Cape Town & The Cape Region

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A Short History of Cape Town

The Ancients

Human communities had lived in the Cape Peninsula and Western Cape by hunting, fishing and collecting edible plants for many thousands of years. They are the ancestors of the Khoisan peoples of modern times - the Bushmen (San) and the Hottentot (Khoikhoi). The Bushmen were hunter-gatherers while the Hottentot were mainly herders. Both groups were thought to have migrated southward, ahead of the Bantu-speaking peoples whose ancestral home lay well to the north.

The Portuguese

Portuguese sailors encountered such ferocious storms around the Cape Peninsula that they christened it "Cabo Tormentosa "(Bay of Storms). In 1580, Sir Francis Drake sailed around the Cape in The Golden Hind and the ruggedness and breathtaking beauty of the peninsula caused him to write - "This Cape is a most stately thing, and the fairest Cape in the whole circumference of the earth". The unsurpassed beauty of Cape Point where the winds have blown relentlessly for generations, marks the meeting place of two great currents, one from the equator (Agulhas Current- the strongest north-south current in the southern hemisphere) and the other from the Antarctic (Benguela Current), causing turbulent seas and monstrous waves.

Antonio de Saldanha was the first European to land in Table Bay. He climbed the mighty mountain in 1503 and named it 'Table Mountain'. The great cross carved by the Portuguese navigators in the rock of Lion's Head is still traceable. Table Bay became known as 'Saldanha' until 1601 when the dutchman van Spilbergen named it 'Table Bay'.

The Dutch

In 1652 the Dutch East India Company, yielding to repeated petitions and recommendations from their ships' officers, at last decided to establish a post at Table Bay. They sent three small ships, the Dromedaris, the Reijger and the Goede Hoop under the command of the 23-year-old Jan Antony van Riebeeck, a ship's surgeon, to establish a stronghold on the shores of Table Bay. Their objective was to grow vegetables, barter for livestock, with the Hottentot tribes, and build a hospital and a sanctuary for the repair of ships. Jan van Riebeeck's first fort, subsequently replaced by the existing Castle of Good Hope, was Cape Town's first building.

Simon van der Stel, who arrived as Governor in 1679, was destined to exercise marked influence on the Colony for the next 20 years. He enlarged and beautified van Riebeeck's garden and built a slave lodge (today the Cultural History Museum) at the entrance. It was during Simon van der Stel's governorship that the Huguenots, who had been driven from France by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, arrived from Holland.

The British

During the war between Britain and Holland (1780-1783) a British fleet sailed to take possession of the Cape, but was attacked and disabled by the French. The French then landed two regiments at the Cape to assist the Dutch in the defence of the Colony. Part of the large hospital on the outskirts of town was assigned to them as barracks. (After 1795 the building was wholly occupied by troops and in time the adjoining Ziekenstraat became more appropriately known as Barrack Street, a name it still bears).

In 1814, Lord Charles Somerset became Governor, and the following year he inaugurated the first mail-packet service between England and Cape Town. This was the beginning of the Union-Castle Company's connection with South Africa. The Union and Castle lines amalgamated in 1900.

Cape Town became a municipality in 1840. A liberal constitution was granted to the Cape Colony in 1853 and the first elected Parliament met on 30 June 1854. On 28 November 1872 complete self-government for the Cape Colony was promulgated by a proclamation of Sir Henry Barkly, who laid the first foundation stone of the present Houses of Parliament in 1875.

The Apartheid Years

The years between the forming of the Union in 1910 and the historical parliamentary election of 1948 witnessed the growth of South Africa into a powerful industrial nation. The National Party won its first election under the leadership of D. F. Malan in 1948. Its rise to power marked the beginnings of the apartheid era. For the first time Afrikaners were in the driving seat and legal segregation on racial lines became the main thrust of policy.

Cape Town Today

The 1994 election saw the inauguration of the first black State President, Nelson Mandela, who headed a government of national unity. The Mother City and the Western Cape are home to South Africa's parliament and are a major international tourist attraction. Tourism remains the most important economic key to the development of the Western Cape. There are about 75,000 people employed in the tourism industry in this area. Two out of every three tourists to South Africa include a visit to the Western Cape in their itinerary.

Five of the country's six major insurance giants have their headquarters in Cape Town. The province is also the country's leading clothing and textile producer, with nearly 600 formal manufacturers employing over 40 000 people and producing nearly R1,8 billion a year. Cape Town is the headquarters of the Southern African oil industry and many other industries involved with global commerce are locating their offices here. The Western Cape is viewed as being historically freer of labour unrest than the other provinces.


Information Provided by: Nelsons Guides

Cape Town

Cape Town

Castle of Good Hope

Cape Town Castle

Robben Island

Robben Island

Table Mountain Cableway

Table Mountain Cableway
[Pic: Satour]