Cape Colony


Cape Colony
   One of the original provinces of the Union of South Africa. Originally founded by the Dutch East India Company in 1652 to supply its fleets headed to the East Indies with fresh food, Cape Colony had fallen into British hands by the start of the nineteenth century during the course of the Napoleonic Wars. This sparked European expansion into the interior of southern Africa as the original Boer settlers attempted to flee British control. The arrival of 5,000 British settlers in 1820 not only made it clear that Britain intended to hold on to the Cape, but it also marked the start of declining Anglo-Boer relations. In addition to resenting the introduction of a new language and culture, the Boer settlers, many of whom relied on a combination of cheap African labor and slaves to work their farms, opposed the British policy of granting Africans legal rights and complained about the inadequate compensation for their lost property when Parliament abolished slavery in 1833. Eager to escape further British interference in their daily lives, many Boer families migrated north as part of the Great Trek into the Transvaal and the Orange Free State where they created independent republics.
   Despite the loss of population resulting from the Great Trek, Cape Colony prospered throughout the nineteenth century. Immigration continued, and by the mid-1870s, white settlers made up a third of the Cape’s population. Although settler demand for land caused periodic clashes with the neighboring Xhosa tribe, these conflicts effectively ended in 1856 when the Xhosa killed off their cattle and destroyed their crops in the belief that doing so would prompt their ancestors to return and drive out the whites. The resultant famine broke the back of Xhosa resistance and ushered in a period of political stability that, combined with the abolition of the British East India Companys monopoly on trade, led to significant economic development. Growing economic prosperity in turn led to increased political autonomy for the Cape. In 1853, a parliament elected on the basis of property ownership and income, rather than race, replaced earlier advisory and legislative councils appointed by the governor. This was followed in 1873 by the creation of responsible government. Thereafter, the newly created prime minister and his cabinet assumed all responsibility for Cape Colony’s domestic affairs.
   The twin discoveries of diamonds in Griqualand West in 1867 and gold in the Transvaal in 1880 complicated the situation by financing the political career of Cecil Rhodes. Although he initially rose to power as prime minister of Cape Colony by championing Boer rights, by the mid-1890s Rhodes began to see an independent Transvaal as a major obstacle to British interests in southern Africa. His backing of the botched Jameson Raid not only ended Rhodes’s political career, but it also renewed Anglo-Boer tensions and helped trigger the Boer War of 1899–1901. Although Britain annexed the former Boer republics in the aftermath of the war, final resolution of the political situation only came in 1910 when Cape Colony changed its name to the Province of Good Hope and joined Natal, Transvaal and the Orange Free State in the newly created Union of South Africa.
   See also <>; <>; <>; <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Davenport, R., and C. Saunders. South Africa: A Modern History. London: Macmillan, 2000;
    Mackinnon, Aran S. The Making of South Africa. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000;
    McCracken, J. L. The Cape Parliament, 1854-1910. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967;
    Ross, Robert. A Concise History of South Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
   KENNETH J. OROSZ

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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