers migrated in what came to be known as the Great Trek. [38] Among the initial reasons for their leaving the Cape colony were the English language rule. Religion was a very important aspect of the settlers culture and the bible and church services were in Dutch. Similarly, schools, justice and trade up to the arrival of the British, were all managed in the Dutch language. The language law caused friction, distrust and dissatisfaction.

Another reason for Dutch-speaking white farmers trekking away from the Cape was the abolition of slavery by the British government on Emancipation Day, 1 December 1838. The farmers complained they could not replace the labour of their slaves without losing an excessive amount of money. [49] The farmers had invested large amounts of capital in slaves. Owners who had purchased slaves on credit or put them up as surety against loans faced financial ruin. Britain had allocated the sum of 1 200 000 British Pounds as compensation to the Dutch settlers, on condition the Dutch farmers had to lodge their claims in Britain as well as the fact that the value of the slaves was many times the allocated amount. This caused further dissatisfaction among the Dutch settlers. The settlers, incorrectly, believed that the Cape Colony administration had taken the money due to them as payment for freeing their slaves. Those settlers who were allocated money could only claim it in Britain in person or through an agent. The commission charged by agents was the same as the payment for one slave, thus those settlers only claiming for one slave would receive nothing. [50]

South African Republic Edit

The South African Republic (Dutch: Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek or ZAR, not to be confused with the much later Republic of South Africa), is often referred to as The Transvaal and sometimes as the Republic of Transvaal. It was an independent and internationally recognised nation-state in southern Africa from 1852 to 1902. Independent sovereignty of the republic was formally recognised by Great Britain with the signing of the Sand River Convention on 17 January 1852. [51] The republic, under the premiership of Paul Kruger, defeated British forces in the First Boer War and remained independent until the end of the Second Boer War on 31 May 1902, when it was forced to surrender to the British. The territory of the South African Republic became known after this war as the Transvaal Colony. [52]

Free State Republic Edit

The independent Boer republic of Orange Free State evolved from colonial Britain's Orange River Sovereignty, enforced by the presence of British troops, which lasted from 1848 to 1854 in the territory between the Orange and Vaal rivers, named Transorange. Britain, due to the military burden imposed on it by the Crimean War in Europe, then withdrew its troops from the territory in 1854, when the territory along with other areas in the region was claimed by the Boers as an independent Boer republic, which they named the Orange Free State. In March 1858, after land disputes, cattle rustling and a series of raids and counter-raids, the Orange Free State declared war on the Basotho kingdom, which it failed to defeat. A succession of wars were conducted between the Boers and the Basotho for the next 10 years. [53] The name Orange Free State was again changed to the Orange River Colony, created by Britain after the latter occupied it in 1900 and then annexed it in 1902 during the Second Boer War. The colony, with an estimated population of less than 400,000 in 1904 [54] ceased to exist in 1910, when it was absorbed into the Union of South Africa as the Orange Free State Province.

Natalia Edit

Natalia was a short-lived Boer republic established in 1839 by Boer Voortrekkers emigrating from the Cape Colony. In 1824 a party of 25 men under British Lieutenant F G Farewell arrived from the Cape Colony and established a settlement on the northern shore of the Bay of Natal, which would later become the port of Durban, so named after Benjamin D'Urban, a governor of the Cape Colony. Boer Voortrekkers in 1838 established the Republic of Natalia in the surrounding region, with its capital at Pietermaritzburg. On the night of 23/24 May 1842 British colonial forces attacked the Voortrekker camp at Congella. The attack failed, with British forces then retreating back to Durban, which the Boers besieged. A local trader Dick King and his servant Ndongeni, who later became folk heroes, were able to escape the blockade and ride to Grahamstown, a distance of 600 km (372.82 miles) in 14 days to raise British reinforcements. The reinforcements arrived in Durban 20 days later the siege was broken and the Voortrekkers retreated. [55] The Boers accepted British annexation in 1844. Many of the Natalia Boers who refused to acknowledge British rule trekked over the Drakensberg mountains to settle in the Orange Free State and Transvaal republics. [56]

Cape Colony Edit

Between 1847 and 1854, Harry Smith, governor and high commissioner of the Cape Colony, annexed territories far to the north of original British and Dutch settlement.

Smith's expansion of the Cape Colony resulted in conflict with disaffected Boers in the Orange River Sovereignty who in 1848 mounted an abortive rebellion at Boomplaats, where the Boers were defeated by a detachment of the Cape Mounted Rifles. [57] Annexation also precipitated a war between British colonial forces and the indigenous Xhosa nation in 1850, in the eastern coastal region. [58]

Starting from the mid-1800s, the Cape of Good Hope, which was then the largest state in southern Africa, began moving towards greater independence from Britain. In 1854, it was granted its first locally elected legislature, the Cape Parliament.

In 1872, after a long political struggle, it attained responsible government with a locally accountable executive and Prime Minister. The Cape nonetheless remained nominally part of the British Empire, even though it was self-governing in practice.

The Cape Colony was unusual in southern Africa in that its laws prohibited any discrimination on the basis of race and, unlike the Boer republics, elections were held according to the non-racial Cape Qualified Franchise system, whereby suffrage qualifications applied universally, regardless of race.

Initially, a period of strong economic growth and social development ensued. However, an ill-informed British attempt to force the states of southern Africa into a British federation led to inter-ethnic tensions and the First Boer War. Meanwhile, the discovery of diamonds around Kimberley and gold in the Transvaal led to a later return to instability, particularly because they fueled the rise to power of the ambitious colonialist Cecil Rhodes. As Cape Prime Minister, Rhodes curtailed the multi-racial franchise, and his expansionist policies set the stage for the Second Boer War. [59]

Natal Edit

Indian slaves from the Dutch colonies had been introduced into the Cape area of South Africa by the Dutch settlers in 1654. [60]

By the end of 1847, following annexation by Britain of the former Boer republic of Natalia, nearly all the Boers had left their former republic, which the British renamed Natal. The role of the Boer settlers was replaced by subsidised British immigrants of whom 5,000 arrived between 1849 and 1851. [61]

By 1860, with slavery having been abolished in 1834, and after the annexation of Natal as a British colony in 1843, the British colonialists in Natal (now kwaZulu-Natal) turned to India to resolve a labour shortage. Men of the local Zulu warrior nation were refusing to adopt the servile position of labourers. In that year, the SS Truro arrived in Durban harbour with over 300 Indians on board.

Over the next 50 years, 150,000 more indentured Indian servants and labourers arrived, as well as numerous free "passenger Indians," building the base for what would become the largest Indian community outside India.

By 1893, when the lawyer and social activist Mahatma Gandhi arrived in Durban, Indians outnumbered whites in Natal. The civil rights struggle of Gandhi's Natal Indian Congress failed until the 1994 advent of democracy, Indians in South Africa were subject to most of the discriminatory laws that applied to all non-white inhabitants of the country.

Griqua people Edit

By the late 1700s, the Cape Colony population had grown to include a large number of mixed-race so-called "coloureds" who were the offspring of extensive interracial relations between male Dutch settlers, Khoikhoi females, and female slaves imported from Dutch colonies in the East. [62] Members of this mixed-race community formed the core of what was to become the Griqua people.

Under the leadership of a former slave named Adam Kok, these "coloureds" or Basters (meaning mixed race or multiracial) as they were named by the Dutch—a word derived from baster, meaning "bastard" [63] —started trekking northward into the interior, through what is today named Northern Cape Province. The trek of the Griquas to escape the influence of the Cape Colony has been described as "one of the great epics of the 19th century." [64] They were joined on their long journey by a number of San and Khoikhoi aboriginals, local African tribesmen, and also some white renegades. Around 1800, they started crossing the northern frontier formed by the Orange River, arriving ultimately in an uninhabited area, which they named Griqualand. [65]

In 1825, a faction of the Griqua people was induced by Dr John Philip, superintendent of the London Missionary Society in Southern Africa, to relocate to a place called Philippolis, a mission station for the San, several hundred miles southeast of Griqualand. Philip's intention was for the Griquas to protect the missionary station there against banditti in the region, and as a bulwark against the northward movement of white settlers from the Cape Colony. Friction between the Griquas and the settlers over land rights resulted in British troops being sent to the region in 1845. It marked the beginning of nine years of British intervention in the affairs of the region, which the British named Transorange. [66]

In 1861, to avoid the imminent prospect of either being colonised by the Cape Colony or coming into conflict with the expanding Boer Republic of Orange Free State, most of the Philippolis Griquas embarked on a further trek. They moved about 500 miles eastward, over the Quathlamba (today known as the Drakensberg mountain range), settling ultimately in an area officially designated as "Nomansland", which the Griquas renamed Griqualand East. [67] East Griqualand was subsequently annexed by Britain in 1874 and incorporated into the Cape Colony in 1879. [68]

The original Griqualand, north of the Orange River, was annexed by Britain's Cape Colony and renamed Griqualand West after the discovery in 1871 of the world's richest deposit of diamonds at Kimberley, so named after the British Colonial Secretary, Earl Kimberley. [69]

Although no formally surveyed boundaries existed, Griqua leader Nicolaas Waterboer claimed the diamond fields were situated on land belonging to the Griquas. [70] The Boer republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State also vied for ownership of the land, but Britain, being the preeminent force in the region, won control over the disputed territory. In 1878, Waterboer led an unsuccessful rebellion against the colonial authorities, for which he was arrested and briefly exiled. [71]

Cape Frontier Wars Edit

In early South Africa, European notions of national boundaries and land ownership had no counterparts in African political culture. To Moshoeshoe the BaSotho chieftain from Lesotho, it was customary tribute in the form of horses and cattle represented acceptance of land use under his authority. [72] [73] To both the Boer and the British settlers, the same form of tribute was believed to constitute purchase and permanent ownership of the land under independent authority.

As British and Boer settlers started establishing permanent farms after trekking across the country in search of prime agricultural land, they encountered resistance from the local Bantu people who had originally migrated southwards from central Africa hundreds of years earlier. The consequent frontier wars, known as the Xhosa Wars, were unofficially referred to by the British colonial authorities as the "Kaffir" wars. In the southeastern part of South Africa, The Boers and the Xhosa clashed along the Great Fish River, and in 1779 the first of nine frontier wars erupted. For nearly 100 years subsequently, the Xhosa fought the settlers sporadically, first the Boers or Afrikaners and later the British. In the Fourth Frontier War, which lasted from 1811 to 1812, the British forced the Xhosa back across the Great Fish River and established forts along this boundary.

The increasing economic involvement of the British in southern Africa from the 1820s, and especially following the discovery of first diamonds at Kimberley and gold in the Transvaal, resulted in pressure for land and African labour, and led to increasingly tense relations with African states. [38]

In 1818 differences between two Xhosa leaders, Ndlambe and Ngqika, ended in Ngqika's defeat, but the British continued to recognise Ngqika as the paramount chief. He appealed to the British for help against Ndlambe, who retaliated in 1819 during the Fifth Frontier War by attacking the British colonial town of Grahamstown.

Wars against the Zulu Edit

In the eastern part of what is today South Africa, in the region named Natalia by the Boer trekkers, the latter negotiated an agreement with Zulu King Dingane kaSenzangakhona allowing the Boers to settle in part of the then Zulu kingdom. Cattle rustling ensued and a party of Boers under the leadership of Piet Retief were killed.

Subsequent to the killing of the Retief party, the Boers defended themselves against a Zulu attack, at the Ncome River on 16 December 1838. An estimated five thousand Zulu warriors were involved. The Boers took a defensive position with the high banks of the Ncome River forming a natural barrier to their rear with their ox waggons as barricades between themselves and the attacking Zulu army. About three thousand Zulu warriors died in the clash known historically as the Battle of Blood River. [74] [75]

In the later annexation of the Zulu kingdom by imperial Britain, an Anglo-Zulu War was fought in 1879. Following Lord Carnarvon's successful introduction of federation in Canada, it was thought that similar political effort, coupled with military campaigns, might succeed with the African kingdoms, tribal areas and Boer republics in South Africa.

In 1874, Henry Bartle Frere was sent to South Africa as High Commissioner for the British Empire to bring such plans into being. Among the obstacles were the presence of the independent states of the South African Republic and the Kingdom of Zululand and its army. Frere, on his own initiative, without the approval of the British government and with the intent of instigating a war with the Zulu, had presented an ultimatum on 11 December 1878, to the Zulu king Cetshwayo with which the Zulu king could not comply. Bartle Frere then sent Lord Chelmsford to invade Zululand. The war is notable for several particularly bloody battles, including an overwhelming victory by the Zulu at the Battle of Isandlwana, as well as for being a landmark in the timeline of imperialism in the region.

Britain's eventual defeat of the Zulus, marking the end of the Zulu nation's independence, was accomplished with the assistance of Zulu collaborators who harboured cultural and political resentments against centralised Zulu authority. [76] The British then set about establishing large sugar plantations in the area today named KwaZulu-Natal Province.

Wars with the Basotho Edit

From the 1830s onwards, numbers of white settlers from the Cape Colony crossed the Orange River and started arriving in the fertile southern part of territory known as the Lower Caledon Valley, which was occupied by Basotho cattle herders under the authority of the Basotho founding monarch Moshoeshoe I. In 1845, a treaty was signed between the British colonists and Moshoeshoe, which recognised white settlement in the area. No firm boundaries were drawn between the area of white settlement and Moshoeshoe's kingdom, which led to border clashes. Moshoeshoe was under the impression he was loaning grazing land to the settlers in accordance with African precepts of occupation rather than ownership, while the settlers believed they had been granted permanent land rights. Afrikaner settlers in particular were loathe to live under Moshoesoe's authority and among Africans. [77]

The British, who at that time controlled the area between the Orange and Vaal Rivers called the Orange River Sovereignty, decided a discernible boundary was necessary and proclaimed a line named the Warden Line, dividing the area between British and Basotho territories. This led to conflict between the Basotho and the British, who were defeated by Moshoeshoe's warriors at the battle of Viervoet in 1851.

As punishment to the Basotho, the governor and commander-in-chief of the Cape Colony, George Cathcart, deployed troops to the Mohokare River Moshoeshoe was ordered to pay a fine. When he did not pay the fine in full, a battle broke out on the Berea Plateau in 1852, where the British suffered heavy losses. In 1854, the British handed over the territory to the Boers through the signing of the Sand River Convention. This territory and others in the region then became the Republic of the Orange Free State. [78]

A succession of wars followed from 1858 to 1868 between the Basotho kingdom and the Boer republic of Orange Free State. [79] In the battles that followed, the Orange Free State tried unsuccessfully to capture Moshoeshoe's mountain stronghold at Thaba Bosiu, while the Sotho conducted raids in Free State territories. Both sides adopted scorched-earth tactics, with large swathes of pasturage and cropland being destroyed. [80] Faced with starvation, Moshoeshoe signed a peace treaty on 15 October 1858, though crucial boundary issues remained unresolved. [81] War broke out again in 1865. After an unsuccessful appeal for aid from the British Empire, Moshoeshoe signed the 1866 treaty of Thaba Bosiu, with the Basotho ceding substantial territory to the Orange Free State. On 12 March 1868, the British parliament declared the Basotho Kingdom a British protectorate and part of the British Empire. Open hostilities ceased between the Orange Free State and the Basotho. [82] The country was subsequently named Basutoland and is presently named Lesotho.

Wars with the Ndebele Edit

In 1836, when Boer Voortrekkers (pioneers) arrived in the northwestern part of present-day South Africa, they came into conflict with a Ndebele sub-group that the settlers named "Matabele", under chief Mzilikazi. A series of battles ensued, in which Mzilikazi was eventually defeated. He withdrew from the area and led his people northwards to what would later become the Matabele region of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). [83]

Other members of the Ndebele ethnic language group in different areas of the region similarly came into conflict with the Voortrekkers, notably in the area that would later become the Northern Transvaal. In September 1854, 28 Boers accused of cattle rustling were killed in three separate incidents by an alliance of the Ndebele chiefdoms of Mokopane and Mankopane. Mokopane and his followers, anticipating retaliation by the settlers, retreated into the mountain caves known as Gwasa, (or Makapansgat in Afrikaans). In late October, Boer commandos supported by local Kgatla tribal collaborators laid siege to the caves. By the end of the siege, about three weeks later, Mokopane and between 1,000 and 3,000 people had died in the caves. The survivors were captured and allegedly enslaved. [84]

Wars with the Bapedi Edit

The Bapedi wars, also known as the Sekhukhune wars, consisted of three separate campaigns fought between 1876 and 1879 against the Bapedi under their reigning monarch King Sekhukhune I, in the northeastern region known as Sekhukhuneland, bordering on Swaziland. Further friction was caused by the refusal of Sekhukhune to allow prospectors to search for gold in territory he considered to be sovereign and independent under his authority. The First Sekhukhune War of 1876 was conducted by the Boers, and the two separate campaigns of the Second Sekhukhune War of 1878/1879 were conducted by the British. [85]

During the final campaign, Sekukuni (also spelled Sekhukhune) and members of his entourage took refuge in a mountain cave where he was cut off from food and water. He eventually surrendered to a combined deputation of Boer and British forces on 2 December 1879. Sekhukhune, members of his family and some Bapedi generals were subsequently imprisoned in Pretoria for two years, with Sekhukhuneland becoming part of the Transvaal Republic. No gold was ever discovered in the annexed territory. [86]

Discovery of diamonds Edit

The first diamond discoveries between 1866 and 1867 were alluvial, on the southern banks of the Orange River. By 1869, diamonds were found at some distance from any stream or river, in hard rock called blue ground, later called kimberlite, after the mining town of Kimberley where the diamond diggings were concentrated. The diggings were located in an area of vague boundaries and disputed land ownership. Claimants to the site included the South African (Transvaal) Republic, the Orange Free State Republic, and the mixed-race Griqua nation under Nicolaas Waterboer. [87] Cape Colony Governor Henry Barkly persuaded all claimants to submit themselves to a decision of an arbitrator and so Robert W Keate, Lieutenant-Governor of Natal was asked to arbitrate. [88] Keate awarded ownership to the Griquas. Waterboer, fearing conflict with the Boer republic of Orange Free State, subsequently asked for and received British protection. Griqualand then became a separate Crown Colony renamed Griqualand West in 1871, with a Lieutenant-General and legislative council. [89]

The Crown Colony of Griqualand West was annexed into the Cape Colony in 1877, enacted into law in 1880. [90] No material benefits accrued to the Griquas as a result of either colonisation or annexation they did not receive any share of the diamond wealth generated at Kimberley. The Griqua community became subsequently dissimulated. [91]

By the 1870s and 1880s the mines at Kimberley were producing 95% of the world's diamonds. [92] The widening search for gold and other resources were financed by the wealth produced and the practical experience gained at Kimberley. [93] Revenue accruing to the Cape Colony from the Kimberley diamond diggings enabled the Cape Colony to be granted responsible government status in 1872, since it was no longer dependent on the British Treasury and hence allowing it to be fully self-governing in similar fashion to the federation of Canada, New Zealand and some of the Australian states. [94] The wealth derived from Kimberley diamond mining, having effectively tripled the customs revenue of the Cape Colony from 1871 to 1875, also doubled its population, and allowed it to expand its boundaries and railways to the north. [95]

In 1888, British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes co-founded De Beers Consolidated Mines at Kimberley, after buying up and amalgamating the individual claims with finance provided by the Rothschild dynasty. Abundant, cheap African labour was central to the success of Kimberley diamond mining, as it would later also be to the success of gold mining on the Witwatersrand. [96] [97] It has been suggested in some academic circles that the wealth produced at Kimberley was a significant factor influencing the Scramble for Africa, in which European powers had by 1902 competed with each other in drawing arbitrary boundaries across almost the entire continent and dividing it among themselves. [98] [99]

Discovery of gold Edit

Although many tales abound, there is no conclusive evidence as to who first discovered gold or the manner in which it was originally discovered in the late 19th century on the Witwatersrand (meaning White Waters Ridge) of the Transvaal. [100] The discovery of gold in February 1886 at a farm called Langlaagte on the Witwatersrand in particular precipitated a gold rush by prospectors and fortune seekers from all over the world. Except in rare outcrops, however, the main gold deposits had over many years become covered gradually by thousands of feet of hard rock. Finding and extracting the deposits far below the ground called for the capital and engineering skills that would soon result in the deep-level mines of the Witwatersrand producing a quarter of the world's gold, with the "instant city" of Johannesburg arising astride the main Witwatersrand gold reef. [101]

Within two years of gold being discovered on the Witwatersrand, four mining finance houses had been established. The first was formed by Hermann Eckstein in 1887, eventually becoming Rand Mines. Cecil Rhodes and Charles Rudd followed, with their Gold Fields of South Africa company. Rhodes and Rudd had earlier made fortunes from diamond mining at Kimberley. [102] In 1895 there was an investment boom in Witwatersrand gold-mining shares. The precious metal that underpinned international trade would dominate South African exports for decades to come. [103]

Of the leading 25 foreign industrialists who were instrumental in opening up deep level mining operations at the Witwatersrand gold fields, 15 were Jewish, 11 of the total were from Germany or Austria, and nine of that latter category were also Jewish. [104] The commercial opportunities opened by the discovery of gold attracted many other people of European Jewish origin. The Jewish population of South Africa in 1880 numbered approximately 4,000 by 1914 it had grown to more than 40,000, mostly migrants from Lithuania. [105]

The working environment of the mines, meanwhile, as one historian has described it, was "dangerous, brutal and onerous", and therefore unpopular among local black Africans. [106] Recruitment of black labour began to prove difficult, even with an offer of improved wages. In mid-1903 there remained barely half of the 90,000 black labourers who had been employed in the industry in mid-1899. [107] The decision was made to start importing Chinese indentured labourers who were prepared to work for far less wages than local African labourers. The first 1,000 indentured Chinese labourers arrived in June 1904. By January 1907, 53,000 Chinese labourers were working in the gold mines. [108]

First Anglo-Boer War Edit

The Transvaal Boer republic was forcefully annexed by Britain in 1877, during Britain's attempt to consolidate the states of southern Africa under British rule. Long-standing Boer resentment turned into full-blown rebellion in the Transvaal and the first Anglo-Boer War, also known as the Boer Insurrection, broke out in 1880. [109] The conflict ended almost as soon as it began with a decisive Boer victory at Battle of Majuba Hill (27 February 1881).

The republic regained its independence as the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek ("South African Republic"), or ZAR. Paul Kruger, one of the leaders of the uprising, became President of the ZAR in 1883. Meanwhile, the British, who viewed their defeat at Majuba as an aberration, forged ahead with their desire to federate the Southern African colonies and republics. They saw this as the best way to come to terms with the fact of a white Afrikaner majority, as well as to promote their larger strategic interests in the area. [ citation needed ]

The cause of the Anglo-Boer wars has been attributed to a contest over which nation would control and benefit most from the Witwatersrand gold mines. [110] The enormous wealth of the mines was in the hands of European "Randlords" overseeing the mainly British foreign managers, mining foremen, engineers and technical specialists, characterised by the Boers as uitlander, meaning aliens. The "aliens" objected to being denied parliamentary representation and the right to vote, and they complained also of bureaucratic government delays in the issuing of licenses and permits, and general administrative incompetence on the part of the government. [111]

In 1895, a column of mercenaries in the employ of Cecil John Rhodes' Rhodesian-based Charter Company and led by Captain Leander Starr Jameson had entered the ZAR with the intention of sparking an uprising on the Witwatersrand and installing a British administration there. The armed incursion became known as the Jameson Raid. [112] It ended when the invading column was ambushed and captured by Boer commandos. President Kruger suspected the insurgency had received at least the tacit approval of the Cape Colony government under the premiership of Cecil John Rhodes, and that Kruger's South African Republic faced imminent danger. Kruger reacted by forming an alliance with the neighbouring Boer republic of Orange Free State. This did not prevent the outbreak of a Second Anglo-Boer war.

Second Anglo-Boer War Edit

Renewed tensions between Britain and the Boers peaked in 1899 when the British demanded voting rights for the 60,000 foreign whites on the Witwatersrand. Until that point, President Paul Kruger's government had excluded all foreigners from the franchise. Kruger rejected the British demand and called for the withdrawal of British troops from the borders of the South African Republic. When the British refused, Kruger declared war. This Second Anglo-Boer War, also known as the South African War lasted longer than the first, with British troops being supplemented by colonial troops from Southern Rhodesia, Canada, India, Australia and New Zealand. It has been estimated that the total number of British and colonial troops deployed in South Africa during the war outnumbered the population of the two Boer Republics by more than 150,000. [113]

By June 1900, Pretoria, the last of the major Boer towns, had surrendered. Yet resistance by Boer bittereinders (meaning those who would fight to the bitter end) continued for two more years with guerrilla warfare, which the British met in turn with scorched earth tactics. The Boers kept on fighting.

The British suffragette Emily Hobhouse visited British concentration camps in South Africa and produced a report condemning the appalling conditions there. By 1902, 26,000 Boer women and children had died of disease and neglect in the camps. [114]

The Anglo-Boer War affected all race groups in South Africa. Black people were conscripted or otherwise coerced by both sides into working for them either as combatants or non-combatants to sustain the respective war efforts of both the Boers and the British. The official statistics of blacks killed in action are inaccurate. Most of the bodies were dumped in unmarked graves. It has, however, been verified that 17,182 black people died mainly of diseases in the Cape concentration camps alone, but this figure is not accepted historically as a true reflection of the overall numbers. Concentration camp superintendents did not always record the deaths of black inmates in the camps. [115]

From the outset of hostilities in October 1899 to the signing of peace on 31 May 1902 the war claimed the lives of 22,000 imperial soldiers and 7,000 republican fighters. [116] In terms of the peace agreement known as the Treaty of Vereeniging, the Boer republics acknowledged British sovereignty, while the British in turn committed themselves to reconstruction of the areas under their control.

During the years immediately following the Anglo-Boer wars, Britain set about unifying the four colonies including the former Boer republics into a single self-governed country called the Union of South Africa. This was accomplished after several years of negotiations, when the South Africa Act 1909 consolidated the Cape Colony, Natal, Transvaal, and Orange Free State into one nation. Under the provisions of the act, the Union became an independent Dominion of the British Empire, governed under a form of constitutional monarchy, with the British monarch represented by a Governor-General. Prosecutions before the courts of the Union of South Africa were instituted in the name of the Crown and government officials served in the name of the Crown. The British High Commission territories of Basutoland (now Lesotho), Bechuanaland (now Botswana), and Swaziland continued under direct rule from Britain. [117]

Among other harsh segregationist laws, including denial of voting rights to black people, the Union parliament enacted the 1913 Natives' Land Act, which earmarked only eight percent of South Africa's available land for black occupancy. White people, who constituted 20 percent of the population, held 90 percent of the land. The Land Act would form a cornerstone of legalised racial discrimination for the next nine decades. [118]

General Louis Botha headed the first government of the new Union, with General Jan Smuts as his deputy. Their South African National Party, later known as the South African Party or SAP, followed a generally pro-British, white-unity line. The more radical Boers split away under the leadership of General Barry Hertzog, forming the National Party (NP) in 1914. The National Party championed Afrikaner interests, advocating separate development for the two white groups, and independence from Britain. [119]

Dissatisfaction with British influence in the Union's affairs reached a climax in September 1914, when impoverished Boers, anti-British Boers and bitter-enders launched a rebellion. The rebellion was suppressed, and at least one officer was sentenced to death and executed by firing squad. [120]

In 1924 the Afrikaner-dominated National Party came to power in a coalition government with the Labour Party. Afrikaans, previously regarded as a low-level Dutch patois, replaced Dutch as an official language of the Union. English and Dutch became the two official languages in 1925. [121] [122]

The Union of South Africa came to an end after a referendum on 5 October 1960, in which a majority of white South Africans voted in favour of unilateral withdrawal from the British Commonwealth and the establishment of a Republic of South Africa.

First World War Edit

At the outbreak of World War I, South Africa joined Great Britain and the Allies against the German Empire. Both Prime Minister Louis Botha and Defence Minister Jan Smuts were former Second Boer War generals who had previously fought against the British, but they now became active and respected members of the Imperial War Cabinet. Elements of the South African Army refused to fight against the Germans and along with other opponents of the government they rose in an open revolt known as the Maritz Rebellion. The government declared martial law on 14 October 1914, and forces loyal to the government under the command of generals Louis Botha and Jan Smuts defeated the rebellion. The rebel leaders were prosecuted, fined heavily and sentenced to imprisonment ranging from six to seven years. [123]

Public opinion in South Africa split along racial and ethnic lines. The British elements strongly supported the war, and formed by far the largest military component. Likewise the Indian element (led by Mahatma Gandhi) generally supported the war effort. Afrikaners were split, with some like Botha and Smuts taking a prominent leadership role in the British war effort. This position was rejected by many rural Afrikaners who supported the Maritz Rebellion. The trade union movement was divided. Many urban blacks supported the war expecting it would raise their status in society. Others said it was not relevant to the struggle for their rights. The Coloured element was generally supportive and many served in a Coloured Corps in East Africa and France, also hoping to better themselves after the war. [123]

With a population of roughly 6 million, between 1914 - 1918, over 250,000 South Africans of all races voluntarily served their country. Thousands more served in the British Army directly, with over 3,000 joining the British Royal Flying Corps and over 100 volunteering for the Royal Navy. It is likely that around 50% of white men of military age served during the war, more than 146,000 whites. 83,000 Blacks and 2,500 Coloureds and Asians also served in either German South-West Africa, East Africa, the Middle East, or on the Western Front in Europe. Over 7,000 South Africans were killed, and nearly 12,000 were wounded during the course of the war. [124] Eight South Africans won the Victoria Cross for gallantry, the Empire’s highest and prestigious military medal. The Battle of Delville Wood and the sinking of the SS Mendi being the greatest single incidents of loss of life.

25,000 Black South Africans were recruited at the request of the British War Cabinet to serve as non-combatant labourers in the South African Native Labour Contingent (SANLC). 21,000 of them were deployed to France as stevedores at French ports, where they were housed in segregated compounds. A total of 616 men from the Fifth Battalion of the SANLC drowned on 21 February 1917 when the troopship SS Mendi, on which they were being transported to France, collided with another vessel near the Isle of Wight. [125] The Mendi disaster was one of South Africa's worst tragedies of the Great War, second perhaps only to the Battle of Delville Wood. [126] The South African government issued no war service medal to the black servicemen and the special medal issued by King George V to "native troops" that served the Empire, the British War Medal in bronze, was disallowed and not issued to the SANLC. [127]

Black and mixed-race South Africans who had supported the war were embittered when post-war South Africa saw no easing of white domination and racial segregation. [128]

The assistance that South Africa gave the British Empire was significant. Two German African colonies were occupied, either by South Africa alone or with significant South African assistance. Manpower, from all races, helped Allied operations not just on the Western Front and Africa, but also in the Middle East against the Ottoman Empire. South Africa’s ports and harbours on the Home Front were a crucial strategic asset when conducting a war on a global scale. Providing important rest and refuelling stations, the Royal Navy could ensure vital sea lane connections to the British Raj, and the Far East stayed open.

Economically, South Africa supplied two-thirds of gold production in the British Empire, with most of the remainder coming from Australia. At the start of the war, Bank of England officials in London worked with South Africa to block gold shipments to Germany, and force mine owners to sell only to the British Treasury, at prices set by the Treasury. This facilitated purchases of munitions and food in the United States and neutral countries. [129]

Second World War Edit

During World War II, South Africa's ports and harbours, such as at Cape Town, Durban, and Simon's Town, were important strategic assets to the British Royal Navy. South Africa's top-secret Special Signals Service played a significant role in the early development and deployment of radio detection and ranging (radar) technology used in protecting the vital coastal shipping route around southern Africa. [130] By August 1945, South African Air Force aircraft in conjunction with British and Dutch aircraft stationed in South Africa had intercepted 17 enemy ships, assisted in the rescue of 437 survivors of sunken ships, attacked 26 of the 36 enemy submarines operating the vicinity of the South African coast, and flown 15,000 coastal patrol sorties. [131] [132]

About 334,000 South Africans volunteered for full-time military service in support of the Allies abroad. Nearly 9,000 were killed in action. [133] On 21 June 1942 nearly 10,000 South African soldiers, representing one-third of the entire South African force in the field, were taken prisoner by German Field Marshal Rommel's forces in the fall of Tobruk, Libya. [134] A number of South African fighter pilots served with distinction in the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, including Group Captain Adolph "Sailor" Malan who led 74 Squadron and established a record of personally destroying 27 enemy aircraft. [135]

General Jan Smuts was the only important non-British general whose advice was constantly sought by Britain's war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill. [ citation needed ] Smuts was invited to the Imperial War Cabinet in 1939 as the most senior South African in favour of war. On 28 May 1941, Smuts was appointed a Field Marshal of the British Army, becoming the first South African to hold that rank. When the war ended, Smuts represented South Africa in San Francisco at the drafting of the United Nations Charter in May 1945. Just as he had done in 1919, Smuts urged the delegates to create a powerful international body to preserve peace he was determined that, unlike the League of Nations, the UN would have teeth. Smuts also signed the Paris Peace Treaty, resolving the peace in Europe, thus becoming the only signatory of both the treaty ending the First World War, and that which ended the Second. [132]

Pro-German and pro-Nazi attitudes Edit

After the suppression of the abortive, pro-German Maritz Rebellion during the South African World War I campaign against German South West Africa in 1914, the South African rebel General Manie Maritz escaped to Spain. [136] He returned in 1923, and continued working in the Union of South Africa as a German Spy for the Third Reich.

In 1896, the German Kaiser Kaiser Wilhelm had enraged Britain by sending congratulations to Boer republican leader Paul Kruger after Kruger's commandos captured a column of British South Africa Company soldiers engaged in an armed incursion and abortive insurrection, known historically as the Jameson Raid, into Boer territory. Germany was the primary supplier of weapons to the Boers during the subsequent Anglo-Boer war. Kaiser Wilhelm's government arranged for the two Boer Republics to purchase modern breech-loading Mauser rifles and millions of smokeless gunpowder cartridges. Germany's Ludwig Loewe company, later known as Deutsche Waffen-und Munitionfabriken, delivered 55,000 of these rifles to the Boers in 1896. [137]

The early-1940s saw the pro-Nazi Ossewa Brandwag (OB) movement become half-a-million strong, including future prime minister John Vorster and Hendrik van den Bergh, the future head of police intelligence. [138] The anti-semitic Boerenasie (Boer Nation) and other similar groups soon joined them. [139] When the war ended, the OB was one of the anti-parliamentary groups absorbed into the National Party. [140] [141]

The South African Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging or AWB (meaning Afrikaner Resistance Movement), a militant neo-Nazi, mainly Afrikaner white supremacist movement that arose in the 1970s, and was active until the mid-1990s, openly used a flag that closely resembled the swastika. [142] [143] In the early to mid-1990s, the AWB attempted unsuccessfully through various acts of public violence and intimidation to derail the country's transition to democracy. After the country's first multiracial democratic elections in 1994, a number of terrorist bomb blasts were linked to the AWB. [144] On 11 March 1994, several hundred AWB members formed part of an armed right-wing force that invaded the nominally independent "homeland" territory of Bophuthatswana, in a failed attempt to prop up its unpopular, conservative leader Chief Lucas Mangope. [145] The AWB leader Eugène Terre'Blanche was murdered by farm workers on 3 April 2010.

A majority of politically moderate Afrikaners were pragmatic and did not support the AWB's extremism. [146]

Apartheid legislation Edit

Racist legislation during the apartheid era was a continuation and extension of discriminatory and segregationist laws forming a continuum that had commenced in 1856, under Dutch rule in the Cape, and continued throughout the country under British colonialism. [147]

From 1948, successive National Party administrations formalised and extended the existing system of racial discrimination and denial of human rights into the legal system of apartheid, [148] which lasted until 1991. A key act of legislation during this time was the Homeland Citizens Act of 1970. This act augmented the Native Land Act of 1913 through the establishment of so-called "homelands" or "reserves". It authorised the forced evictions of thousands of African people from urban centres in South Africa and South West Africa (now Namibia) to what became described colloquially as "Bantustans" or the "original homes", as they were officially referred to, of the black tribes of South Africa. The same legislation applied also to South West Africa over which South Africa had continued after World War I to exercise a disputed League of Nations mandate. Apartheid apologists attempted to justify the "homelands" policy by citing the 1947 partition of India, when the British had done much the same thing without arousing international condemnation. [149]

Although many important events occurred during this period, apartheid remained the central pivot around which most of the historical issues of this period revolved, including violent conflict and the militarisation of South African society. By 1987, total military expenditure amounted to about 28% of the national budget. [150]

In the aftermath of the 1976 Soweto uprising and the security clampdown that accompanied it, Joint Management Centres (JMCs) operating in at least 34 State-designated "high-risk" areas became the key element in a National Security Management System. The police and military who controlled the JMCs by the mid-1980s were endowed with influence in decision-making at every level, from the Cabinet down to local government. [151]

UN embargo Edit

On 16 December 1966, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2202 A (XXI) identified apartheid as a "crime against humanity". The Apartheid Convention, as it came to be known, was adopted by the General Assembly on 30 November 1973 with 91 member states voting in favour, four against (Portugal, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States) and 26 abstentions. The convention came into force on 18 July 1976. On 23 October 1984 the UN Security Council endorsed this formal determination. The convention declared that apartheid was both unlawful and criminal because it violated the Charter of the United Nations. [152] The General Assembly had already suspended South Africa from the UN organisation on 12 November 1974. On 4 November 1977, the Security Council imposed a mandatory arms embargo in terms of Resolution 181 calling upon all States to cease the sale and shipment of arms, ammunition and military vehicles to South Africa. The country would only be readmitted to the UN in 1994 following its transition to democracy. [153] Apartheid South Africa reacted to the UN arms embargo by strengthening its military ties with Israel, and establishing its own arms manufacturing industry with the help of Israel. [154] Four hundred M-113A1 armoured personnel carriers, and 106mm recoilless rifles manufactured in the United States were delivered to South Africa via Israel. [155]

Extra-judicial killings Edit

In the mid-1980s, police and army death squads conducted state-sponsored assassinations of dissidents and activists. [156] By mid-1987 the Human Rights Commission knew of at least 140 political assassinations in the country, while about 200 people died at the hands of South African agents in neighbouring states. The exact numbers of all the victims may never be known. [157] Strict censorship disallowed journalists from reporting, filming or photographing such incidents, while the government ran its own covert disinformation programme that provided distorted accounts of the extrajudicial killings. [158] At the same time, State-sponsored vigilante groups carried out violent attacks on communities and community leaders associated with resistance to apartheid. [159] The attacks were then falsely attributed by the government to "black-on-black" or factional violence within the communities. [160]

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) would later establish that a covert, informal network of former or still serving army and police operatives, frequently acting in conjunction with extreme right-wing elements, was involved in actions that could be construed as fomenting violence and which resulted in gross human rights violations, including random and targeted killings. [161] Between 1960–1994, according to statistics from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Inkatha Freedom Party was responsible for 4,500 deaths, South African Police 2,700, and the ANC about 1,300. [162]

In early 2002, a planned military coup by a white supremacist movement known as the Boeremag (Boer Force) was foiled by the South African police. [163] Two dozen conspirators including senior South African Army officers were arrested on charges of treason and murder, after a bomb explosion in Soweto. The effectiveness of the police in foiling the planned coup strengthened public perceptions that the post-1994 democratic order was irreversible. [ citation needed ]

The TRC, at the conclusion of its mandate in 2004, handed over a list of 300 names of alleged perpetrators to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for investigation and prosecution by the NPA's Priority Crimes Litigation Unit. Less than a handful of prosecutions were ever pursued. [164] [165]

Military operations in frontline states Edit

South African security forces during the latter part of the apartheid era had a policy of destabilising neighbouring states, supporting opposition movements, conducting sabotage operations and attacking ANC bases and places of refuge for exiles in those states. [166] These states, forming a regional alliance of southern African states, were named collectively as the Frontline States: Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and, from 1980, Zimbabwe. [167] [168]

In early-November 1975, immediately after Portugal granted independence to its former African colony of Angola, civil war broke out between the rival UNITA and MPLA movements. In order to prevent UNITA's collapse and cement the rule of a friendly government, South Africa intervened on 23 October, sending between 1,500 and 2,000 troops from Namibia into southern Angola in order to fight the MPLA. [169] [170] In response to the South African intervention, Cuba sent 18,000 soldiers as part of a large-scale military intervention nicknamed Operation Carlota in support of the MPLA. Cuba had initially provided the MPLA with 230 military advisers prior to the South African intervention. [171] The Cuban intervention was decisive in helping reverse SADF and UNITA advances and cement MPLA rule in Angola. More than a decade later 36,000 Cuban troops were deployed throughout the country helping providing support for MPLA's fight with UNITA. [172] The civil war in Angola resulted in 550,000–1,250,000 deaths in total mostly from famine. Most of the deaths occurred between 1992 and 1993, after South African and Cuban involvement had ended. [173] [174] [175]

Between 1975 and 1988, the SADF continued to stage massive conventional raids into Angola and Zambia to eliminate PLAN's forward operating bases across the border from Namibia as well as provide support for UNITA. [176] A controversial bombing and airborne assault conducted by 200 South African paratroopers on 4 May 1978 at Cassinga in southern Angola, resulted in around 700 South West Africans being killed, including PLAN militants and a large number of women and children. Colonel Jan Breytenbach, the South African parachute battalion commander, claimed it was "recognised in Western military circles as the most successful airborne assault since World War II." [177] The Angolan government described the target of the attack as a refugee camp. The United Nations Security Council on 6 May 1978 condemned South Africa for the attack. [178] On 23 August 1981 South African troops again launched an incursion into Angola with collaboration and encouragement provided by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). [179] [180] The Angolan army, in resisting what it perceived as a South African invasion, was supported by a combination of Cuban forces and PLAN and ANC guerrillas, all armed with weapons supplied by the Soviet Union. The apartheid-era South African military and political intelligence services, for their part, worked closely with American, British and West German secret services throughout the Cold War. [181]

Both South Africa and Cuba claimed victory at the decisive battle of Cuito Cuanavale, which have been described as "the fiercest in Africa since World War II". [182] However, the South African military had lost air superiority and its technological advantage, largely due to an international arms embargo against the country. [183] South African involvement in Angola ended formally after the signing of a United Nations-brokered agreement known as the New York Accords between the governments of Angola, Cuba and South Africa, resulting in the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Angola and also South Africa's withdrawal from South West Africa (now Namibia), which the UN regarded as illegally occupied since 1966. [184] [185]

South Africa in the 1980s also provided logistical and other covert support to Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO) rebels, in neighbouring Mozambique fighting the FRELIMO-run government during the Mozambique Civil War, and it launched cross-border raids into Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana, killing or capturing a number of South African exiles. [186] [187] [188]

Resistance to apartheid Edit

Organised resistance to Afrikaner nationalism was not confined exclusively to activists of the oppressed, dark-skinned population. A movement known as the Torch Commando was formed in the 1950s, led by white war veterans who had fought fascism in Europe and North Africa during World War II, only to find fascism on the rise in South Africa when they returned home. With 250,000 paid-up members at the height of its existence, it was the largest white protest movement in the country's history. By 1952, the brief flame of mass-based white radicalism was extinguished, when the Torch Commando disbanded due to government legislation under the Suppression of Communism Act, 1950. Some members of the Torch Commando subsequently became leading figures in the armed wing of the banned African National Congress. [189]

From the 1940s to the 1960s, anti-apartheid resistance within the country took the form mainly of passive resistance, influenced in part by the pacifist ideology of Mahatma Gandhi. After the March 1960 massacre of 69 peaceful demonstrators at Sharpeville, and the subsequent declaration of a state of emergency, and the banning of anti-apartheid parties including the African National Congress (ANC), the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), and the Communist Party of South Africa, the focus of national resistance turned to armed struggle and underground activity. [190] The armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto weSizwe (abbreviation MK, meaning Spear of the Nation) claimed moral legitimacy for the resort to violence on the grounds of necessary defence and just war. [191] From the 1960s onwards until 1989, MK carried out numerous acts of sabotage and attacks on military and police personnel. [192] The Truth and Reconciliation Commission noted in 2003 that, despite the ANC's stated policy of attacking only military and police targets, "the majority of casualties of MK operations were civilians." [193]

The national liberation movement was divided in the early 1960s when an "Africanist" faction within the ANC objected to an alliance between the ANC and the Communist Party of South Africa. Leaders of the Communist Party of South Africa were mostly white. [194] The Africanists broke away from the ANC to form the Pan-Africanist Congress and its military wing named Poqo, which became active mainly in the Cape provinces. During the early-1990s, Poqo was renamed Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA). Its underground cells conducted armed robberies to raise funds and obtain weapons and vehicles. Civilians were killed or injured in many of these robberies. In 1993, attacks on white civilian targets in public places increased. APLA denied the attacks were racist in character, claiming that the attacks were directed against the apartheid government as all whites, according to the PAC, were complicit in the policy of apartheid. An attack on a Christian church in Cape Town in 1993, left eleven people dead and 58 injured. [195]

Hundreds of students and others who fled to neighbouring countries, especially Botswana, to avoid arrest after the Soweto uprising of 16 June 1976, provided a fertile recruiting ground for the military wings of both the ANC and PAC. [196] The uprising had been precipitated by Government legislation forcing African students to accept Afrikaans as the official medium for tuition, [197] with support from the wider Black Consciousness Movement. The uprising spread throughout the country. By the time it was finally quelled, hundreds of protesters had been shot dead with many more wounded or arrested by police. [198]

A non-racial United Democratic Front (UDF) coalition of about 400 civic, church, student, trade union and other organisations emerged in 1983. At its peak in 1987, the UDF had some 700 affiliates and about 3,000,000 members. It pursued a non-violent strategy known as "ungovernability" including rent boycotts, student protests, and strike campaigns. A strong relationship existed between the African National Congress (ANC) and the UDF, based on the shared mission statement of the Freedom Charter. [199] Following restrictions placed on its activities, the UDF was replaced in 1988 by the Mass Democratic Movement, a loose and amorphous alliance of anti-apartheid groups that had no permanent structure, making it difficult for the government to place a ban on its activities. [200]

A total of 130 political prisoners were hanged on the gallows of Pretoria Central Prison between 1960 and 1990. The prisoners were mainly members of the Pan Africanist Congress and United Democratic Front. [201]

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in the late-1980s meant the African National Congress (ANC) in alliance with the South African Communist Party, could no longer depend on the Soviet Union for weaponry and political support. It also meant the apartheid government could no longer link apartheid and its purported legitimacy to the protection of Christian values and civilisation in the face of the rooi gevaar, meaning "red danger" or the threat of communism. [202] Both sides were forced to the negotiating table, with the result that in June 1991, all apartheid laws were finally rescinded- opening the way for the country's first multiracial democratic elections three years later. [203] As the culmination of mounting local and international opposition to apartheid in the 1980s, including the armed struggle, widespread civil unrest, economic and cultural sanctions by the international community, and pressure from the anti-apartheid movement around the world, State President F. W. de Klerk announced the lifting of the ban on the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress and the South African Communist Party, as well as the release of political prisoner Nelson Mandela on 2 February 1990, after twenty-seven years in prison. In a referendum held on 17 March 1992, the white electorate voted 68% in favour of democracy. [204]

After lengthy negotiations under the auspices of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), a draft constitution was published on 26 July 1993, containing concessions towards all sides: a federal system of regional legislatures, equal voting-rights regardless of race, and a bicameral legislature.

From 26–29 April 1994, the South African population voted in the first universal suffrage general elections. The African National Congress won, well ahead of the governing National Party and the Inkatha Freedom Party. The Democratic Party and Pan Africanist Congress, among others, formed a parliamentary opposition in the country's first non-racial parliament. Nelson Mandela was elected as President on 9 May 1994 and formed a Government of National Unity, consisting of the ANC, the National Party and Inkatha. On 10 May 1994 Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa's new President in Pretoria with Thabo Mbeki and F. W. De Klerk as his vice-presidents. The Government of National Unity lapsed at the end of the first parliament sitting in 1999, with the ANC becoming the sole party in power while maintaining a strategic alliance with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party. After considerable debate, and following submissions from advocacy groups, individuals and ordinary citizens, the Parliament enacted a new Constitution and Bill of Rights in 1996. The death penalty was abolished, land reform and redistribution policies were introduced, and equitable labour laws legislated.

Emigration, debt burden and poverty Edit

The immediate post-apartheid period was marked by an exodus of skilled, white South Africans amid crime related safety concerns. The South African Institute of Race Relations estimated in 2008 that 800,000 or more white people had emigrated since 1995, out of the approximately 4,000,000 who were in South Africa when apartheid formally ended the year before. Large white South African diasporas, both English- and Afrikaans-speaking, sprouted in Australia, New Zealand, North America, and especially in the UK, to which around 550,000 South Africans emigrated. [205]

The apartheid government had declared a moratorium on foreign debt repayments in the mid-1980s, when it declared a state of emergency in the face of escalating civil unrest. With the formal end of apartheid in 1994, the new democratic government was saddled with an onerous foreign debt amounting to R86,700,000,000 (US$14,000,000,000 at then current exchange rates) accrued by the former apartheid regime. The cash-strapped post-apartheid government was obliged to repay this debt or else face a credit downgrading by foreign financial institutions. [206] The debt was finally settled in September 2001. [207]

A further financial burden was imposed on the new post-apartheid government through its obligation to provide antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to impoverished victims of the HIV/AIDS epidemic sweeping the country. South Africa had the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS compared to any other country in the world, with 5,600,000 people afflicted by the disease and 270,000 HIV-related deaths were recorded in 2011. By that time, more than 2,000,000 children were orphaned due to the epidemic. The provision of ARV treatment resulted in 100,000 fewer AIDS-related deaths in 2011 than in 2005. [208]

Migrant labour remained a fundamental aspect of the South African mining industry, which employed half a million mostly black miners. Labour unrest in the industry resulted in a massacre in mid-August 2012, when anti-riot police shot dead 34 striking miners and wounded many more in what is known as the Marikana massacre. The incident was widely criticised by the public, civil society organisations and religious leaders. [209] The migrant labour system was identified as a primary cause of the unrest. Multi-national mining corporations including Anglo-American Corporation, Lonmin, and Anglo Platinum, were accused of failing to address the enduring legacies of apartheid. [210]

By 2014, around 47% of (mostly black) South Africans continued to live in poverty, making it one of the most unequal countries in the world. [211] Widespread dissatisfaction with the slow pace of socio-economic transformation, government incompetence and maladministration, and other public grievances in the post-apartheid era, precipitated many violent protest demonstrations. In 2007, less than half the protests were associated with some form of violence, compared with 2014, when almost 80% of protests involved violence on the part of the participants or the authorities. [212] The slow pace of transformation also fomented tensions within the tripartite alliance between the ANC, the Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. [213]

The ANC had risen to power on the strength of a socialist agenda embodied in a Freedom Charter, which was intended to form the basis of ANC social, economic and political policies. [214] The Charter decreed that "the national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people". [215] ANC icon Nelson Mandela, asserted in a statement released on 25 January 1990: "The nationalisation of the mines, banks and monopoly industries is the policy of the ANC, and a change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable." [216] But, after the ANC's electoral victory in 1994, the eradication of mass poverty through nationalisation was never implemented. The ANC-led government, in a historic reversal of policy, adopted neoliberalism instead. [217] A wealth tax on the super-rich to fund developmental projects was set aside, while domestic and international corporations, enriched by apartheid, were excused from any financial reparations. Large corporations were allowed to shift their main listings abroad. According to a leading South African economics expert, the government's concessions to big business represented "treacherous decisions that [will] haunt South Africa for generations to come". [218]

Corruption Edit

During the administration of President Jacob Zuma corruption in South Africa had also become a growing problem. [219] [220] [221] Notable corruption related scandals during this period included incidents of widespread state capture [222] often involving allegations against the Gupta family. [223] These also involved corruption related financial difficulties at some state owned enterprises such as Eskom and South African Airways that had a notable negative economic impact on the country's finances. [224] Other corruption related scandals to emerge during this period included the collapse of VBS Mutual Bank [225] and Bosasa. [222] The Zondo Commission of Inquiry was appointed during the Presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa to investigate allegations of state capture related corruption.

Xenophobia Edit

The post-apartheid period has been marked by numerous outbreaks of xenophobic attacks against foreign migrants and asylum seekers from various conflict zones in Africa. An academic study conducted in 2006, found that South Africans showed levels of xenophobia greater than anywhere else in the world. [226] The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found that competition over jobs, business opportunities, public services and housing gave rise to tension among refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and host communities, identified as a main cause of the xenophobic violence. [227] South Africa received more than 207,000 individual asylum applications in 2008 and a further 222,300 in 2009, representing nearly a four-fold rise in both years over the levels seen in 2007. These refugees and asylum seekers originated mainly from Zimbabwe, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. [228]

Post-apartheid heads of state Edit

Under the post-apartheid Constitution the president is head of both state and government. The president is elected by the National Assembly and serves a term that expires at the next general election. A president may serve a maximum of two terms. In the event of a vacancy the Deputy President serves as Acting President.


The Border Cave ELSA assemblages are the earliest known occurrence of the LSA in South Africa. The process of change began after 56 ka (date of 2BS Lower C) (8) and included the decline and abandonment of the complex reduction sequences of the MSA, a tendency to simplification of stone artifact production, emphasis on microlithic elements, disappearance of stone spear points in favor of the adoption of bow and (probably poisoned) bone arrows, and new forms of personal ornaments and gathering equipment. Fig. 3 models the interactions between elements of continuities and discontinuities in ca. 65–40 ka assemblages showing that the LSA emerged in South Africa by internal evolution. Changes in technology constructed an environment in which new forms of sociality could prosper. However, available data are insufficient to trace the spread of the new features and the survival of MSA lithic traditions in South Africa. More research is needed to answer these questions.

Trajectories of change in technology between 65 and 40 ka in South Africa. “Reintroduced” components are elements occurring at the site in previous phases. Notched bones are in 2WA a perforated Conus shell occurs in the Border Cave BC3 burial dated to 74 ka by electron spin resonance (ESR) (see ref. 7). “Latent” components are artifacts occurring at other sites in older phases. A small number of microliths occurs in the HP of Klasies and Sibudu. MSA III and post-HP are equivalent terms.