History of South Africa podcast

A series that seeks to tell the story of the South Africa in some depth. Presented by experienced broadcaster/podcaster Des Latham and updated weekly, the episodes will take a listener through the various epochs that have made up the story of South Africa.

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Episode 41 – The English take Cape Town, Americans flee and trekboer rebels tear down a flag

This is episode 41 and we’re dealing with two main things – firstly the shift in power amongst the Xhosa at the end of the 18th Century, then the arrival of the English in South Africa.

Remember we’ve been focusing on the Zuurveld as the trekboers and the amaXhosa both expanded their interest in the region. The fate of these contending parties would remain undecided for twenty years and for the amXhosa, it was their fractured politics that weakened them precisely at the moment their greatest threat appeared.

The indecisive Second Frontier War had left Ndlambe the most powerful Xhosa chief in the west but he couldn’t seize ultimate control of the Zuurveld – the trekboers were returning to their farms razed during the war. Although they did not return in the same numbers initially, the tension was set to rise once more.

In 1795 Ngqika turned 17 and he immediately took action against his uncle Ndlambe who as we know had been ruling on his behalf until he came of age. Ngqika was not to be trifled with although young. He was ambitious and pretty ruthless as you’re going to hear. As the tension rose amongst the amaXhosa groups, it wasn’t long before a mini civil war broke out.
Upheavals far away in the world were going to have a major impact on this sleepy little southern African backwater shortly. The first attempts by the British at seizing the Cape failed miserably back in 1781 as we’ve heard with the brilliant but obese French commander Bailli de Suffren defeating the English fleet at the Cape Verde Islands.
The British had no real interest in the Cape as such during this phase, they wanted the ports and the refreshment stations. There was no idea of colonizing this somewhat dangerous part of the world.
The major strategic aim was to hold the Cape to prevent it from being seized by the French to use as a naval base as part of the crucial logistics route to and from India and China.

Episode 40 – The Second Frontier War and the Graaff-Reinet rebellion

This is episode 40 and we’re dealing with the Second Frontier War. The Zuurveld Boers were indignant at the reluctance of the distant government of the Cape to come to their aid as the amaGqunukhwebe swept onto their farms.

Remember Xhosa king Ndlambe was trying to bring them to heel and had ordered the amaGqunukhwebe and Langa’s amaMbalu to move westwards across the Fish River. Instead the amaGqunukhwebe headed in the opposite direction to get away from the Xhosa kings warriors.

Graaff-Reinet’s new landdrost Honoratus Maynier was prompted to act. He was well educated and fluent in several languages, and was also highly aware of suffering and injustice that had been metered out to the San and the Khoe in particular. Much has been written about Maynier over the years – mostly bad. However he was probably ahead of his time in quite a few areas – specifically human rights.
The trekboers were trying to convince him to mobilise forces to fight the amaGqunukhwebe and he was resisting, in addition to be highly sceptical of most reports of theft and losses.

Maynier kept telling farmers who visited his Drosdy mud and daub building in Graaff-Reinet that it was inadvisable to oppose force by force – it would merely bring the Xhosa down on the farms.
So Field Cornet Barend Lindeque decided to take action himself and put together a commando without the VOC or Maynier’s permission.
Lindeque approached Xhosa chief Ndlambe and suggested they work together to rid the Zuurveld of the amaGqunukhwebe. Of course the Xhosa king was only too happy to work with the trekboers. It served his interests. The deal was struck and on 18th May 1793 the first action of what was to become known as the Second Frontier War was recorded.
In the Cape, the Dutch East india company was also unable to assist – it was falling apart at that stage, the VOC empire was collapsing.

Episode 39 – Rebel Coenraad de Buys, lover of Xhosa chief Ngqika’s mother and a preamble to the Second Frontier War

This is episode 39 and we’re going to meet one of the country’s most incredible characters who’s activities on the frontier in the late 1700s were to be forgotten.

Coenraad de Buys was probably one of the most African of all trekboers as you’re going to hear and the saga of his life was written out of text books long before apartheid. That was because he married Khoe and Xhosa women and lived amongst both people quite comfortably.

At the same time he was still a trekboer as you’ll hear. He was also the original rebel, an ex-soldier who was nearly 7 feet tall. Coenraad de Buys is the most legendary, rougher, dominating and ruthless of all rebels, his presence on the frontier of the Cape colony dominated twenty years of South African history and he also as I said last episode symbolizes a lost route of Afrikaner history.

In the gallery of traditional Afrikaner heroes, de Buys has no place. He is merely a footnote in most writings including modern revisionist texts because he fits neither the race-obsessed romantic colonial historian nor the race-obsessed Pan-Africanist historians of the 21st century.
The first Frontier War had ended in 1781 with the belief that Adriaan van Jaarsveld who we met last episode had expelled the Gqunukhwebe and Mbalu from the Zuurveld.

But these people moved back through the 1780s – and in fact it was doubtful that Tshaka’s Gqunukhwebe had ever left they just moved away from the commando led by van Jaarsveld, then returned almost immediately after it disbanded.

The Gqunukhwebe believed they had a right to the territory – and at this point mother nature conspired to increase resource pressure. A major drought took place in the mid-1780s and many more Xhosa began appearing in the Zuurveld pastures. In 1789 for example, one description by an explorer spoke of 16 000 cattle on one Xhosa farm alone, inhabited by several thousand Xhosa people.

Episode 38 – The First Frontier War of 1781 and why the survivors of the Grosvenor were attacked by the amaXhosa

This is episode 38 and we’re focusing on the first war between the isiXhosa and the settlers which took place in 1781. Rharhabe had proposed an alliance between himself and the Colony – in return for Boer assistance against the imiDange clan who he had represented as rebels. Rharhabe framed the conversation as offering “friendship and peace upon a permanent footing” which spoke the settler language.

Local strongman Adriaan van Jaarsveld had responded positively, but then Rharhabe missed another important meeting. Meanwhile Rharhabe’s implacable enemy and uncle, Ndlambe, had found a Boer ally in Barend Lindeque who was a lieutenant in the commando.
Friction is endemic in frontier situations and neither the Xhosa nor colonists were going to be innocent in the coming conflicts. You could take the stance modern politicians take that the colonists were outsiders and therefore always to blame – but that would be somewhat historically ill-informed. The Boers feared the weight of Xhosa numbes and resented being pestered for presents by the roving bands of Xhosa men – they also had been given permission by Rharhabe to use pastures and yet Xhosa clans not aligned to Rharhabe would occupy these lands.

Episode 37 – How the amaXhosa waged war and Governor Van Plettenberg takes a trip to the Great Fish River

This is episode 37 and we’re continuing the saga of late 18th Century Xhosa kingdoms.
By late in the 18th Century, the Zuurveld was home to small groups of San, some khoekhoe chieftans, several Xhosa chiefdoms and the trekboers. They were mixing up together in a fairly confined territory and jostled each other increasingly angrily to secure the summer and winter grazing. While the San weren’t particularly interested in the grazing as they did not keep livestock, the pressure on the land was increasing.
Cultural ignorance concerning each others understanding of the nature of land ownership made things worse. Colonists had a sense of private property and they were spreading across the territory using the concept of Leningsplaatsen – loan farms – that we’ve heard about. For the trekboer, the leningsplaatsen was not a shared space – it belonged to a single person or investors and had defined boundaries which could be mapped.
In contrast, the amaXhosa saw land as communal property with its usage to be allocated by a chief. Where the cattle-owning parties saw their herds and flocks as their capital assets and indication of wealth and power, the temptation was to supplement their livestock through raiding or violence.
And Governor Van Plettenberg decided he'd take a trip to the Zuurveld along the Great Fish River to see how things were going between the Dutch settlers and the amaXhosa.

Episode 36 – The French and British fight over the Cape as bounty hunter Willem Prinsloo crosses the Fish River

This is episode 36 and its time to return to Xhosaland. Before we do that, let’s step back a little and consider the effect of action beyond Africa that was having an influence on the continent, particularly the southern reaches.

Adam Smith may have been somewhat bemused, as American historian Noel Mostert writes in his book frontiers, to find that the very year in which his masterwork was published saw the start of a struggle on the seas that rested on his own declared twin pillars of global destiny – America and the Cape of Good Hope.

The American colonies were in the process of being lost to Britain as Smith published his work – and a wider war was buffeting the seas. The Cape had been drawn into the American War of Independence which changed the destiny of Southern Africa. It’s not well remembered these days, but as America’s early history is interwoven with South Africa’s.
As all of this was taking place on the high seas, the colonists in the Cape found themselves at war on two fronts with two different groups of people. The Xhosa and the San.

As the Dutch East India company feebly tried to stop trekboers from advancing beyond the Gamtoos river near Algoa Bay, a true frontier had developed from 1770 onwards. It was a loose, ill-defined area along the south east coast and the Dutch colonists had now hit a human barrier that stopped their freedom of movement.
That barrier was the Xhosa people.

Episode 35 – The Mthethwa and Ndwandwe flex their muscles in what eventually will become known as Zululand

This is episode 35 and we’re going to focus on the forerunners of the Zulu – the Mthethwa and Ndwandwe, the Qwabe and how they emerged in the region between the Tugela and Pongola rivers in northern KwaZulu Natal or what became known as Zululand.

By the first few centuries AD the migrations of farmers moving into the area between the Drakensburg, the Mzimkhulu river south of modern Durban and up to Pondoland took place.

There had been a steady growth of farmers here until the first phase of the development of more powerful kingdoms. The second phase saw the people there divide into numbers small patriarchal clans which lived alongside each other in relative peace although there were many minor incidents.

The third phase began with the rise of the Zulu Kingdom by around 1810. I’ll get to the third phase in future podcasts. The fourth phase of course was the arrival of the British traders from the Cape – and from the sea.
The Ndwandwe lived In the area around Nongoma in 1780s and 90s while to the south, between the modern town of Empangeni and straddling the black Mfolozi to the north lived the Mthethwa. To their west lived the Qwabe – and those were the ancestors of the people I grew up with in the Nkwalini valley on the Umhlatuzi.
As the struggle for dominance grew at the end of the 18th Century, it corresponded with the expansion of the major groups like the Mthethwa, Ndwandwe and the Qwabe – then later the Zulu into a variety of grazing types.

Episode 34 – Trading and raiding, American whalers and the emergence of pre-Zulu chiefdoms in the East

This is episode 34 and we’re going to take a close look at what was going on in the region bounded by the Orange River, the Kalahari Desert and the Indian Ocean. This is where the Zulu emerged but the story is not the simple tale most of us know about Shaka.

As with other areas we’ve investigated, the popular narrative over time is not always an accurate reflection of real history. This will become very apparent particularly as we unearth facts about the period between 1760 and 1800.

It’s fairly recently in historical research that we’ve come to understand what was going on – earlier historians tended to pay very little attention to the decades before 1810 and the emergence of Shaka’s Zulu. Before then the Zulu were a tiny clan washing around in a much bigger pool of tribes and clans.
An important feature we all agree on now is that the upheavals of the early 1800s were not all about Shaka, it was caused partly by the increasing interaction between European commercial and colonial expansion and indigenous communities, as well as the expansion of Zulu and Ndebele and other warlike people. Traders and settler numbers rose swiftly as we’re going to hear.

Trading and raiding was always part of the southern African landscape, hundreds of years before Jan van Riebeeck setup shop in 1652.

The processes of reorganisation and expansion of increasingly centralized kingdoms can be tracked to this time. While these changes were taking place between the Drakensberg and Indian Ocean, they were also happening among the Tswana speaking societies on the south eastern fringes of the Kalahari Desert. I’ve outlined the most important clans in the last podcast – don’t forget these – they were the Bafokeng, Bahurutshe, Bakgatla, Bakwena, Bangwaketse, Barolong and Bathlaping.

Episode 33 – By 1771 Cape Town has a name and explorers begin arriving in droves

This is episode 33 and we’re focusing on the Cape after spending last episode partly in Xhosaland.

By 1771 the inn on the sea – the town in Table Bay – was being referred to as Cape Town for the first time by travellers. It appears there was not even a formal process, just the town at the foot of the mountain emerged over the preceding 120 years and by 1772 there were approximately 7000 people living there.

Four thousand whites including 1700 sailors, and 2000 free blacks and slaves. Part of this episode is going to be viewed through the eyes of botanist and Scots gardener and explorer Francis Masson who journeyed through the Cape three times. He arrived in October 1772 to find the acting governor was Joachim van Plettenberg.

The newly appointed governor, Pieter van Rheede van Oudshoorn, had died at sea on the way out from Amsterdam. And right there are the men whose surnames would be two future towns – Plettenberg bay and Oudtshoorn.

1772 was an important year because that’s when foreign shipping numbers increased significantly because of the American War of Independence which I mentioned last episode. French ships in particular were sailing through the bay regularly because they were supporting the American rebels who were fighting the British. Cape Town was already known as a pretty and orderly locale, it’s layout admired by most who visited.

Episode 32 – An intermingling on the frontiers begins in earnest and a wide-angle view of the mid-to-late 18th C

This is episode 32 and we’re swinging back to the Cape frontier through the last few decades of the 18th Century.

I am going to thoroughly probe this period because so many crucial things were unfolding across southern Africa such as the development of new centralized powerful kingdoms in the East, the acceleration of land occupation by the trekboers and the first real clashes between the isiXhosa and settlers.

That is far too much to chew on in just one episode I’m sure you’ll agree.

First we need to step back and take a wide-angle view of the region.

By the mid-1700s the eastern Cape frontier was a vaguely defined area east of the Gamtoos river. This is where black South African’s speaking a Bantu language first encountered white settlers as distinct from traders and missionaries. It was also here that policies which have had a profound influence on southern Africa were first formulated and applied.

It was also a cultural frontier between warring states and had many characteristics of frontiers elsewhere across the world at that time. One of course was in north America

Episode 31 – Trade increases between Delagoa Bay and the Tswana and the Dutch Reformed Church makes its mark in the Cape

This is episode 31 and we’ll now take a broader look at what was going on across southern Africa after a few episodes peering closely at the northern Cape. We’ll also take a closer look at how the Cape government was expanding.

Sleeping giants were to awaken by the last quarter of the 18th Century, with the emergence and expansion of a number of increasingly centralized chiefdoms in the region between the northern and central Drakensberg and the Indian Ocean. A similar process was taking place at pretty much the same time among the Tswana-speaking societies on the southeastern fringes of the Kalahari Desert.

There is not much documented evidence from this region which makes the telling of the story slightly more difficult. But as we’ve heard over the course of this series already, the wonders of archaeology have begun to paint a scientific picture – and historians have pieced together some of the emerging states of this time.
We also hear about the growing role of the Dutch Reformed Church. The experience of VOC political institutions particularly the local government, formed part of this heritage. But the strongest unifying institution both emotionally and intellectually, was provided by the Dutch Reformed Church.

The doctrine of this church was primitive Calvinism as embodied in the Heidelberg catechism and the decrees of the synod of Dort. Its emphasis was on the old testament and the doctrine was heavily weighted towards the concept of predestination. This particularly suited the colonial whites struggling to survive in a tough environment and accustomed from birth to treating nonwhites as slaves or serfs, and more often than not, enemies.

Episode 30 – Shipwrecked women and their Xhosa clan, the art of making amasi and the amatakati

This is episode 30 and we’re covering the mid-18th Century, including tales of shipwrecked sailors, the art of making amasi and dealing with the amatakati or witches.

We’ve heard much about the developments in the north of the Cape, the bokkeveld and the Roodezand up to 1740. Now we’ll swing our gaze to observe what was going on at the same time in the Eastern Cape frontier.

It’s vaguely defined at least at this time as the area lying east of the Gamtoos River. This is important because its here that black South Africans speaking a Bantu language first encountered white settlers as distinct from traders or even missionaries.

The Nguni people however had a much longer connection with Europeans. Survivors of shipwrecks starting around 1554 lived amongst the Xhosa until they met survivors from other wrecks or from expeditions sent to find them. Many of these former sailors refused to return home.

They were living as Thembu or Xhosa and had found the lifestyle to their liking. For example in 1705 an expedition sent to Natal to look for timber found an Englishman living with African wives there who was so well satisfied that two of the crew actually deserted to join him instead of the other way around.

Two other men who survived from an early 18th Century wreck on the Mpondo Coast became progenitors of the clan still known as the Lungu – short for Abelungu in other words, the white clan. A girl wrecked with them later married Mpondo chief Xwabiso. Her daughter in turn was met by explorer Jacob van Reenen in 1790. By then she was an old woman. But she wasn’t the only European woman who’d been saved by locals as we’ll hear.

And if you consider the statistics regarding shipwrecks off the South African coast as a whole you’ll begin to understand how these first contacts between Nguni and European developed.

41 episodes

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