General issues: British dominion 1910-1934, British dominion/Self government 1934-1961, Republic 1961-Present
Country name on general issues: Zuidafrika, Suidafrika, Suid-Afrika, South Africa, RSA
Currency: 1 Pound = 20 Shilling, 1 Shilling = 12 Pence 1910-1961, 1 Rand = 100 Cent 1961-Present
Population: 5 842 000 in 1910, 52 980 000 in 2013
Political history South Africa
Setting the scene
South Africa is located in southern Africa. The original inhabitants of the future South Africa are the khoisan. By the start of the 19th century, large parts of South Africa are inhabited by Bantu peoples. The first Europeans to settle in South Africa are the Dutch that establish themselves, from 1652, in Cape Town, there to form the Dutch colony of Cape of Good Hope. During the Napoleonic wars, the British, in 1795, take over Cape of Good Hope to prevent it from falling into French hands – the Netherlands being occupied by France at the time. Cape of Good HopeAlso known as the Cape Colony. is legally transferred from the Dutch to the British in 1814.
Extending British influence and the Boer Wars
British influence in southern Africa is gradually expanded. In the process, the British form a number of colonies and protectorates, most of which, by the end of the 19th century, have become part of either the Cape Colony or Natal – the second large British colony in the region established in 1843. Please refer to the profiles of Cape of Good Hope and Natal for a more detailed description.
The British take over of the Cape Colony is reason for the Dutch settlers – the Boer – to migrate inland on what is called ‘The Great Trek’. Moving inland, the Boer establish a number of republics, that in the course of the 19th century converge into the two large Boer republics of the late 19th century: Orange Free State and the South African Republic. Further British expansion leads to conflicts with the Boer that escalate into the First and Second Boer Wars from 1880 to 1881 and from 1899 to 1902 respectively. The Second Boer War ends in a British victory. The Boer republics are dissolved to become the British Orange River and Transvaal colonies.
South Africa as a nation
Thus, at the start of the 20th century in southern Africa we find four British colonies – Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Orange River and Transvaal – that join to form the Union of South Africa in 1910. Three British protectorates in the region remain outside of the union: Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland. Governed as the High Commission Territories – these protectorates will develop into the current Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland.
The Union of South Africa is a dominion within the British Commonwealth and, as such, gains full self government in 1934 – the British monarch remaining the head of state. The Union of South Africa is to become the republic of South Africa in 1961 when South Africa exits the British Commonwealth.
Apartheid and homelands
An important element in South African politics is the so called ‘apartheid’. Apartheid aims at full segregation between the black and the white population groups in South Africa and is, from 1948 until 1994, an official government policy. Apartheid is widely condemned. The international community imposes sanctions, internal opposition is led by the ANC – the African National Congress with Nelson Mandela as one of the key figures.
Part of the apartheid regime was the establishment of the ‘homelands’ or ‘Bantustans’. The homelands are a continuation of the ‘native reserves’ – territories designated for the indigenous peoples of South Africa formed from the 19th century on by the British and South African administrations. The concept of the homelands was that the black population of South Africa would move to and become citizen of the homelands, eventually with independence for the homelands. Thus, a complete social and political segregation between the black and white population groups in South Africa would be realized. A total of ten homelands was been established, together taking up 15% of South Africa for 80% of its population. All homelands have gained a form of self government, four have become de jure independent – Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Transkei and Venda. Independence of the homelands has, internationally, not been recognized. Eventually, 55% of the black population has been relocated to the homelands. At the end of the apartheid regime, in 1994, the homelands have been dissolved.
South West Africa
South Africa, for the better part of the 20th century, administers South West Africa. The former German South West Africa is occupied by South Africa, during WWI, in 1915 to become a South African mandated territory in 1920. A mandate that is extended, in 1946, by the United Nations. South Africa aims at the incorporation of South West Africa into South Africa and administers the country as a fifth province of South Africa. Thus, apartheid is also implemented in South West Africa . International and internal opposition against South African rule gradually grows. In 1966, the United Nations mandate is revoked. It will take until 1990, though, before South Africa withdraws from South West Africa, that subsequently gains independence as the republic of Namibia. The Penguin Islands and Walvis Bay – originally British possessions in South West Africa that, since 1910, have been part of South Africa – are transferred to Namibia in 1994.
A new South Africa
International and internal opposition, in the 1980’s, lead to concessions from the South African government relaxing the apartheid regime. In 1990, negotiations start that, in 1994, will lead to the end of apartheid and the first general elections to be held in South Africa. Nelson Mandela is to become the first black president of the country. With the end of apartheid, an end also comes to the political and economic isolation of South Africa. Currently, South Africa is qualified as a middle income, emerging economy.
Postal history South Africa
The first stamps issued in what will become South Africa are issued by Cape of Good Hope in 1853. Subsequently stamps have been issued both by a number of Boer republics and a number of British colonies. The Boer republics being: New Republic, Orange Free State, Stellaland and the South African Republic. The British colonies being: Bechuanaland, Cape of Good Hope, Griqualand West, Natal, Zululand and, from 1900, the Orange River and Transvaal colonies.
The Union of South Africa issues stamps from 1910, the first issue commemorating the opening of the Union parliament. South Africa issues stamps carrying the name of the country in both Afrikaans and English. Also stamps are issued in pairs with one stamp in Afrikaans and one stamp in English – these are collected in pairs. These Afrikaans-English pair issues exist in many varieties – a true challenge for the collector. For an excellent expose on the subtleties of the varieties please refer to the Big Blue Union of South Africa Part I and Union of South Africa Part II pages. From 1968, stamps are issued with the name of the country shortened to ‘RSA’. From 1997, stamps are issued both with ‘RSA’ and ‘South Africa’ in English only.
Stamps of South Africa have been used in Basutoland and Swaziland until 1933 and in South West Africa from 1915 until 1923. Occasionally stamps of South Africa have been used on Tristan da Cunha in the Atlantic Ocean. The stamps of the constituent parts of the Union of South Africa – Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Orange river Colony and Transvaal Colony – have remained valid for use until 1937. The four homelands that gained independence have issued stamps from their respective dates of independence to 1994.
For an overview of the political and postal developments in the form of a diagram, please refer to the country diagram of British South Africa.