First evidence of man
Cape Town history begins with the oldest evidence of modern man anywhere in the world, which has been discovered in the Cape. In 1994 human bones were found at a cave site on the coastline between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. They were dated back 100,000 years. Similar discoveries have been made on the Cape Peninsula. At Langebaan on the West coast footprints belonging to a human female were dated back 117,000 years.
The first human communities known to have lived close to Table Mountain were nomadic. They left evidence of their existence in the form of rock art, the oldest of which has been dated back 27,000 years. The Khoisan descended from these communities. This group later became subdivided into the Khoi and the San. The Khoi people were bigger than the San and survived by herding sheep and cattle on the plains. The San Lived by hunting in the drier mountainous areas.
The First Explorers
The Portuguese were the first European seafarers to round the Cape in the 15th century. Their trade routes across Asia had become threatened so they sought to open a new sea trade route to the Far East around the tip of Africa. Bartholemew Dias landed in what is now known as False Bay in 1488 after unknowingly sailing past Cape Point in the midst of a storm. He spent some time mapping the area before returning to Portugal.
The 'Cape of Good Hope' was then named because it was seen as an ideal landfall location on the long sea route to Asia. Vasco de Gama was the next explorer to visit the Cape and the southern coast of Africa in 1497. His expedition of four ships opened a sea route to India for the spice trade. He was followed through the next century by more Portuguese and Spanish trading ships. The first Englishman to round the Cape of Good Hope in the late 16th century was Sir Francis Drake while being pursued by the Spanish fleet.
The early explorers mapped the coast of Africa, and opened the way for settlement of the Cape. They helped to influence the course of European and Southern African history. The Cape with its sheltered landfall at Table Bay became an essential landing stage on the trade route to the Far East. The city of Cape Town was established and this in turn opened up the interior of South Africa to European colonisation in later years.
The Dutch VOC Influence
English sailors landing at the Cape had reported that the resident Khoi were "ferocious" This was found not to be the case by seamen from the Dutch East India Company (VOC) who first established a supply base at the Cape in 1650. The Dutch had been concerned that the British would annexe the Cape, so despite reports of rough Cape seas, Khoi aggression and various political influences, they eventually went ahead with building a permanent settlement.
A disgraced VOC merchant Jan van Riebeeck volunteered to establish the Cape supply base. He was ordered to build a Fort for defence, and a produce garden in order to supply passing company trade ships with fresh fruit and vegetables. Cape Town history, from these small beginnings, was to change for ever.
The First Dutch Settlement of the Cape - 1652
Jan van Riebeeck's job had been to set up a vegetable garden in order to supply passing ships with fresh produce. He was also ordered to build a moat encircled fort by his employers the VOC in order to defend against possible invasion by the British.
The various Khoi clans in the Cape Peninsula area were estimated to consist of around 6000 people at the time. They shared the available land between the clans but constantly moved on in a nomadic fashion. They had initially accepted the encroachment of the Dutch on the lands peacefully. The Khoi farmed cattle and sheep which were seen as an indication of status. These animals were also used for trading between clans.
When food supplies were found to be insufficient to meet the needs of both passing ships and his men, Van Riebeeck attempted to trade with the Khoi people but this turned out to be largely unsuccessful. The VOC allocated plots of land to a number of van Riebeeck's men in order to build farms and improve the supply of food. The Khoi were slowly cutoff from their traditional land and the settlers took their livestock for food. As a result their relationship with the settlers slowly soured, they became hostile and war resulted.
Eventually in the 1670s the Khoi clans disintegrated. They could not match the guns of the settlers who were encroaching on their territory, and they could no longer protect their livestock. Many escaped to higher ground to join the San. Some were imprisoned on Robben Island and a few elected to work for the new farmers who became known as 'burghers' or 'boers'.
The First Slaves
The First Slaves
The infrastructure for the VOC base at the Cape was slowly being expanded by the Dutch settlers. It soon became apparent that more manpower would be needed to complete the various projects, which could not be obtained from the Khoi, so van Riebeeck requested the VOC to send slave labour from their bases at Ceylon, India and Indonesia. Others were shipped to the Cape from Madagascar and Mozambique. This decision was to lead to the establishment of the Moslem and Malay community in Cape Town and set the course of Capetown history. A total of 60,000 slaves were brought in between 1658 and 1807.
The Beginning of Cape Town
The VOC had instructed Jan van Riebeeck that a trading post was all that they required and that a town should not be built at the Cape of Good Hope. His farmers and soldiers had other ideas however and persuaded van Riebeek to allow them to develop trade skills and professions. Eventually when van Riebeeck left in 1662 to take up a VOC post elsewhere, a number of shops, taverns and boarding houses had been built on a grid of streets which became known as 'Cape Town'. A few years later the old fort was demolished and a stone castle built which became the Governor’s residence. Jan van Riebeeck had laid the foundations for the diverse multi-ethnic society which developed in later years and for which he would always be remembered.
Simon van der Stel
Here is a name that is well remembered in Cape Town and beyond. By 1679 the VOC had seen the potential of colonising the strategic Cape region. They sent Simon van der Stel to expand the community and develop farms and settlements. Van der Stel established the first wine farm in the Cape Groot Constantia which continues to produce quality wines, and he brought in wine farmers to plant vineyards in the surrounding Cape areas which were named Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschoek.
The Cape Peninsula and Winelands were widely colonised by 1700. Wide tracts of land and businesses were allocated to immigrants from Holland. Manual work was accomplished by the use of slave labour. The settlement was not yet recognised as an official 'colony' except by the VOC at this stage and although it had a hospital it did not yet provide for formal schools and churches.