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        Most of Southern Africa is situated on a high, rugged plateau. The average elevation is over 3,000 feet above sea level. In addition there are great deserts, the Namib of Namibia and the Khalahari of Botswana. In coastal regions on both the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean sides, there are fertile farmlands. But the mountains predominate and, like so many other parts of Africa, this area is rich in minerals. Most of the gold and diamonds mined in the world come from this region of Africa.

The first inhabitants of these parts were the Xhoi-San (Bushmen). These small but tough people have survived as hunters and gatherers for untold centuries, possibly from prehistoric times. From about 1400 A.D. waves of taller nomadic Africans who shared a common language family called Bantu, began to migrate to and settle down in the region. In the 1500’s Europeans, primarily Portugese and Dutch, began to settle on the coasts as well.

As the Bantu immigrants reached the more fertile coastal areas, their population rapidly increased; and by the early 1800’s they were fighting for control of these areas. In 1818, a youthful warrior came to power among a small clan called the Zulu. His name was Shaka. Within ten years, the military conquests he had initiated had completely transformed Southern Africa. Over one-fifth of the entire continent was ultimately affected by the rise of the Zulu Empire. At the same time, the European settlements continued to grow and the original Dutch settlers (Boers) grew resentful of the increasing British influence. Throughout the remainder of the century, British, Boer, and Bantu fought each other. In one mountainous area, the Basuto highlands, the Africans were able to maintain their  independence, and the region today is called Lesotho, an independent country in the middle of South Africa.

During the decades of the 1960’s to 1990’s, while other parts of Africa had long since gained independence, the Portuguese, Afrikaaners (Boers), and Rhodesians fought bitter wars with the Africans to retain control of their settler colonies. Africans in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa ultimately wrested control of their countries from the settlers. Other southern African nations –Zambia, Burundi, Lesotho, and Botswana–achieved independence through less violent conflicts.

South Africa developed in many ways like the United States, and along a similar timeline. There were wagons trains surrounded by hostile natives, gold rushes, and racial segregation (apartheid). A new chapter in the history of Southern Africa was opened when Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa in 1994. Modern urbanization is advanced in many parts of southern Africa. Cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and Pretoria in South Africa, Maputo in Mozambique, Lusaka in Zambia, Windhoek in Namibia, and Harare in Zimbabwe rival cities in any part of the world. You can go to Google Earth and literally fly over these and other African cities, using detailed satellite images, for a truly eye-opening experience.