South Africa, the southernmost country in the African continent, has undergone centuries of political and social transformations stemming from a history of colonial rule that led to both multiculturalism and racial segregation.
From 1652 to 1822, Dutch slave traders brought forced laborers to South Africa from Indonesia, Madagascar, and eastern Africa. Unions formed between Dutch settlers, their slaves, and indigenous peoples of the region led to the ethnic group known as the Cape Coloureds, who largely spoke Dutch and practiced Christianity.
In the early 1800s, Britain colonized the Cape of Good Hope, and many Dutch settlers, at the time known as the Boers, migrated to other regions of what would become South Africa, where they established different republics. The discovery of diamonds and gold in the mid-to-late 1800s increased economic growth and immigration to the region, while also prompting the British to ramp up efforts to gain control over the indigenous population and the Boers.
War between the Zulu Kingdom and Britain in 1879 resulted in the Zulus losing independence. The next year the British lost the First Boer War, but returned with greater firepower in 1899 to win the Second Boer War, albeit with many casualties. During the war, nearly thirty-thousand Boer women and children died in British concentration camps.
Under Dutch and British colonial rule, segregation of white South Africans from black and colored South Africans was mandated by laws that restricted settlement and movement of native people. After the British Parliament granted nominal independence and created the Union of South Africa in 1910, more laws were passed to reduce the amount of land available to indigenous peoples.
In 1948, seventeen years after Britain granted full independence to the country, the National Party won the federal election under the slogan "apartheid," an Afrikaans word meaning separateness. Once in power, the party created laws that classified people into three races (black, colored, and white), granting the white minority control over the black and colored majority. The laws included banning marriage and sex between whites and non-whites, laws that required non-whites to carry documents authorizing their presence in restricted areas, separate public facilities for whites and non-whites, and repression of non-white labor unions and participation in government.
After decades of oppression and resistance, the apartheid system came to an end in the early 1990s when the National Party lifted their ban on anti-apartheid political organizations and released Nelson Mandela after he served twenty-seven years as a political prisoner. In 1994, the introduction of a new constitution that enfranchised non-whites and the election of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa saw the official end of the apartheid era.