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  • Circa 8000 B.C. Southern Africa is believed by many paleontologists to be the birthplace of humanity, due to hominid remains dating back more than 4 million years. Millions of years later, the pastoral KhoiKhoi (Hottentots), joined even later by the Bantu-speaking people (blacks), arrive to displace the hunter-gatherer San (Bushmen).
  • A.D. 1488 Bartholomieu Dias is the first white settler to round the Cape, landing at Mossel Bay.
  • 1497 Vasco da Gama rounds the southern African coast, discovering an alternate sea route to India.
  • 1652 Jan van Riebeeck is sent to set up a supply station for the Dutch East India Company. Cape Town is born.
  • 1659 The first serious armed conflict against the KhoiKhoi occurs; the first wine is pressed.
  • 1667-1700 First Malay slaves arrive, followed by the French Huguenots.
  • 1779 The first frontier war between the Xhosa and settlers in the Eastern Cape is fought. Eight more were to follow in what is now known as the Hundred Years War.
  • 1795 The British occupy the Cape for 7 years and then hand it back to the Dutch.
  • 1806 Britain reoccupies the Cape, this time for 155 years.
  • 1815 Shaka becomes the Zulu king.
  • 1820 The British settlers arrive in the Eastern Cape. In KwaZulu-Natal, Shaka starts his great expansionary war, decimating numbers of opposing tribes and leaving large areas depopulated in his wake.
  • 1824 Port Natal is established by British traders.
  • 1828 Shaka is murdered by his half-brother, Dingaan, who succeeds him as king.
  • 1834 Slavery is abolished in the Cape, sparking off the Great Trek.
  • 1835-45 More than 16,000 bitter Dutch settlers head for the uncharted hinterland in ox wagons to escape British domination.
  • 1838 A party of Voortrekkers manages to vanquish Zulu forces at the Battle of Blood River.
  • 1843 Natal becomes a British colony.
  • 1852 Several parties of Boers move farther northeast and found the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR).
  • 1854 The Boer Independent Republic of the Orange Free State is founded by another party of Boers.
  • 1858 The British defeat the Xhosa after the Great Cattle Killing, in which the Xhosa destroy their crops and herds in the mistaken belief that with this sacrifice their ancestors will destroy the enemy.
  • 1860 The first indentured Indian workers arrive in Natal.
  • 1867 Diamonds are found near Kimberley in the Orange Free State.
  • 1877 The British annex the ZAR.
  • 1879 Anglo-Zulu War breaks out, orchestrated by the British.
  • 1880-81 First Anglo-Boer War is fought. Boers defeat British.
  • 1883 Paul Kruger becomes the first president of the ZAR.
  • 1886 Gold is discovered on the Witwatersrand.
  • 1899-1902 The Second Anglo-Boer War is fought. British defeat Boers.
  • 1910 The Union of South Africa is proclaimed. Louis Botha becomes the first premier. Blacks are excluded from the process.
  • 1912 The South African Native National Congress is formed. After 1923, this would be known as the African National Congress (ANC).
  • 1913 The Native Land Act is passed, limiting land ownership for blacks.
  • 1914-18 South Africa declares war on Germany.
  • 1923 Natives (Urban Areas) Act imposes segregation in towns.
  • 1939-45 South Africa joins the Allies in fighting World War II.
  • 1948 D. F. Malan's National Party wins the election, and the era of apartheid is born. Races are classified, the passbook system is created, and interracial sex is made illegal.
  • 1955 ANC adopts Freedom Charter.
  • 1956 "Coloureds" lose the right to vote.
  • 1958 H. F. Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, succeeds D. F. Malan and creates the homelands -- territories set aside for black tribes.
  • 1959 Robert Sobukwe forms the Pan African National Congress (PAC).
  • 1960 Police open fire on demonstrators at Sharpeville, killing 69 people. ANC and PAC banned. ANC ends its policy of peaceful negotiation.
  • 1961 South Africa leaves the Commonwealth and becomes a republic. Albert Luthuli is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • 1963 Nelson Mandela and others are sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia sabotage trials.
  • 1970s Worldwide economic and cultural boycotts are initiated in response to South Africa's human rights abuses.
  • 1976 Police open fire on unarmed black students demonstrating against the use of Afrikaans as a teaching medium; the Soweto riots follow.
  • 1977 Black-consciousness leader Steve Biko dies in police custody.
  • 1980-84 President P. W. Botha attempts cosmetic reforms. Unrest escalates. Bishop Tutu, who urges worldwide sanctions, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • 1985 A state of emergency is declared, gagging the press and giving security forces absolute power.
  • 1989 F. W. de Klerk succeeds P. W. Botha.
  • 1990 de Klerk ends the state of emergency, lifts the ban on the ANC, and frees Mandela.
  • 1993 de Klerk and Mandela win the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • 1994 The first democratic elections are held, and on May 10, Mandela is sworn in as the first black president of South Africa. de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki become joint deputy presidents.
  • 1995 The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is created under Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
  • 1997 South Africa's new constitution, one of the world's most progressive, comes into effect on February 3.
  • 1998 The Truth and Reconciliation Commission ends. The U.S. gives Mandela the Congressional Gold Medal.
  • 1999 The second democratic elections are held. The ANC gets 66.03% of the vote; Thabo Mbeki becomes president.
  • 2000 UNESCO awards five sites in South Africa World Heritage status. The Kgalagadi, Africa's first Transfrontier Park, is created. UNAIDS reveals that South Africa has the largest AIDS population in the world.
  • 2004 The ANC, with Thabo Mbeki at the helm, wins the country's third democratic election, with a landslide 70% victory.
  • 2005 President Mbeki fires his deputy president, Zuma, when he is implicated in the corruption trial of his financial advisor. Zuma cries foul play and sweeps up populist support.
  • 2007 Tony Leon steps down as leader of the opposition (DA), and Helen Zille takes over. The ANC holds its national conference and decides on the man most likely to be voted president in 2009: Jacob Zuma, despite accusations that Zuma accepted bribes from a French arms company involved in a massive weapons deal in the late 1990s.
  • 2008 The Zuma-led ANC party forces Mbeki to resign as national president in September.
  • 2009 Hundreds of Zuma supporters revel in the streets after prosecutors said they would not pursue him -- now or in the future. A month later, the ANC wins its fourth general election by 65.9%.
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