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History of Cape Town

San hunter-gatherers, South Africa's first human inhabitants, were the first inhabitants of the Cape Peninsula. They roamed the area for millennia before being edged into the interior some 2000 years ago by the arrival of the pastoral Khoikhoi migrants from the north. Over the next 1600 years the Khoikhoi enjoyed the benefits of the Cape pastures.

Portuguese mariners, in search of a stop off point en route to East Africa and the East Indies, first rounded the Cape in the 1480s, and named it “Cape of Good Hope”, and subsequently, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) arrived in 1652 and stayed for good, enticing the Khoikhoi to work as labour, with little success. So the VOC began to import slaves in 1658. The colonial policies of the Dutch threatened the Khoikhoi, who declared war in 1659 to drive the Europeans out. Alas, they were defeated and forced to cede the Peninsula to the latter.

By the early eighteenth century, German and French religious refugees started pouring into the Cape colony, and by 1750, Cape Town had over 2500 inhabitants. In 1795, Britain, concerned over the Dutch colonial expansion and interested in securing the all-important sea route to the East, seized Cape Town. The British abolished slavery, a boon for the Muslim slaves in the town.

By the nineteenth century, under the influence of the British Empire, Cape Town had become an important cosmopolitan seaport. The British commissioned the Commercial Exchange (built as early as 1819), followed by department stores, banks and insurance company buildings, the docks (in the 1860s) and later, the suburban railway line to Wynberg.

Victorian Cape Town was built with convict labour recruited from Xhosa contract labourers and prisoners transported from the Eastern Cape. Racial segregation established itself officially in the beginning of the 20th century, with the demarcation of Ndabeni, Cape Town's first black location, near Maitland. (The localities of Gugulethu and Nyanga were added in 1945). In 1910, Cape Town became the legislative capital of the South African Union, a largely Boer and Brit enterprise. The marginalized and exploited workforce of Africans and coloureds formed the mighty Industrial and Commercial Union to defend their already meager rights. The National Party came to power in 1948 on the white mandate of stemming the flow of Africans to Cape Town proper. The early watershed in the history of anti-apartheid struggle in Cape Town was when police opened fire on a peaceful protest meeting called by the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) on April 8, 1960 in Langa township, killing three and wounding many more. The government responded with further repression, banning anti-apartheid opposition groups, including the PAC and ANC.

In 1966 the notorious Group Areas Act was used to uproot whole coloured communities from District Six and to move them to the shabby Cape Flats. The legacy of this utterly racist policy is the rampant gangsterism that is one of Cape Town's biggest problems today. In 1983, at a huge meeting on the Cape Flats, the United Democratic Front was formed, inaugurating a period of intense anti-apartheid struggle. In 1986 the government was forced to relent and scrapped influx control. Blacks poured into Cape Town seeking work and setting up shantytowns. On February 11, 1990, hours after his release, Nelson Mandela made his first public speech from the balcony of City Hall to a cheering, ecstatic crowd, and the city and the country entered a new, hopeful phase.

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