The Making of Modern South Africa Book Summary - The Making of Modern South Africa Book explained in key points
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The Making of Modern South Africa summary

Nigel Worden

The Making of Modern South Africa

4.7 (182 ratings)
24 mins

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"The Making of Modern South Africa" by Nigel Worden explores the complex history and evolution of South Africa, from colonialism to apartheid to democracy. It delves into the political, social, and economic factors that shaped the country and continues to impact it today.

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    The Making of Modern South Africa
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    Premodern South Africa was home to three distinctive indigenous groups who settled in the region.

    Fifteenth-century Africa was a well-connected place. North Africa’s ports linked local Muslim states to a Mediterranean market, which stretched from Spain to Syria. Then there was East Africa – a vital node in trade networks spanning the entire Indian Ocean. 

    West Africa’s powerful coastal kingdoms, meanwhile, looked both outward, across the Atlantic Ocean, and inward, into the continent’s vast interior. 

    There was one exception, though: Africa’s southern tip, a geographical region made up of the modern-day Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and South Africa. Though this area is one of the world's oldest sites of continuous human habitation, it developed in relative isolation from the rest of the globe until the seventeenth century. 

    The area that encompasses modern-day South Africa had been inhabited by our prehuman ancestors for over 2.5 million years, with Homo sapiens first establishing settlements in the region around 125,000 years ago. The San and the Khoikhoi are, arguably, direct descendents of these earliest settlers to the region. And although they’re related, the two groups are distinguished by their pastoral structures: the San were traditionally hunter-gatherers, while the Khoi were herders. Around 500 AD, a third group – also herders – migrated into South Africa from as far north as central and east Africa. They were part of the Bantu-linguistic group – a family of languages distinct from those spoken by the San and Khoi peoples. 

    Over the centuries, and after settling in the fertile plateaus and in the more mediterranean climates of the coast, both the Khoi and Bantu-linguistic groups embraced agriculture. They formed powerful kingdoms, which controlled these settled regions. 

    Land was vital to both societies, but they didn’t regard it as private property that could be owned. The real source of wealth was cattle. The larger a ruler’s herd, the more power and prestige he enjoyed. The San, for their part, favored nomadic social structures and shared the understanding that land was not something that should be possessed or controlled by anyone. All three overarching societies respected and understood this view.

    And so when European colonists arrived in South Africa in the seventeenth century, the first Africans they met lived in kingdoms built around common land ownership. The settlement of these European colonists would throw that system into crisis.

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    What is The Making of Modern South Africa about?

    The Making of Modern South Africa (2012) traces the history of South Africa from the colonial conquests of the eighteenth century to the birth of an inclusive democracy in 1994. Along the way, it unpacks how struggles over land, natural resources, and belonging shaped the country’s development. 

    Who should read The Making of Modern South Africa?

    • Historians 
    • Politics buffs
    • Anyone interested in race and equality

    About the Author

    Nigel Worden is a British-South African historian who specializes in the history of colonial South Africa. He was Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Cape Town until his retirement in 2016. 

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