History of Southern Africa

Southern Africa comprises several countries, each with a rich and varied history. These include:


Angola is on the western side of southern Africa and was ‘discovered’ by Portuguese explorers in the 1500’s. However, it was long before the 16th century that humankind descended on areas such as Luanda, Congo and the Namib Desert. These are the sites at which remains and fossils of these prehistoric humans have been found. A written record of the history of this area, however, only came into being millennia later. These earliest records began when people from other lands discovered Angola and made it their home.

The first arrivals were the Bushmen, famous for their hunting and gathering skills. Then, at the beginning of the sixth century of our Common Era (CE), the Bantu arrived from the north (near Cameroon). The Bantu were more advanced than the Bushmen and dominated them immediately. During centuries of Bantu domination, different ethnic groups arose. The Kingdom of Kongo was the most prominent of these and stretched from Gabon to Kwanza during the 1200’s. From 1482, Portuguese caravels began to arrive, introducing a brand new culture and system into the area. In 1575, Paulo Dias de Novais and the Portuguese colonists accompanying him officially established Angola.

Since this time, the country has experienced much political upheaval, as well as a civil war in the 1970’s. Finally, in 1975, Angola was declared independent of Portuguese rule.


Botswana was inhabited by the San or Bushmen of prehistoric times. It was only in the 17th century CE that they were displaced by the Tswana, or Bantu Batswana, who migrated into Botswana from South Africa during the Zulu wars. Before this, the Batswana had been tribal farmers until the Europeans descended on South Africa and began to claim land and rights. This caused major conflict between the Batswana and the Boere (from Dutch descent). Cecil Rhodes was instrumental in establishing the Bechuanaland Protectorate of 1885. Bechuanaland was the entire northern region of the South African area. The northern part of it is now known as Botswana, while the southern part is South Africa’s northwest province. However, despite this protection, Botswana only gained independence in 1966.


Malawi has yielded some very interesting remains and fossils of hominids, thought to be 1 million years old. Human beings are believed to have lived approximately 55 000 years ago in the area around the grand Lake Malawi. The remains that have been dated back to 1500 BCE (Before our Common Era) display definite African and Bushmen characteristics in terms of features and bone structures. The Portuguese colonists had entered Malawi in the 1500’s, but it was only when David Livingstone arrived in 1859 that Malawi felt the effects of colonisation. Christianity was introduced and the slave trade became the object of their attack as they fought to abolish it. The political history of Malawi is abundant and fascinating and, towards the end of the 20th century, Malawi became a democracy.


Many tools and implements from the Stone Age (the period that began approximately 2.5 million years ago) have been found scattered throughout Zimbabwe. Even ruins of ancient buildings built of stone have testified to the existence of prehistoric civilisations inhabiting the plains of this country. Just outside Masvingo lie the ruins after which the country was named, built by the indigenous people and dated to between the ninth century and the 13th century.

Zimbabwe also felt the effects of the Europeans’ arrival in southern Africa, as well as that of the migrating Bantu speakers. These Bantu people eventually replaced the locals and are now the ancestors of the Zimbabwean race. Zimbabwe came to be under British administration in the late 1800’s (when it was called Rhodesia after Cecil Rhodes) and gained complete independence in 1980.

Although only a small portion of the southern African countries have been covered in brief detail, it is clear to see that this region is, indeed, abundant in valuable artefacts from prehistoric Africa. It is for this reason that many scientists term southern Africa the Cradle of Humankind.