This page on Cape Town history begins with the oldest evidence of modern man anywhere in the world, which has been discovered in the Cape. In 1994 human bones were found at a cave site on the coastline between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. They were dated back 100,000 years.
Similar discoveries have been made on the Cape Peninsula. At Langebaan on the West coast footprints belonging to a human female were dated back 117,000 years.
The first human communities known to have lived close to Table Mountain were nomadic. They left evidence of their existence in the form of rock art, the oldest of which which has been dated back 27,000 years. The Khoisan descended from these communities. This group later became subdivided into the Khoi and the San.
The Khoi people were bigger than the San and survived by herding sheep and cattle on the plains. The San Lived by hunting in the drier mountainous areas.
The Portuguese were the first European seafarers to round the Cape in the 15th century. Their trade routes across Asia had become threatened so they sought to open a new sea trade route to the Far East around the tip of Africa. Bartholemew Dias landed in what is now known as False Bay in 1488 after unknowingly sailing past Cape Point in the midst of a storm. He spent some time mapping the area before returning to Portugal.
The 'Cape of Good Hope' was then so named because it was seen as an ideal landfall location on the long sea route to Asia.
Vasco de Gama was the next explorer to visit the Cape and the southern coast of Africa in 1497. His expedition of four ships opened a sea route to India for the spice trade. He was followed through the next century by more Portuguese and Spanish trading ships.
The first Englishman to round the Cape of Good Hope in the late 16th century was Sir Francis Drake while being pursued by the Spanish fleet.
The early explorers mapped the coast of Africa, and opened the way for settlement of the Cape. They helped to influence the course of European and Southern African history. The Cape with its sheltered landfall at Table Bay became an essential landing stage on the trade route to the Far East. The city of Cape Town was established and this in turn opened up the interior of South Africa to European colonisation in later years.
The Dutch VOC Influence
English sailers landing at the Cape had reported that the resident Khoi were "ferocious" This was found not to be the case by seamen from the Dutch East India Company (VOC) who first established a supply base at the Cape in 1650. The Dutch had been concerned that the British would annexe the Cape, so despite reports of rough Cape seas, Khoi aggression and various political influences, they eventually went ahead with building a permanent settlement.
A disgraced VOC merchant Jan van Riebeeck volunteered to establish the Cape supply base. He was ordered to build a Fort for defence, and a produce garden in order to supply passing company trade ships with fresh fruit and vegetables. Cape Town history, from these small beginnings, was to change for ever.