Social disintegration in South Africa
A slave auction. Source: ntlworld.com
With colonialism, which began in South Africa in 1652, came the Slavery and Forced Labour Model. This was the original model of colonialism brought by the Dutch in 1652, and subsequently exported from the Western Cape to the Afrikaner Republics of the Orange Free State and the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek. Many South Africans are the descendents of slaves brought to the Cape Colony from 1653 until 1822.
The changes wrought on African societies by the imposition of European colonial rule occurred in quick succession. In fact, it was the speed with which change occurred that set the colonial era apart from earlier periods in South Africa. Of course, not all societies were equally transformed. Some resisted the forces of colonial intrusion, slavery and forced labour for extended periods. Others, however, such as the Khoikhoi communities of the south-western Cape, disintegrated within a matter of decades.
Initially, a colonial contact was a two-way process. However, Africans were far from helpless victims in the initial encounter. Colonial contact was not simply a matter of Europeans imposing themselves upon African societies. For their part, African rulers saw many benefits to be had from maintaining relations with Europeans, and for a considerable period of time they engaged with Europeans voluntarily and on their own terms.
Most importantly, trade with Europeans gave African rulers access to a crucial aspect of European technology, namely firearms. More than anything else, those who had ownership and control over firearms were able to gather around themselves larger and larger groups of people. In short, the ownership of firearms turned into a status symbol and a means to gain political power.
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