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social sciences

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South Africa  
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The evolution of the state of South Africa is one of the world's most complex and inspirational national histories.

Founded in bloody colonial conflict, slavery, and greed, the Republic of South Africa became one of the most heinous examples of institutionalized racism on the planet. The unrelenting courage and resistance of black South Africans and other people of color and whites who refused to accept the brutal apartheid system resulted in the overthrow of one of the most repressive regimes in history and the creation of a thriving democratic republic.

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Due to the work of strong gay activists among the anti-apartheid freedom fighters, this new Republic of South Africa, comprising nearly 50 million citizens, became the first nation in the world to be founded on a constitution that includes sexual orientation as a protected freedom.

On the wave of this progressive inclusion, South Africa's population has developed a diverse and energetic community with many organizations that continue to try to repair the rifts of the nation's divisive past.

However, despite legislative and judicial successes, national priorities and cultural attitudes are not easily changed. Thus, South Africa's queers continue to struggle against prejudice and violent attacks, including so-called "corrective" rapes that target lesbians.


The southern tip of Africa had long been a stopping point for European explorers and traders when it was colonized by the Dutch, who founded Cape Town in 1652 primarily because of its strategic location on the spice route between The Netherlands and the far East.

The Dutch settlers (the Boers) retained control of the African states of Transvaal and Orange Free State after the British seized the Cape of Good Hope in 1806.

Both sets of colonizers subjugated and enslaved the natives of the area, who included several tribes of Hottentot and Bantu people, and imported slaves from elsewhere, including Malaysia. This exploitation continued even after the abolition of slavery in 1833 and became even more egregious when the discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1886 inflamed colonial greed.

The conflict between British and Dutch colonizers of southern Africa escalated into war in 1899. This Anglo-Boer War ended in 1902 with a British victory, and by 1910, the separate British and Dutch states were united in one nation, the Union of South Africa, under British control.

In 1948, as the world was still reeling from the effects of European fascism, the conservative National Party came to power in South Africa and began the process of making the separation of the races official state policy.

This policy of apartheid legally defined four racial groups, White, Coloured, Indian, and Black, and legislated extreme restrictions on all non-white citizens. Many Blacks were relegated to separate, and virtually powerless, "homelands" called Bantustans.

In 1961, ostracized by other members of the British Commonwealth, the nation became the Republic of South Africa and severed ties with the Commonwealth. (In 1994, following the end of apartheid, South Africa was readmitted to the Commonwealth.)

Throughout these changes, political and economic power continued to rest entirely in the hands of the European colonizers and their descendants, a small white minority (approximately 10%) in an African nation with a large black majority (approximately 80%) and a significant minority of people of mixed race (approximately 7%) and Asian descent (approximately 3%).

Natives of southern Africa had always fought back against their colonizers, and black South Africans, other people of color, and some progressive whites resisted the repressive policies of apartheid from the beginning.

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Nelson Mandela is one of several revered figures who have supported glbtq rights.
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