Unit 1. Introduction
African political organization focused on the chiefdom, with followers giving their (sometimes shifting) allegiance to chiefs. Political culture featured elements of democratic expression such as the village meeting (kgotla
[Sotho-Tswana] or indaba
[Zulu]). The increase in size of political units was most marked in the well-watered areas of today’s KwaZulu-Natal, which saw the rise of the most powerful African state in the region in the early 19th century: the Zulu kingdom. Archaeological evidence in southern Africa demonstrates the existence of great civilizations with stone-walled cities, such as Mapungubwe in the Central Limpopo River Valley (800 CE to 1000 CE) and Thulamela (Venda
for “place of birth;” 1240 CE to 1630 CE) in today’s Limpopo Province. Trade and migration fuelled the growing interaction between different states and peoples, which helped change farming, technology, and culture throughout southern Africa. There is also evidence dating back almost one thousand years of long-distance trade connecting the interior of southern Africa to the east African coast, a link that extended into the vast Indian Ocean network which brought Africa into economic and cultural contact with the Arabian Peninsula and East Asia.
Beginning in 1652, however, European settlement and colonization changed the political and social landscape of southern Africa. It is to that dramatic and often violent history and its effects that we now turn.