The first permanent European settlement was established by the Dutch on 06 April 1652, when they established a garrisoned trading station at Table Bay. On that April day, Jan van Riebeeck arrived with 3 ships and a company of 90 men, women and children. In 1657 nine of these settlers established a settlement in the Liesbeeck Valley. They grew crops to supply the Cape and the many passing ships. As shipping traffic increased around the Cape, these farmers needed more labour to replenish the passing ships. Jan van Riebeeck brought in slaves from places such as Java, Madagascar and Angola to work on the farms. The Cape Coloured people started emerging due to mixed marriages between Europeans, Asians and the indigenous peoples.
The Dutch, through the Dutch East India Company, governed the expanding Cape Colony from 1652 to 1795. During this period many European settlers arrived, including the French Huguenot refugees (about 200, mostly young and married) in 1688.
The first British occupation of the Cape Colony was from 1795 to 1803. Between 1803 and 1806, the colony was ruled by the Batavian Republic.
The British ruled the Cape again from 1806 to 1823. During this period, missionaries started arriving, at first only from the Morovian Brethren and the London Missionary Society, but later they were joined by German, Dutch, Danish and Flemish missionaries. From 1820 to 1824, about 4 500 immigrants arrived from Ireland, England and Scotland. These immigrants are referred to as the 1820 British Settlers.
In 1836, a group of earlier Dutch settler families started migrating into the interior of the country. This migration is referred to as the Great Trek and it led to the formation of the two Boer republics, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The diamond fields in Kimberley were discovered in 1869. The gold fields in the Transvaal were discovered in 1886. These discoveries brought an influx of fortune seekers.
Prior to the Union of South Africa in 1910, the country consisted of:
- the colony of the Cape of Good Hope
- the colony of Natal
- Zululand (which included Tongaland) administered as part of Natal
- the Transvaal (South African Republic)
- the Orange River Colony (Orange Free State)
The colony of the Cape of Good Hope included the following areas:
- South or Little Namaqualand, now Namaqualand
- East Griqualand (Adam Kok's Country), ceded to the British by Faku in 1861, annexed to the Cape Colony in 1879
- Griqualand West, the territory of Chief Nicholas Waterboer and the Griquas, originally containing the districts of Klipdrift, Pniel and Griqua Town. Proclaimed British on 27 October 1871, a territory governed by Lt-Gov. Sir Henry Barkly until it was placed under the control of the Governor of the Cape Colony on 20 August 1872, and was annexed to the Cape in 1885 when it became a province of that Colony.
- Part of British Bechuanaland which was annexed in 1895 to the Cape Colony, as the Districts of Gordonia, Vryburg and Mafeking.
- British Kaffraria (1847-1866) (from the Keiskamma River to the Kei River)
- The Transkei was incorporated into the Cape as a separate territory in 1879. It consisted of Fingoland and Idutywa reserve, which were annexed in 1879, and Galekaland, which was conquered in 1877-78.
- Pondoland, part of the later Republic of the Transkei but earlier referred to as a separate region
- Tembuland, a province under the jurisdiction of the Ministerial Division of the Secretary for Native Affairs, consisting of Tembuland Proper, Emigrant Tembuland and Bomvanaland. Tembuland Proper was ceded by Gangelizwe in 1875. Emigrant Tembuland was conquered in 1858. Bomvanaland was occupied in 1878.
- Walvis Bay, which was ceded to Namibia in 1993.
- Lesotho, called Basutoland or British Basutoland by the Cape authorities, until 1884 when it became the Basutoland Protectorate
- St. John's River Territory was purchased in 1878 from Nquiliso and annexed to the Cape Colony in 1884
- The Northern Border, proclaimed as part of the Colony in 1847.
- Walfish Bay (later Walvis Bay), annexed in 1884
After Union in 1910, the four colonies were the Transvaal, the Orange Free State, Natal, and Cape Province. The Transkei, which included Tembuland and Pondoland, became known as The Republic of Transkei. East Griqualand remained part of the Cape Province but was incorporated into Natal in 1983.
The Colony of Natal, subdivided into counties and districts, and Zululand, formed a political unit until Union, when Zululand, including Tongaland, became a part of Natal. Natal and Zululand were separated by the lower reaches of the Tugela River and the Buffalo River, until the Utrecht and Vryheid areas were annexed by the Transvaal (later South African) Republic. At a later stage these two districts became known as Northern Natal.
At the end of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) the magisterial districts of the Transvaal were: Waterberg, Zoutpansberg, Rustenburg, Marico, Lichtenburg, Potchefstroom, Pretoria, Krugersdorp, Middelburg, Lijdenburg (Lydenburg), Heidelburg, Standerton, Carolina, Ermelo, Wakkerstroom, Bloemhof, Wolmaransstad, Piet Retief, Utrecht, and Vrijheid (Vryheid).
After 1902 the Districts of Utrecht and Vrijheid (The New Republic) were annexed to Natal, and became known as Northern Natal.
Sekukuniland is a territory in the eastern part of Northern Transvaal.
In 1994, South Africa was again re-defined: The Transvaal and Cape were divided into a number of smaller provinces. Part of the Piet Retief district of the former Transvaal province between the Pongola River and Swaziland was included in Natal, which was renamed KwaZulu-Natal.
The 9 current provinces are:
Gauteng (mostly the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging area)
Limpopo Province (was Northern Province; mostly the old Northern Transvaal)
Mpumalanga (mostly the old Eastern Transvaal)
In 1961 South Africa left the Commonwealth, and became a republic. Today, South Africa is once again a member of the Commonwealth.