About 8 months back, I went to South Africa. I did try to learn a bit about the country before going there. I was very much surprised to learn that 'Apartheid' was a thing/practice till Nelson Mandela's release from jail in 1992. From what little I could garner in my brief time is that both countries (India and South Africa) was annexed/taken over by other countries multiple times.

I could not figure out why the two countries differed in the final outcome. While India was able to become a Self-Independent state in 1947 (for Indians, by Indians) South Africa is still ruled by minor European people (they were repeatedly annexed by both Britain and Holland/Dutch successively over centuries).

The strategies employed by both countries are similar. We, Indians used a mix of non-violent passive-resistance (Gandhiji and the Gandhian movement) and violent resistance (Subhash Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad and many others). For South Africans they had Nelson Mandela and I'm sure there were people who took violence as a way to gain independence.

What differences or factors could be attributed for the way history became in the two countries ?

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    Erm What do you mean? In India, No colonists arrived from Europe to permanently settle (Not counting individuals). In South Africa, Boer and other white people permanently settled and thereby became South Africans. Whatever happened next, the apartheid and stuff, That's internal politics of SA not colonization. So the comparison is absolutely invalid and illogical.
    – NSNoob
    Jan 13, 2017 at 9:07
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    Nelson Mandela wasn't fighting for expelling white South Africans from the country. He was fighting to end the apartheid and oppression of Black South Africans. I'd suggest reading about South Africa and Apartheid regime before posting questions which may seem illogical
    – NSNoob
    Jan 13, 2017 at 9:11
  • @NSNoob - However, there is an interesting reason why no colonists arrived from Europe to permanently settle.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 13, 2017 at 15:50
  • @T.E.D. I always assumed it was because India had very strong history, a great civilization which was just became static at one point and lagged behind Europeans a bit and got overwhelmed. So that wasn't essentially a place you could hope to claim with settlers, the same case as North Africa (Excluding Algeria but we all know how that attempt went) and Mid-East. Which was not the case with Americas, Australia, New Zealand, where indigenous people were, uh, primitive is the word I am looking for? I'd like to know your thoughts about this?
    – NSNoob
    Jan 13, 2017 at 15:56
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    Jamesqf Britain did choose to live but it wasn't to please their public. Britain always relied on Indian armed forces to retain their control on india and never had a huge british army or their own colonists living there. Naval mutiny made them understand that indian armed forces were no longer reliable and if the veterans of ww2 decided to rebel like 1857, what was an exhausted Britain going to do? Better leave with dignity intact rather than after getting humiliated in a costly war.
    – NSNoob
    Jan 13, 2017 at 23:42

2 Answers 2


First of all, both India and South Africa became free of Britain, shortly after World War II, India in 1947, and South Africa in 1948.

Your question appears to be, why didn't "indigenous" people in South Africa become free at the same time as the Indians.

The answer is that there was a large white minority in South Africa (about 25% of the population) in South Africa, who held a disproportionate share of the wealth and power. Within this "minority," the British were only second; the larger group was a Dutch-descended group called the Boers. Moreover, the non-white 75% was split into three distinct groups, Africans, Indians, and "Coloureds," people of "mixed" backgrounds, with the Africans further subdivided into different tribes.

The Boers filled the power vacuum left by the British. It was not until 1994 that Nelson Mandela managed to enforce the principle of "one person one vote," that gave the black majority (theoretically) equal rights with the whites.

In no other former British colony was there such a large European minority that retained "colonial" power after the British left. Put another way, there was a second white "layer" that retained power after the colony became independent of Britain.

  • That actually makes much more sense, thank you.
    – shirish
    Jan 13, 2017 at 11:22
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    @SteveBird" In America, Canada and Australia/NZ, that is, the "settlement" countries, the Anglos and other white peoples constituted a majority. In South Africa, a white minority stood in the way of "majority rule."
    – Tom Au
    Jan 13, 2017 at 14:23

Following up on Tom's answer, there is actually a reason there was a large white minority in South Africa, but not in India.

The Bantu peoples (of which most living native South Africans are descendents) spread across most of Sub-Saharan Africa in large part due to having an agricultural package that worked well for that tropical climate. In particular, millet and sorghum. Indian agriculture was heavily reliant on tropical/subtropical rice and millet crops. European agriculture was heavily reliant on temperate and Mediterranean crops like wheat and barley. Keeping that in mind, look at the world climate map below:

enter image description here

You may notice here that, while India is all tropical and subtropical, South Africa has a lot of Steppe, savannah, and a strip of Mediterranean climate on the south coast. These areas, particularly the southern coast area, are not places where millet and sorghum grow well. That explains why those areas were relatively lighter populated when Europeans arrived; if you can't grow crops there, you can't support the population density associated with an agricultural (rather than herding or hunter-gatherer) society. The fact that their crops grew great there explains why the Europeans themselves found it a great place to emigrate to, and thrived there.

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    Note if you zoom in to the southern tip of Africa, the areas of Mediterranean, steppe, and subtropical forest correspond amazingly well with this map of the British, Xhosa, and Zulu areas in the early 1800s.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 13, 2017 at 15:35
  • +1 Ted. Would it be asking too much if you were to explain a bit about climate of North Africa and Levant and why did European colonists never settled those areas even though presumably they had a Mediterranean climate as well given that they were actually on the Mediterranean coasts?
    – NSNoob
    Jan 13, 2017 at 15:59
  • @NSNoob - Its fairly simple: because those places already had farming societies making just as good use of the land as Europeans did. And we can see this just by looking at history and noticing that Europeans tried it in those places several times, and always eventually got pushed back out. Its the places where hunters or herders were trying to compete with European farmers (or where the native farmers were culled down to low densities by European diseases) where the natives didn't stand a chance.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 13, 2017 at 16:03
  • @T.E.D. Ah I see. So my assumption wasn't wrong about lack of European permanent settlements in developed civilizations such as Arab or Indian. Thanks a lot
    – NSNoob
    Jan 13, 2017 at 16:04
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    @NSNoob - Correct. This is basically a Guns, Germs, & Steel argument (with a small twist). If you haven't read it, definitely go do so. It is the closest thing this website has to "required reading".
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 13, 2017 at 16:07

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