Discovery of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 by the Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias opened the way for Portugal's trade with the East Indies. However, settlement did not come until the Netherlands entered that trade a century later.

Important dates in South Africa
c. A.D. 300 Bantu-speaking farmers began to enter eastern South Africa from the north. They were the ancestors of present-day South Africa's black population.
1652 The first Dutch settlers arrived at the site of Cape Town.
1814 The Cape Colony passed from the Netherlands to United Kingdom.
1818-1828 The Zulu leader Shaka built a powerful kingdom called KwaZulu (Zululand) in Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal).
1836 The Boers left Cape Colony on the Great Trek to Natal, the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal.
1852 The United Kingdom recognized the independence of the Boers north of the Vaal River.
1854 The Orange Free State became a Boer republic.
1867 Diamonds were discovered near what is now Kimberley.
1877 The United Kingdom annexed the Transvaal.
1879 The United Kingdom defeated the Zulu kingdom.
1880-1881 The Transvaal Boers defeated the British in the first Anglo-Boer War (also called the Anglo-Transvaal War).
1886 Gold was discovered near Johannesburg.
1893-1914 Mohandas K. Gandhi worked for Indian rights in South Africa.
1899-1902 The United Kingdom defeated the Boers in the second Anglo-Boer War (also called the Boer War or the South African War).
1910 The Union of South Africa was formed.
1912 Blacks founded the African National Congress.
1948 The National Party came to power.
1961 South Africa became a republic.
1976 Blacks began widespread protests against the South African government.
1984-1985 Protests followed the adoption of a new constitution that continued to exclude black Africans from government.
1990-1991 The South African government repealed the last of the laws that had formed the legal basis of apartheid.
1994 South Africa held its first all-race elections. Nelson Mandela was elected as the nation's first black president.
1996 South Africa adopted a new constitution that includes a broad bill of rights.

Dutch Colonization. In 1652 the Dutch East India Company established at the site of Cape Town a “refreshment” station, for growing food to provision its ships, under the command of Johan van Riebeeck. Soon a settlement grew in the area that the Dutch called Cape Colony (present Western Cape). The only indigenous peoples they encountered were Khoi (Hottentots) and San (Bushmen). The San soon fled northward.

The farmer colonists needed workers, and the company imported slaves, mainly from the Dutch East Indies. Huguenot refugees from France arrived after 1685 and were assimilated into the Dutch population, as were later German immigrants. When the Khoi, who had been working for the settlers, were decimated by smallpox, more slaves were brought in.

Many of the Boers (Dutch for “farmers”) turned to raising cattle, and their need for land led them eastward. In the 1770's, at the Great Fish River (in present Eastern Cape), they encountered Bantu-speaking Africans whom they called Kaffirs. The first of almost a dozen Kaffir wars on the eastern frontier of Cape Colony was fought in 1779. (The last was a century later, and the overall result was to compress the blacks into what were for the most part small, relatively barren areas.)