1652 - Dutch settlers (or Boers) arrive in Cape Town and set
up a colony governed by the Dutch East India Company. Over the
next 150 years, they periodically import slaves from other parts
of Africa. In 1760, the first pass laws are enacted, forcing slaves
to carry passbooks signed by their owners when traveling from
town to town. Meantime, the Dutch had begun trekking north and
east (hence the name "Trek Boers") in the late 1600's.
By the end of the 1700's, they've engaged in warfare the Khoikhoi
people and two frontier wars with the Xhosa people.
1795 - The British seize Cape Town, eventually fighting with
the Xhosa themselves.
1809 - Cape government enacts pass laws for "hottentot"
(i.e. black) laborers. Pass laws of one kind or another continue
almost until the end of apartheid.
August 1834 - Britain officially abolishes slavery in all of
its colonies. The abolition is delayed in South Africa by four
1910 - The Union of South Africa is established as a self-governing
entity still housed within the British Commonwealth.
1911 - The Union of South Africa passes the Native Labor Regulation
Act, barring Africans, but not whites, from breaking labor contracts.
This same year it institutes the Dutch Reformed Church Act, banning
blacks from becoming official church members, and the Mines and
Works Act which reserved all skilled mining jobs for whites.
1912 - The South African Native National Congress is born. Its
mission is to unite African people against racism and oppression.
1914 - South Africa's National Party is founded.
1913 - The Union of South Africa passes the Natives Land Act,
slicing up the nation into different sections where either blacks
or whites, but not both, could own land. Blacks, who make up two-thirds
of the population, are given 7.5 percent of the land. Whites,
who make up one-fifth of the population, are given 92.5 percent
of the land.
July 18, 1918 - Nelson Mandela is born (as Rolihlahla Dalibhunga
Mandela) on the Eastern Cape.
1923 - South Africa passes the Natives Urban Areas Act, authorizing
urban segregation. The South African Native National Congress
changes its name to the African National Congress, or ANC.
1925 - Afrikaans is made South Africa's second official language,
1929 - The National Party wins control of the country in a national
1931 - Britain allows South Africa's parliament to act autonomously.
1934 - South Africa's parliament institutes the Status of Union
Act, declaring South Africa a sovereign nation. South Africa's
United Party wrests control from the National Party in another
election. During this decade, the United Party removes blacks
on the Cape from the voter rolls and expands the amount of land
they're allowed to own to 13 percent. It also imposes stricter
passbook rules and generally affirms its policy of segregation.
1940 - Nelson Mandela moves to Johannesburg to avoid an
arranged marriage. There, he meets ANC member Walter Sisulu who
helps him get a job at a law firm. Over the next few years, Mandela
finishes his Bachelor's degree, enrolls in law school and joins
1944 - Mandela, Sisulu and Oliver Tambo form the ANC Youth League,
saying that the ANC leadership isn't active enough.
1948 - The National Party takes control of the country once again
in another election - this time on a platform of apartheid (translated
to mean "separateness" or "apartness"). It's
the first time the term is used. Later that year, the government
ends military training for blacks.
1949 - The National Party ratifies The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages
Act - which pretty much means what it says. The ANC adopts the
ANC Youth League's "Programme of Action" which is "inspired
by the desire to achieve national freedom
freedom from White
domination and the attainment of political independence."
The plan calls for mass protest activity and passive resistance.
1950 - The Population Registration Act is passed, requiring all
South Africans to be registered as white, black, colored or native
(later to be termed Bantu). Indians are classified as Asian. A
lot of this classification was based on looks. Everyone is now
required to carry an identity card stating their race. The Group
Areas Act forces each race to live in separate areas. The Immorality
Act forbids whites and non-whites from having sex with each other.
The Suppression of Communism Act forbids any anti-apartheid activity.
1951 - The Separate Representation of Voters Act places voters
of different races onto separate rolls. Later that year, the ANC
petitions the government, wanting parliamentary representation
and, generally, calling for the end of apartheid. Meantime, the
United Nations tells South Africa that the South-Western portion
of the country should be independent. South Africa stops taking
part in the UN general assembly. Nelson Mandela becomes president
of the ANC Youth League.
1952 - The ANC launches a huge passive resistance campaign called
the Defiance Campaign. Eight thousand protesters are arrested.
Interracial violence erupts. Mandela is charged with violating
the "Suppression of Communism Act." He's given a suspended
sentence and barred from going to any meetings or gatherings for
the next two years. He and Oliver Tambo open a law practice together
in order to represent blacks who are brought up on anti-apartheid
1953 - The government passes the Reservation of Separate Amenities
Act, meaning whites and non-whites are to have separate toilets,
parks, beaches etc. It also ratifies the Bantu Education Act which
meant separate, sub-standard education facilities for blacks.
1958 - Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, architect of a lot of the apartheid
legislation, becomes prime minister.
1959 - Parliament ratifies the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government
Act which creates ten separate "Bantu" homelands with
the idea that each will be self-governed and move toward independence.
Racial violence erupts in Durban and lasts for months.
March 21, 1960 - Anti-apartheid activists gather in the township
of Sharpeville, to protest against the pass laws. Police open
fire on them killing 69 people, including eight women and ten
children. Some 705 rounds were fired in less than one minute.
Later that year, the National Party government declares a state
of emergency and renders the ANC illegal. Mandela is arrested.
Oliver Tambo goes into exile but continues to work for the ANC.
1961 - South Africa becomes an independent republic, no longer
linked to the British Commonwealth. The ANC decides passive resistance
isn't working and promotes an armed struggle. The policy is to
target governmental offices and symbols of apartheid, not actual
people. The new military wing is called Umkhonto we Sizwe (or
Spear of the Nation). Mandela somehow makes it out of the country
and goes traveling around Africa and Europe, learning about guerilla
warfare. For the month of May, the police carry out continuous
raids, arresting eight thousand people. The UN general assembly
says it's not going to recognize South Africa.
1962 - On his way back into South Africa, Mandela gets arrested.
He's convicted and sentenced to five years on Robben Island, a
prison on the Cape.
1963 - While he's in jail, Mandela is tried again, with several
other ANC leaders, for sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow
the government. This is the famous Rivonia Trial. While they were
prepared to die for their cause, the judge spares their lives
and sentences them to life in prison.
1966 - John Vorster becomes prime minister after Hendrik Verwoerd
is assassinated by a white farmer.
1970 - The Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act assigns all blacks
to one of the ten "Bantu homelands" created in 1959.
The idea was that the homelands would become independent and that
blacks would cease to be South African citizens. Only four of
the homelands chose independence. Still, more than three million
black people are forcibly resettled.
1975 - The first television signals are broadcast in South Africa.
June 16, 1976 - A group of students gathers in Soweto, the South
Western Township where blacks were forced to live during apartheid,
to protest mandatory instruction in Afrikaans. Police fire on
the crowd, killing 12-year-old Hector Pieterson and 15-year-old
Hastings Ndlovu. Violence erupts across the township. Over the
next eight months, the government will kill some 575 protestors,
a quarter of whom are younger than 18. (Sechaba "Chabi"
Mogale - now co-owner of the multi-million dollar, kwaito-influenced
fashion label Loxion Kulcha - is born on this day.)
September 1977 - Anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko is killed
in police captivity. Thousands of people attend his funeral. (Earlier
this same year, Bonginkosi "Zola" Dlamini, now one of
the most famous kwaito performers in the country, is born.)
1978 - John Vorster resigns amid corruption scandal. P.W. Botha
becomes prime minister.
1983 - P.W. Botha proposes that Coloreds and Indians, but not
blacks, have representation in government, with each race having
its own separate house of parliament. Parliament approves the
measure. Many blacks in the southern townships are angry at having
been excluded and begin protests that spread across the country,
leading to a brutal police crackdown.
1984 - Bishop Desmond Tutu is awarded the Nobel Peace prize.
Botha is made state president and the new "tricameral parliament"
is established. The Umkhonto we Sizwe (or MK) resistance ramps
up and becomes more violent. MK guerrillas kill farmers, policemen
and people accused of collaborating with oppressors. Forty American
companies pull out of South Africa.
March 21, 1985 - Seventeen people are gunned down in the township
of Langa while commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the
Sharpeville massacre. Botha issues the first in what will be a
series of several states of emergency due to unrest several parts
of the country. In the summer of this year, anti-apartheid rallies
are held in New York City, Atlanta and Washington. This is also
the year that fifty-four American pop artists, calling themselves
"Artists United Against Apartheid" released the track
"Sun City," which includes the lyric "Relocation
to phony homelands / Separation of families I can't understand
/ Twenty-three million can't vote because they're black / We're
stabbing our brothers and sisters in the back." The song
was nominated for a Grammy award and raised more than one million
dollars for the anti-apartheid cause. Meantime, P.W. Botha offers
to release Nelson Mandela if he renounces violence. Mandela refuses.
1986 - Botha opens the parliament session in January with the
surprising statement that the nation has "outgrown the outdated
concept of apartheid." Parliament repeals the pass laws and
the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act. Mandela begins secret
negotiations with the South African government. The United States
Congress overrides a presidential veto to impose mandatory sanctions
against South Africa.
1989 - Botha suffers a stroke. F.W. de Klerk becomes president
and releases most of the Rivonia trial prisoners including Walter
Sisulu. He also repeals the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act and
holds initial meetings with Mandela.
February 2, 1990 - De Klerk announces that he is lifting the
ban on the ANC. On February 11, Nelson Mandela is released from
prison after twenty-seven years. He is later named deputy president
of the ANC. In August, the government and the ANC both sign the
Pretoria Minute, agreeing to end the armed struggle. In October,
parliament repeals the Separation of Amenities Act.
1991 - Mandela is elected ANC president in July, the same month
that the United States lifts its sanctions South Africa. This
is after the South African government repeals the Land Act of
1913, the Group Areas Act and the Population of Separate Amenities
Act. In September, the government and the ANC sign the National
Peace Accord, beginning the first formal negotiations in December.
The talks break down and don't start up again for another five
1992 - Violence rages on in the townships, police and residents
fighting each other. Mandela and de Klerk begin negotiations again
in May and, again, hit a stalemate. But both sides agree to continue
working toward democracy. Eventually they sign the Record of Understanding.
1993 - Negotiations continue. Chris Hani, a young ANC leader,
is killed by a white supremacist. Mandela goes on TV to try to
stem retaliatory violence and largely succeeds. In July, both
Mandela and de Klerk receive a Liberty Medal. In December, they
are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the same month that a new South
African constitution is ratified.
1994 - Nelson Mandela becomes president in the nation's first
all-race democratic election. He is inaugurated on May 10 flanked
by his two deputy presidents, former ANC chairman Thabo Mbeki
and former president F.W. de Klerk.
1995 - Mandela says he will not run for re-election. He also
claims responsibility for the 1994 Shell House shootings of Inkatha
Freedom Party members. IFP was a rival, black African political
party that, it turned out, had been funded in party by the South
African government toward the end of the struggle.
1996 - The Truth And Reconciliation Commission begins hearings
with Archbishop Desmond Tutu as chairman. In its investigation
of apartheid era crimes, the commission is broken up into three
committees: Human rights violations, Reparations and Amnesty.
Ultimately, the Commission determines that the South African government
perpetrated "gross violations of human rights" between
1960 and 1994. It also holds the ANC accountable for "gross
violations of human rights in the course of [its] political activities
and armed struggles."
1997 - At 79, Nelson Mandela steps down as the head of the ANC.
He is succeeded by Deputy President Thabo Mbeki.
1999 - Thabo Mbeki wins South Africa's second-ever, all-race,
August 2004 - South Africa's New National Party (formerly the
National Party), which instituted and presided over apartheid,
votes to disband. Members are invited to affiliate with the African
January 2005 - Nelson Mandela announces that his son Makgatho
has died of AIDS in a Johannesburg clinic.
April 2005 - The New National party officially ceases to exist.
Sources: African National Congress, anti-slaverysociety.addr.com,
BBC News, Frontline: The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela, The Library
of Congress, raceandhistory.com, sahistory.org.za, songfacts.com,
The New York Times.