Early European Settlements in Southern Africa

Dutchmen arriving near the Cape of Good Hope.
Modern-day map of southern Africa with a pin marking Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope.

European explorers began sailing around the African continent some five hundred years ago, and by doing so discovered the sea route to Asia. Here, in Asia, Europeans could trade spices and other goods lucratively, and because of this, trade ships from modern-day Netherlands and England soon started to sail back and forth between Europe and their easterly trading partners. The southernmost parts of Africa, as a result, soon became used as strategic ports of refuge for these ships, allowing boat crews to rest and obtain fresh supplies of food and water before continuing their journey.

Expansion and conflicts

In the 17th century, Dutchmen, who already operated small supply stations on the coast, began to settle areas a little inland in southern Africa. Uninhabited areas, as well as land and hunting grounds traditionally used by black people, were now fenced in by the Dutch, and slaves from Asia were brought in to cultivate the land. This, quite expectedly, led to recurring clashes and outright war between the northern Europeans and black Africans of the area.

The land conflicts and the slavery from the 17th century onward were obviously devastating to many of the people involved. Still, wars of conquest and human exploitation were nothing new in Africa during this period. They had taken place here long before any white man had ever set foot on the continent. However, now, the great firepower of Dutch canons, rifles and pistols made Dutch hegemony over other people almost a certainty, drastically shifting the power balance in and around the Cape of Good Hope.