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Located on the southern edge of Africa, Cape Town is the first European settlement in South Africa. In 1652 the Dutch East India Company established a refreshment station for its ships on the shores of Table Bay, a harbor just to the northwest of the Cape of Good Hope with convenient access to fresh water. Within a few years Dutch colonists ventured outside of the forts and set up farmsteads, working the fields with African slaves imported from other locations. The local native inhabitants (the Khoekhoe, whom the Dutch called "Hottentots") were not enslaved, and in fact many lived side by side with and in some cases intermarried with the colonists. By the turn of the century the town had some 200 houses and a thriving port.
During the seventeenth century the port continued to grow in size and in strategic importance, its position allowing the Dutch to dominate the Cape of Good Hope, the primary water passage between Europe and the Far East. The British sought to occupy the port in 1781, during the American Revolution, but a French fleet beat them to it, establishing a garrison to help the Dutch keep it out of British control.
As the century progressed the British dominance of the high seas gave them increasing leverage over African colonies. Ownership of Cape Town passed back and forth between England and the Netherlands, and by 1814 title of the colony passed to Britain permanently. The British freed the slaves in 1834, and within a few years the young city's population reached some 20,000 citizens. In 1870 diamonds were discovered inland from the city, and roughly 16 years later gold was found as well. This brought a massive influx of prospectors and those who supported/preyed upon them to the city and the land beyond.
At the turn of the 20th century the Boer War (1899-1902) broke out between the British and the Boer Republics, which, depending upon which historians you read, was a fight to end growing British tyranny over the people of Dutch ancestry, a rebellion by Afrikaans seeking to continue to enslave and oppress non-Whites, or a war between greedy politicians over the growing profits from the gold and diamond mines. The war was long and bitter, and though fighting took place miles inland, the city was an important military base for the British, and it gained an industrial base constructing war materials and other supplies.
In 1910 the British colonies of Cape Colony, Transvaal, Natal and Orange River were unified into the Union of South Africa, and Cape Town was its capital. The 20th century saw increased efforts by the European inhabitants to protect themselves from what they saw as a growing threat of being overwhelmed by the African natives. Increasingly odious Apartheid laws relegated non-white citizens to subservient status, with limited access to employment and education, and almost no say in government or control over their own affairs. The struggle for equality intensified over the course of the century and, along with internal resistance, the white government faced growing sanctions from the rest of the world. By 1990 the Apartheid system was in collapse, and Cape Town and South Africa saw the appointment of Nelson Mandela as president, the first black man to ever hold that title.
Modern Cape Town is a vibrant, growing city. It still faces the after-effects of years of inter-racial struggle and the poverty and lack of education of a large portion of its native inhabitants. But it survived the transition from Apartheid to near universal democracy with remarkably little violence (thanks largely to the genius of Nelson Mandela). Though the city is troubled by the ailments that face all modern cities (and some unique to itself), Cape Town's future remains bright.