South African Background
If you want to travel in southern Africa then South Africa is a good place to start. While you can fly into any country in southern Africa, most flights will route through South Africa anyway. South Africa is also a good place to get used to traveling in the region (though some would argue that Namibia is better for that). Of course South Africa is not only a jumping off point, it is itself a superb destination rich in culture, fauna & flora and history.
Outsiders' views of South Africa are colored by the same stereotypes as the rest of Africa. Contrary to popular belief, South Africa is not devastatingly poor with an unstable government that is rapidly going to pot. Although the rural part of South Africa remains among the poorest and the least developed parts of the world and poverty in the townships can be appalling, progress is being made. The process of recovering from apartheid, which lasted almost 46 years, is quite slow. In fact, South Africa's United Nations Human Development Index which was slowly improving in the final years of apartheid, has declined dramatically since 1996, largely due to the AIDS pandemic, and poverty levels appear to be on the increase. South Africa boasts a well-developed infrastructure and has all the modern amenities and technologies, much of it developed during the years of white minority rule. The government is stable, although corruption is common. The government and the primary political parties generally have a high level of respect for democratic institutions and human rights, although the government's support of the misrule of neighboring Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has raised questions about its commitment to human rights and even democracy itself.
The tip of Africa has been home to the Khoisan (collective name for Hottentot(Koi) and Bushmen(San)) people for thousands of years. Their rock art can still be found in many places throughout South Africa. Bantu tribes started expanding into Southern Africa around 2500 years ago and by around 500 AD the different cultural groups as we know them today had been established in the area.
The first permanent European settlement was built after the Dutch East India Company reached the Cape of Good Hope in April 1652. In the late 1700's the Boers (the settling farmers) slowly started expanding into the interior. In 1795 Britain took control of the Cape and in 1820 a large group of British Settlers arrived in the region. In 1835 large numbers of Boers started out on the Groot Trek into the interior after becoming dissatisfied with the British rule. In the interior they established their own republics after a number of bloody conflicts with the local population.