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South Africa, Republic of

South Africa, Republic of. Former British dominion. During the French Revolutionary War, British troops seized the Dutch settlement at the Cape of Good Hope to protect Britain's trade route to the Far East. Handed back in 1802, the Cape was again captured in 1806 and became Cape Colony. The Dutch settlers (Boers/Afrikaners), spreading eastward, had come into conflict with Bantu-speaking peoples migrating southward along the coast. That conflict was inherited by the British colonial administrators and frontier skirmishes took place for a considerable part of the 19th cent. Many Afrikaners, too, were irked by British rule and migrated eastward and northward to found the self-governing republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State. British policy vacillated between expansion and retrenchment, but in 1843 a British colony was declared in Natal to the east of the Cape. Continuing clashes with the overwhelmingly numerous Bantu-speaking peoples encouraged successive British governments to press for a confederation of colonies and republics in the hope of strengthening the position of the white population, but the proposal was strongly resisted by the Afrikaners.

Diamonds were discovered at Kimberley in 1868 and Cape Colony quickly claimed ownership of the district. When gold was found in the Transvaal in the 1880s there was no doubt about the ownership of the land but the exploitation of the vastly rich discovery depended heavily upon outside capital. This became the excuse for British intervention in the Transvaal which led to war between British and Afrikaners from 1899 to 1902. After the war the republics became British colonies and were joined with the older colonies in the Union of South Africa in 1910 under a predominantly Afrikaner government. The British government was relieved to shift responsibility for South African affairs onto other shoulders.

The majority of white South Africans supported Britain during the First World War, but with Afrikaners in the majority among the white population there was growing opposition to membership of the British empire. South Africa's participation in the Second World War was less enthusiastically received by many whites. Nevertheless, with gold as the main source of foreign exchange and with a sound agricultural and pastoral farming industry, the white population prospered. A policy of white domination had always been accepted by both British and Afrikaners, but the victory of the National Party in the 1948 elections saw the policy carried to such extremes as to arouse international condemnation, resulting in South Africa's quitting the British Commonwealth in 1961 and becoming a republic. South Africa returned to the Commonwealth in 1994 after the policy of apartheid had been abandoned.

Kenneth Ingham

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