Nelson Mandela Foundation

From the 1500s European powers began establishing colonies in other parts of the world. By the beginning of the 20th century most of Africa had been colonised. Long struggles for liberation saw the start of the independence process from the early 1950s, but in some countries formal colonial governments were replaced by various forms of European settler rule.

South Africa was the last country in Africa to have such rule ended by a transition to democracy. In the 17th century the Dutch colonised the Cape. On the back of unsuccessful wars of resistance by indigenous black polities, for the next 300 years what was to become the country called South Africa experienced rule by the Dutch, the British and independent settler republics.

In 1910 Britain oversaw the establishment of the Union of South Africa, a classic settler state in which only whites enjoyed full rights of citizenship. Colonial socio-economic structures and relations remained resilient for decades after 1910. It could be argued, of course, that for black South Africans the Union was just another form of colonisation. Certainly when Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in 1918, it was into a colonial setting.