176 episodes

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.

History of South Africa podcast Desmond Latham

    • History
    • 5.0 • 83 Ratings

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.

    Episode 176 - Cape Conservatives vs Radicals in 1850, a synopsis of souls and climate dystopia

    Episode 176 - Cape Conservatives vs Radicals in 1850, a synopsis of souls and climate dystopia

    This is the period of the utilitarian liberal, not of the democrat, it’s 1850 and in the Cape, a newly ninted constitution had been drafted by the attorney general, William Porter.

    This was based on a nonracial qualified franchise - all adult males who had occupied property worth at least twenty five pounds for a year were eligible to vote. Porter had toiled on the draft of this document for the also newly minted Governor, Sir Harry Smith, who sent it to London.

    Porter later in 1850 had a complete change of heart as utilitarian liberals tend to do, he denounced the option of univesal suffrage — at least for men of all colours — as threatening to the colony with its in his words, “communism, socialisms, and red republicanism which had caused so much mischief in France….”

    There had been an attempted major communist revolution in France in 1848, which spilled over into other parts of western Europe including the land that would become known as Germany. This horrified utilitarians everywhere, no less so in the Cape Colony.

    As the ship bearing Smith’s new constitution headed north, another was heading south and crossed each other somewhere out there on the wild untamed ocean. It was a dispatch from Colonial Secretary Earl Grey who proposed sending Irish convicts to the Cape.

    Smith announced this proposal to the horrified residents of Cape Town and immediately aroused a storm of agitation against the Governor. The settlers had been considering representative government for some time and this suggestion of Irish convicts arriving backfired — driving many more of the moderate thinkers into the arms of those who were agitating for some form of independent governance.
    The colonists regarded the Irish as a threat to their respectability and citizens used the concept as a weapon to attaack the oligarchy that ran the Cape at the time. It was a legislative council, nominated by Governors not elected by the people so it had been tainted constantly by allegations of corruption, nepotism, and a host of other maladies associated with power wielded too long by men who were mostly too greedy.

    The convicts duly arrived on a ship called Neptune, but they were refused entry to Cape Town, and the men sat in chains in Simon’s Bay for five months. Eventually in 1850 the ship was ordered to sail away.

    One of the main antagonists in this crazy story was a man called John Montagu. He had been alarmed by how the Irish convict idea had radicalised even his mild-mannered friends, and so he demanded that Smith reimpose some kind of authority and stop this movement towards representative government.

    Montagu argued that the whole idea was anti-English, not what the British should be supporting, so Smith delayed the implementation.

    But what was going on was very very interesting. The hullabaloo had revealed two very distinct political movements inside the Cape. One was conservative, pro-English and pro-British government, led by Montagu, joined by the big merchants of Cape Town. They were also joined by the Eastern Cape settlers led by their flag bearer, Grahamstown Journal Editor and land speculator Robert Godlonton. Another powerful figure joined this conservative echelon, and that was the newly arrived Anglican Bishop, Robert Gray.

    A newspaper called the Cape Monitor was launched in October 1850 by these conservatives.

    The second political movement were the radicals, both British and Afrikaner, led by John Fairbairn, Christoffel Brand, Francis William Reitz and Andries Stockenstrom. They regarded the conservatives as a corrupt bunch of nepotists, an oligarchy, but they were divided by what to do about frontier policy. Fairbairn used his newspaper the South African Advertiser to defend the rights of blacks, while Brand preferred to defend the rights of the Dutch descendents against the oppression of old-English money elites. Stockenstrom had his own varied approach to both.

    • 21 min
    Episode 175 - A whip around the world in 1849 and a wide-angle view of Cape Society

    Episode 175 - A whip around the world in 1849 and a wide-angle view of Cape Society

    This is episode 175 - and we’re back in the Cape circa 1849 and thereabouts.

    Before we dive into the latest incidents and events, let’s take a look at what was going on globally as everything is connected.

    In France, citizens are able to use postage stamps for the very first time, a series called Ceres, which is also a place in the Western Cape. The Austrian Army invades Hungary entering the countries two capitals, which back in 1849 were called Buda and Pest. Next door, Romanian paramilitaries laid into Hungarian civilians, killing 600 in what we’d call ethnic cleansing.

    The second Anglo-Sikh war was on the go in India, and the British suffered a defeat at the Battle of Tooele, while across the ocean in Canada, the Colony of Vancouver Island was established. This is important because that’s where one of my ancestors eloped later in the 19th Century for the metropolis that was Beaufort West.

    Elizabeth Blackwell was awarded her M.D, thus becoming the first women doctor in the United States, and the Corn Laws were officially repealed by the UK Parliament. These were tariffs and trade resctrictions on imported food — including all grains like Barley, wheat and oats. I mention this because the repeal spelled the death knell to British mercantilism — skewing the value of land in the UK, raised food prices there artificially, and hampered the growth of manufacturing.

    The Great Famine of Ireland between 1845 and 1852 had also revealed a real need to produce alternative food supplies through imports. It was this change that led to free trade finally being ushered into Britain — and of course this created opportunities for Southern African farmers.

    It’s also the year the first Kennedy arrives in America, a refugee of the Irish Famine.

    More prosaic perhaps, in New York on a cold February day, President James Knox Polk became the first president to have his photograph taken, while Minnesota became a formal US territory and the settlement of Fort Worth in Texas is founded.

    In July, a slave revolt at the Charleston Workhouse breaks out led by Nicholas Kelly, but plantation owners manage to suppress the revolt and hang 3 of the leaders including Kelly. Later in September, African-American abolitionist and hero Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery.
    And importantly for our story, Sir Benjamin D’Urban, after whom Durban in KZN is named and one of the Governors of the Cape, died in Montreal, Canada.

    Back to the Cape, because the anger at Harry Smith’s new policies were curing, nay, ripening, stewing, brewing amongst the amaXhosa.

    Arriving in the Eastern Cape, Harry was committed to reinstating the D’Urban system with which he had been associated - and which Lord Glenelg back in the colonial office has rejected.

    But now Earl Grey was in the colonial hot seat back home and he gave the thumbs up. Smith set to work sorting out the administration, appointing members of the settler elite to official positions including Richard Southey as his personal secretary. AS a close colleague of Grahamstown Journal Editor and rabid anti-Xhosa Robert Godlonton, he was chosen for his anti-black bias.

    If you remember how Smith had arrived, placing his foot on amaXhosa chief Maqoma’s neck, and his new edicts including the creation of British Caffraria — the previously known ceded territory —you can imagine how he was regarded further east.
    What is not common knowledge these days is that there was great demand for children under the age of ten to work in the Western Cape. Of course, this was not a proper labour environment, and the shift meant that these young boys and girls, and their mothers and fathers, were being turned into indentured labourers. This was a free market situation of the amaXhosa being able to hawk their labour for a fair price.

    Many were told they would be paid a wage, only to find that the terms of contract were vague, they were now receiving unspecified promises and the fabric of rural life

    • 19 min
    Episode 174 - The 1848 British defeat of the Boers at the Battle of Boomplaats near Bloemfontein

    Episode 174 - The 1848 British defeat of the Boers at the Battle of Boomplaats near Bloemfontein

    This is episode 174.

    First off, a big thank you to all the folks who’ve supported me and for sharing so many personal stories of your ancestry. Particularly Jane who is a font of knowledge about the Williams family, and John who’s been communicating about the Transkei.

    Please also sign up for the weekly newsletter by heading off to desmondlatham.blog - you can also email me from that site.

    When we left off episode 173, King Mswati the first was running out of patience with his elder brother Somcuba. Voortrekker leader Hendrick Potgieter had also left the area north of the Swazi territory, settling in the Zoutpansberg. It was his last trek.

    He’d signed a treaty with Bapedi chief Sekwati, which had precluded any proper agreement with the other Voortrekkers around Lydenburg. With Potgieter gone, however, things were about to change.
    We need to swing back across the vast land to the region south of the Vaal River because dramatic events were taking place in 1848 - clashes between the British empire and the trekkers. By now, the area between the Orange and the Vaal was an imbroglio, elements of every type of society that existed in southern Africa for millennia could be found scattered across the region.

    Hunters and gatherers, pastoralists, farmers, San, Khoesan, Khoekhoe, BaSotho, Afrikaners, Boers, mixed race Griqua and Koranna, and British settlers could be found here. In some cases different combinations of these peoples lived together cheek by jowel, many combinations of cultures, languages and political systems. A classic frontier situation, with intermingling and very little structured relationship charactersing the mingling. Some of the San, Khoekhoe and even Basotho were now incorporated as servants of the Boers, and each of those groups were divided into rival political commuties.

    Bands of San still hunted through this area, despite attempts to eradicate them, a kind of ethnic cleansing you’ve heard about. In the south east, on either side of the Caledon River, rival Sotho states existed, under Moshoeshoe, Moletsane, Sikonyela, and Moroka — each of these had their own tame missionary living alongside as an insurance policy against each other and the British and Boers.
    By 1848 the new Governor of the Cape, Sir Harry Smith, had begun to experiment with British expansionism that he’d observed in India, assuming British culture and traditions, the empire’s institutions, were superior to all other. Smith loved to oversimplify complex problems, and the made him a natural expansionist and a man likely to make big mistakes. Within two months of arriving in Cape Town in December 1847, he had extended the frontiers of the Cape Colony to the Orange River in the arid north west of the Cape. This was between the area known as Ramah and the Atlantic Ocean. He’d annexed the land between the Keiskamma River and the Kraai River Basin in the east, booted out the amaXhosa, and annexed two contiguous areas as seperate British colonies — British Caffraria between the Keiskamma and the Kei River, and a second area that became known as the Orange River Sovereignty between the Orange and Vaal Rivers. Pretorius was so incensed that he began fanning the flames of anti-British opposition, or probably to be more accurate, anti-Smith opposition. This resentment boiled over in July 1848 when Pretorius with commandants Stander, Kock and Mocke led a powerful force of 200 Transvalers and about 800 Free Staters along with a 3 pounder artillery gun into Bloemfontein. The preamble to the Battle of Boomplaats had begun.

    • 23 min
    Episode 173 - Boer women fight off the Bapedi, Mpande interferes in Swazi business and Potgieter’s last trek

    Episode 173 - Boer women fight off the Bapedi, Mpande interferes in Swazi business and Potgieter’s last trek

    This is episode 173 and we’re in what was called the north eastern transvaal, modern day Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

    Last we heard how Hendrick Potgieter’s Voortrekkers had camped at a new town they named Ohrigstad in 1845, after leaving the are around Potchefstroom. Potgieter wanted to move further away from the British, and he sought a new port to replace Durban which had been annexed by the English.

    The area around Ohrigstad had a major drawback, apart from the fact it was already populated by the Bapedi. The lowlands were rife with malaria. Within a few weeks of arriving in the rainy season of 1845, men women and children began dying. The trekkers realised they had to move once more so families packed up their wagons and trekked to higher ground 50 kilometers south.

    The named the new town Lydenburg and established a new Republic named after the town. The Boers were gathered across the Vaal now, deep into the lowveld, spreading out across southern Africa. They had congregated around towns like Winburg, Potchefstroom, Ohrigstad, Lydenburg.

    Local African chieftans had to decide how they were going to face this arrival, was it a threat or opportunity? Later it would obviously become clear that the boers arrival was a threat, but this wasn’t the case at first in spite of modern assumptions. They were new power brokers, thinly spread, a minority on the ground and the Bapedi Chief Sekwati quickly came to the conclusion that the trekkers were an opportunity rather than threat.
    So when Hendrick Potgieter and his trekkers rolled onto the landscape, a meeting was arranged between the Boer leader and the Bapedi chief. On the 5th July 1845 a Vredenstractaat was signed - a treaty - which granted the Boers the land east of the Steelpoort River. As I pointed out last episode, many of the Boers who had trekked with Potgieter took exception to this treaty. They said he was acting dictatorially, and wanted more of a say in how these treaties were being signed.
    King Mswati of the Swazi’s who lived south east of this region was aware of what was going on. The Boers understood that he also laid claim to the Steelpoort, and had been fighting constantly with Sekwati about who had the right to this region. Mswati met with this group of disatissfied Boers, and told them that the Bapedi were his subjects, he’d defeated them.
    The Boers under Potgieter and the second group who regarded themselves as independent of Potgieter’s actions continued to settle on Bapedi land and friction developed. The Bapedi took a liking to the Boer cattle, and raids escalated quite quickly into full-blown attacks between the two groups on the veld. Sekwati had heard about the Boers and Mswati’s recent talks, so naturally he was suspicious of their motives.

    The Bapedi king encouraged the raiding of Boer cattle so by 1846 bad faith seemed to imbue all negotiations. Then an incident occurred that escalated matters. According to the Bapedi annals, the Boers complained that in joint Boer-Bapedi hunting parties the Bapedi had taken more than their allotted share of game. The Boer annals report something much more violent.

    That was the Bapedi raid on a Boer laager at Strydpoort, just south of modern day Polokwane. The trekkers were particularly angry because the Bapedi raided the laager on a day that most of the men were away hunting with a section of Bapedi, leaving the women alone. It was the women who fought off the attackers. There are poignant stories told by trekkers who survived how the women were knocked flat on their backs every time they fired these huge heavy muskets, leaving them bruised and battered but unbowed.
    There is further intrigue. The Trekkers had no idea about who owned which bit of land, they naturally assumed that Mswati was the overlord considering his people’s military social structure, similar to the amaZulu who by now, they knew well. What followed was intrigue, mystery, myth and of course, war.

    • 25 min
    Episode 172 - The Republic of Potchefstroom, Potgieter treks into Bapedi country and Mswati faces rebellion

    Episode 172 - The Republic of Potchefstroom, Potgieter treks into Bapedi country and Mswati faces rebellion

    This is episode 172 and we’re galloping back to cover the effect of the Boers 33 Articles, approved by the Volksraad on April 9th 1844, and thus installing the little Republic of Potchefstroom.

    Some of the articles and the fledgling laws and rules were going to crop up throughout the history of South Africa, all the way through to the time of apartheid, and even to the present.

    If you recall, the Natal Boers and the Vaal Boers had been in dispute — largely because of the difference of opinion between their two leaders, Hendrick Potgieter on the highveld, and Andries Pretorius who had been based in Natal.

    With the British declaring sovereignty over Natal, many Voortrekkers upped and offed, trekking back over the Drakensberg back to the transOrangia region, and up along the Vaal, while some ended up further north.

    So we’re going to take a look at this period. In 1849 there was a temporary union between the communities north of the Vaal, who adopted what amounted to the basis of what was to become the Transvaal Constitution. This constitution continued until the foundation of the South African Republic — which was only repealed in 1901 when its provisions ceased to be applicable.

    That is except for the application of the Roman-Dutch system of law. The thing to keep in mind was that the 33 Articles cannot be regarded as a formal constitution. For a start, there was no definition of various authorities in the State, and most of the 33 Articles were concerned with the procedure in the Courts.

    When it came to matters of Government, even the most elementary kind, the Articles were silent. Each emergency that arose subsequent to it’s ratification in 1844 led to a rewriting of the Articles to cover for the gaps in how to manage the state. Even the Volksraad was referred to in the vaguest terms possible. Often when disputes arose, another constitution, that of the Winburg Boers, regulated the Articles.
    Another character we’ve met pops up again. Johan Arnold Smellekamp - a citizen of the Netherlands. If you remember a previous podcast, he’d popped up in Natal and told the Volksraad in Pietermaritzburg that the Dutch Royal family was taking an active interest in the Voortrekkers.

    He’d stretched the truth to say the least, and had many members of the Volksraad convinced that if they fought the English for Natal, the Dutch would come to their aid. Holland did not.
    King William II rejected the proposed connection between the Netherlands and the Voortrekkers of Natal and before the year was out he apologised to White Hall for the affray caused by Smellekamp and his activities. That didn’t stop the self-aggrindising Smellekamp, who returned to Natal in 1843 but was refused entry into Port Natal by the British.

    So he headed to Delagoa Bay instead, and after the creation of the 33 Articles in 1844 and the declaration of independence by the Potch Winburg republic by Hendrick Potgieter, Smellekamp popped up once again, riding into Potch that Winter.

    This is where things get really interesting.
    Partly owing to Smellekamp’s persuation, and partly driven by his own obsessions, Potgieter made the fateful decision to organise a new trek at the end of 1844, heading towards Delagoa Bay. After a few weeks they arrived at a site they called Blyde River. Happy River. Potgieter believed that this site was only three days ride from the sea. He was wrong. They setup a new settlement and promptly named it Andries-Ohrigstad. When Potgieter’s wagons rolled onto the hills of Ohrigstad of course, they were not empty of people — and this is again where the story gets more interesting — the plot thickens to a consistency of treacle. Because the people he met there were the baPedi, who’d been forced out of their ancestral land by the amaNdebele of Mzilikazi two decades earlier.
    Take a look at a map and the location of iSWatini. By now it was being ruled by a very young King Mswati the First.

    • 19 min
    Episode 171 - Zwangendaba’s exodus from Pongola to Lake Tanganyika and the story of the Ngoni

    Episode 171 - Zwangendaba’s exodus from Pongola to Lake Tanganyika and the story of the Ngoni

    This is episode 171 and now its time to swing around southern Africa again, because as Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in Canterbury Tales in 1395, “Time and Tide wait for no man”.

    It’s from the Prologue to the first story called the Clerk’s Tale and the story is imbued with what modern academics call masculine authoritarianism. It’s about women’s power actually, and insubordination — the plot dealing with a woman called Griselda who rises the highest position of hegemonic power. She becomes the honoured wife of a wealthy lord through utter submissiveness and essential silence.

    To many modern folks, she represents a kind of prescriptive antifeminist propaganda — in other words — a very accurate description of the medieval period. Others say the strong and silent type is fundamentally insubordinate and deeply threatening to men and the concepts of power and male identity.
    What is this I hear you ask, why is Zwangendaba part of the History of South Africa? Well, as we all know, lines drawn on maps are cartographical magic codes, and the real world has no place for smoke and mirrors.

    Once again, we must go backwards to go forward. Zwangendaba was a King of a clan of the Nguni or Mungoni people who broke away from the Ndwandwe Kingdom alliance under King Zwide. After defeat of the Ndwandwe forces under his command by Shaka, Zwangendaba gathered his clan and fled their home near modern the town of Pongola. This dispersal was part of the movement of the people we call the Mfecane.

    Remarkably, Zwangendaba led his people, who took on the name the "Jele", on a wandering migration of thousands of kilometres lasting more than thirty years. Their journey took them through the areas of what is now northern South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi to Tanzania. The Ngoni, originally a small royal clan that left Kwa-Zulu Natal, extended their dominion even further through present-day Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia when they fragmented into separate groups following Zwangendaba’s death.

    • 20 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
83 Ratings

83 Ratings

Neverinarut ,

Easily one of the best podcasts, ever

I also started this podcast from the beginning—I listen to it while hiking. I have been to SA several times and always knew the history was as rich and as complicated as anywhere. The length of the episodes, the detail, the context and wider placement in the continent as a whole—just amazing. I am beginning to see how the history of my own country must surely be equally complicated, rich, misunderstood and reduced to far too simple half-truths through the lens of current biases and assumptions. Well done!

an impassioned fan ,

Love it!

Awesome, informative podcast! Making my way from start to finish.

khkuntz14 ,

Brilliant & Informative

I came across this exceptional podcast series fairly recently, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it so far. I’ve made a point to start listening from the beginning then working my way to present day in order to gain the full impact of the timeline & coinciding information. Des’ colorful & honest personality shines through as he shares his incredible expertise & knowledge on the subject matter of South Africa. It’s almost as if I’m listening to an audiobook story being played out. I thoroughly enjoy how he covers all facets of society and even shares side anecdotes to go further into an individual or specific group for an entire episode. As an American ex-pat that’s been predominantly residing in SA since 2016, it’s been beautiful to gain new perspectives from the show, which makes me love & appreciate this country even more. Thank you for your time & effort with putting this program together for us to enjoy immensely 🙏♥️. Keep up the great work 💪!

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