South African Jazz: Timeline

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This special section is devoted to South African jazz, which has prospered for several decades and developed a distinctive character all its own. AAJ: SA was created in 2002 and has since been updated with a continual stream of new material.

This is the Timeline page. To visit the rest of this series, click on the links below.

Political History
CD Reviews

Timeline: 1488-1999


Bartholomeu Dias rounds the Cape of Good Hope, connecting the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Vasco 1497

Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama lands at Mossel Bay in December and is greeted by a group of local Khoi people playing flutes.


The Dutch East India Company (VOC) establishes a mainland base of operations in Cape Town, designed to assist passing ships and their personnel. Local Khoi-Khoi people (known to the Dutch as Hottentots) resist going into indentured service. Instead, the earliest slaves come from East and West Africa.


The British stage their initial occupation of the Cape Colony. They retain it from here on except for interim rule by the Dutch from 1803 to 1806. In 1806, many Dutch settlers (Boers) move north to find new areas to call their own.


English is declared the sole official language of the Cape Colony (replacing Dutch). The legacy of these two languages (with Afrikaans evolving from its Dutch roots) among Africans relates Afrikaans to oppression and English to freedom, whatever the motives and history of these two colonial groups.

Trek 1836-38

Voortrekker parties embark on the Great Trek, a massive move north away from British rule, to establish new republics of their own.


The British bring in large modern armies to take control of South Africa from the African population.


Diamonds are discovered at Kimberley, near the confluence of the Orange and Vaal rivers.. The new industry demands a huge amount of labor to mine the precious stones, and up to 25,000 mineworkers come to work the site. Male workers arrive en masse, for the most part to the exclusion of women. The women who do arrive often sponsor homemade liquor, housekeeping, and sexual services. After legal and jurisdictional controversy, the British take control of the area in 1871.


The government divides Kimberley into the government-controlled Crown Estate and the privately-owned London Estate. While black workers live in the Crown Estate on their employers' property or in officially segregated areas, they also crowd into the London Estate, which is riddled with high crime and a prosperous black market in diamonds, among other commodities.


The Xhosa, who fought nine wars of resistance against the colonizers over more than a century, are finally defeated by the British. The late 1870's are a period of bitter conflict between armed Africans and the British colonials. During a coup in 1877 the British annex the Transvaal.


The secretary of the African Mission Board announces that the density of Christian missions in Natal exceeds any other area on the planet. While these missions are influential in recruiting Africans to Christianity, they also bring about great alienation among Zulus, who in effect excommunicate anyone who adopts European religion. The Africans who convert find they are unable to acquire higher education in South Africa, so many go to American colleges. The returning graduates bring with them a legacy of the Afro-American experience. However, church-educated blacks find over time they they are for a while able to carry a pass exemption which allows them to travel.

Gold Mine


The largest gold discovery in recorded history occurs on the Witwatersrand in the southern Transvaal (later known as the Rand). Miners (and a variety of other laborers) migrate to meet the labor demands of the new industry. For over 30 years, the demand for cheap labor vastly exceeds the supply. 95% of the African migrants are male; the women who come are displaced by male "houseboys" in domestic service, and many end up involved in covert service industries that include alcohol distribution (see below).


Cecil Rhodes' De Beers conglomerate takes over Kimberley diamond operations. It establishes dense and disease-ridden labor camps and restricts travel of mineworkers to prevent desertion. Crime in the newly expanding regions reaches epidemic levels.


Freedom of movement among mine workers and other laborers is regulated by Pass Laws; property ownership in the towns is forbidden.


The Salvation Army begins work in South Africa, introducing brass bands and singing brigades to Africans in the cities and mining areas. Musical education is central to the mission of the Salvation Army.


Chief Hans Mosibi appeals to the goverment in Pretoria for more land with a performance consisting of reed instruments and bagpipe.


An African Native Choir consisting of students from Kimberley and Lovedale tours Britain.


Africans working at the gold mines of the East Rand strike, leading to an immediate violent police response that kills eight people.


Mission stations in every province have brass bands; marching bands are particularly popular among German colonials.


The Transvaal government legislates the Liquor Act of 1896, which imposes total prohibition on Africans, including traditional low-alcohol grain beers. The immediate consequences of this act contradict its stated goals—a black market liquor trade begins to flourish, and stronger (and deadlier) forms of liquor became available to Africans.



Xhosa teacher Enoch Sontonga composes the song "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrica" (God Bless Africa). This song is first performed in 1899 and remains a long-enduring anthem for many Africans. After being performed at the 1912 inauguration of the South African Native National Congress (later the ANC), it is adopted as the official song of the African National Congress in 1925. Additional verses are later added by the Xhosa "national poet" S.E. Mqayi.


The local Christian movement, spurred by Eurpoean missionaries, reaches a point of affirmation when the African Methodist Episcopal Chuch ordains 65 local ministers. Christianity would affect the development of a musical South African musical identity in many ways: an emphasis on literacy, the regular performance of hymns and spirituals, the use of the organ and harmonium, and the freedom to perform music and dance on Sundays. African Christians eke out a tiny modicum of diminishing respect.


A local census places the number of African mine workers at around 100,000. A year later the number of Africans at the Rand is estimated at around 40,000. Employers organize dance contests among African workers in an attempt to keep them from engaging in liquor consumption and illegal activity. Unfortunately these dance contests apply European rules and largely serve to extract as much traditional culture as possible from these activities.

Boer War


Boer War. The British fight Boers (Dutch) for control of South Africa. (Africans are involved and manipulated at every stage of the conflict.) The British win the war and form the Union of South Africa in 1904. However, they draft constitutions that yield political control to the Afrikaners.


Governmental regulations require local labor for the gold mines to live in formal labor camps, instead of the loosely organized makeshift housing which predominated before this point.


An outbreak of the bubonic plague causes the government to burn down Brickfields (Newtown) in central Johannesburg and evacuate blacks to nearby Nancefield-Klipspruit. A year later, the government legislates the Coloured Labourers Health Ordinance, with new health guidelines, in response to a rising mortality rate among black mine workers that had risen to 10 percent.


The violent Bambata Rebellion of 1906 brings the political unrest of Africans in Natal to a head. Black Christians are blamed by the government for organizing this revolt. Subsequent rebellions such as the Bullhoek Massacre of 1921 are organized by African Zionists.


Municipal regulations in Johannesburg prohit whites to provide accomodations to blacks other than servants. The specified goal of these laws is to isolate whites from black disease. Other laws require blacks to live in specified city locations and establish a 9pm curfew. Needless to say, these rules are impossible to enforce. Housing shortages mean that blacks occupy urban slums known as "slumyards" because they are often erected of temporary materials in the back yards of white landowners.


The Natal Legislative Assembly allows towns in the Colony to establish a municipal beer monopoly.


The Durban Native Beer Act controls access to beer by establishing a monopoly on the product and specifying that it can only be consumed in approved municipal beer halls.


Reuben Caluza, an organist, pianist, and composer, begins teaching music at Ohlange in South Africa. He later studies music in the US during the 1930s. Caluza is considered the most important composer of modern Zulu choral music, and hugely influential with the isicathamiya style of vocal performance. His work continues with educational and performance programs designed to promote traditional African music forms as well as cross-cultural hybrids (especially with respect to Christian music). Calusa is among the first to promote the use of the pennywhistle in ensemble performance. (The pennywhistle later evolves into the foremost instrument of kwela.) He also introduces the organ and piano to larger audiences, popularizing the instrument that dominates early marabi music and incorporates early elements of the American ragtime tradition.


Britain hands over the control of the African kingdoms to the Boer and British settlers when it gives them independence. The government of the Union of South Africa continues to recognize only the rights of whites.


In a call for African unity, Pixley ka Isaka Seme tries to bring the native people of South Africa together: "We are one people. these divisions, these jealousies, are the cause of all our woes today."


1912 (Jan.8)

The South African Native National Congress (later the African National Congress, or ANC) is founded, led by Sol Plaatje.


The first commercial recordings of South African songs are recorded.


The Land Act brings about massive African land dispossession in South Africa, dramatically affecting Zulu, Xhosa, and Sotho peoples. It prohibits Africans from buying, renting, or using land, except in the reserves (which account for a mere 13% of the land in South Africa). The Land Act causes widespread poverty and starvation.

SANNC delegation


A five-man group representing the South African Native National Congress, including Sol Plaatje (lower right in picture), goes to England to protest the 1913 Land Act.


The Western Native Township is established in 1918 near a sewage farm twelve miles from the city.


The Great Flu causes the death of thousands of Africans.


A Johannesburg ordinance prohibits Africans from trading, except under officially approved sanction. The new law means the end of social, commercial, and ritual functions in city areas. Of course the black market rises to meet the new demand.

1918 (July 18)

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is born in a village in the Transkei. He receives his primary education at a mission school, then enrolls at the University College of Fort Hare. After being suspended for protest activity, he finishes his college degree by correpondence in Johannesburg.


Two major uprisings cause chaos in South Africa. First, the ANC organizes a campaign on the Rand against pass laws. Second, 70,000 African miners go on strike. Police respond with violence. Government troops kill three and wound forty, breaking into the group of striking miners. A meeting of solidarity with the striking miners is similarly disrupted by the police with eight casualties and eighty wounded.



The uniquely South African musical form known as marabi rises to prominence in Johannesburg districts like Sophiatown, Jamestown, Dikatole and Orlando (which later becomes Soweto). Marabi, a working-class music, is closely associated with shebeen culture and often played on an organ or piano. Not unlike the Harlem in the '20s, marabi is a culture of the underclass which featured dancing and early elements of Afro-American jazz and vaudeville. By this time gramophones and "bioscopes" are showing off (Afro-)American culture in Johannesburg.


The Communist Party, the first non-racial political organization in South Africa, is formed.

1921 (May 24)

The Bulhoek Massacre takes place near Queenstown. White police interrupt a religious gathering and kill almost 200 people in ten minutes.


Rebellion of the White Mineworkers of the Witwatersrand.


The Urban Areas Act ensures permanent urban segregation. Ownership is reduced to rental, except for the few blacks already owning land in designated areas. This act plays a major role in the destruction of Marabi. In Johannesburg, this results in all but three areas designated as white. Complete resettlement of urban blacks is delayed for a decade because the demand for housing in designated areas cannot keep up with the sudden increase in demand. By the early 1930's, a slumyard study reports that the average slumyard domicile is about eight feet square, but despite the crowding many blacks prefer not to relocate.



A major stir in anthropology is announced by Raymond Dart with the discovery of a skeleton with human and ape anatomical features. The specimen is named Australopithecus africanus.


The African National Congress adopts "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrica" (God Bless Africa, composed by Enoch Sontonga in 1897) as its official song. Music has long been a part of the underground African political movement. Albert Luthuli, the ANC president from 1952-67 (and subsequent Nobel Prize winner), was a member of Reuben Caluza's vocal group (see 1909) and served as a choir conductor before he entered politics.


Hertzog invents the color bar, classifying South African residents by race.


A popular boycott of Durban's municipal beer halls is organized to protest the consequences of the 1909 Native Beer Act.


Eric Gallo establishes the first recording studio in Johannesburg.

1932 (Mar. 4)

Future international vocal star Miriam Makeba is born in Johannesburg.

M Bros


The Manhattan Brothers vocal group is offered a recording contract by Gallo Records. Unfortunately when they show up to the studio, they find out that it is incredibly primitive, with one mike hanging from roof. Furthermore, they have to use white sessions musicians who won't talk with them. Once war breaks out in Europe, they lose contact with the printing facilities in Britain and the recording is never released.


The Liquor Amendment Act of 1934 prohibits any native, Asiatic, or coloured people on "white" liquor-licensed premises (unless they were black, over 18, and involved in "cleaning or conveying." This shuts down any black participation as entertainment at these clubs.


Dollar Brand (later Abdullah Ibrahim) is born in Cape Town. He receives his first piano lessons at the age of seven and goes professional at the age of fifteen with the Tuxedo Slippers and the Willie Max Big Band.


By 1935, about 20,000 blacks live in Orlando, a township to the southwest of Johannesburg. But their musical events and social gatherings were prohibited by a number of municipall regulations, including the 1933 Orlando Advisory Board's decision that "all night entertainmente be not allowed in private houses... by reason of disorder, rowdiness, and being a nuisance to others."


As a result of massive dispossession, the number of urban blacks in South Africa explodes. The 1936 Johannesburg census estimates about 230,000 blacks in the city, and that figure does not include the 93,000 who avoid formal accounting.

1936 (Dec. 24)

White pianist and composer Chris McGregor is born in Somerset West. After moving to Transkei, he absorbs African music. These experiences stay with him during his classical education at the University of Cape Town several years later, where he gigs with local jazz musicians (of all colors). Often during these performances he has to wear a cap to hide his blond hair.


1939 (Apr. 4)

Hugh Masekela is born in Johannesburg. Raised by his grandmother, the boy gets his first trumpet at age 14. Playing in the Huddleston School Jazz Band, where he first met Jonas Gwangwa and future South African stars, he listens to swing and then bop.


The African Mineworkers' Union is formed. The following year it holds an event to celebrate, and invited two of the country's top groups to perform: the Synco Fans (Wilfred Sentso's vaudville company) and the Jazz Maniacs.


The first radio broadcasting for Africans appears in the form of war reports in Zulu, broadcast from Durban and eventually extended to Johannesburg and the East Cape. As this service evolves, traditional music and a wide variety of modern South African styles begin to appear on the air. But when radio begins expanding more rapidly, black culture is forced out of media delivery and censorship prohibits the broadcast of political statements of banned groups.



Nelson Mandela joins the African National Congress.

1946 (August)

100,000 African miners strike on the Rand. Police force the workers back into the mines, killing or injuring hundreds of workers. 52 people are arrested on charges of conspiracy.


The Non-European Affairs Department (NEAD) establishes the Johannesburg Bantu Music Festival (JBMF). This event, designed to cultivate musical talent and appreciation among Africans, has a program with 84 separate sections representing different types of music. Contest winners can perform at City Hall. However, whites gain control of the JBMF and by 1953 the jazz category is dropped. The JBMF remains a source of music fort he African middle class until 1956.


A series of anthropological discoveries in South Africa result in major revisions to hominid evolutionary theory. In 1947, Robert Broom finds a near perfect Australopithecus africanus cranium (2.5 MYO) at Sterkfontain. Two years later, he finds fragments of an early hominid with stone tools at Swartkrans. This new family member (2 MYO) is later classified by Phillip Tobias as Homo habilis ("handy man"), the first tool-maker. Also in 1949, Broom & Robinson find Homo erectus along with stone tools and evidence for the ability to make fire.


Daniel F. Malan's National Party wins all-white elections with a minority of votes on the foundation of apartheid (the Afrikaner word for segregation). The National Party continues to control the South African government until 1994 through a successive chain of Afrikaner leaders. A series of new laws formalize the de facto practices of apartheid. Different ethnic groups are officially defined; separate institutions for each group created; and intermarriage outlawed.


The introduction of Christian National Education serves up a warped version of Afrikaner history, stressing the virtues of Afrikaners as a persecuted people, to schoolchildren and public institutions. Amazingly enough, the same ideas are also taught in the new black schools organized under the Bantu Education department.


The "Programme of Action," stressing nonviolent civil disobedience, is adopted as official African National Congress policy at its annual conference.


The ruling South African National Party officially bans the Communist Party.


The Group Areas Act formally establishes townships for black-only dwelling, with residents renting from white landowners.


Mbaqanga develops as a unique art form in South African music, led by players like Zakes Nkosi, Elijah Nkwanyana, and Michale Zabu. It embodies a strong statement of political protest from the very beginning.


Mandela is elected National Volunteer-in-Chief for the ANC's new civil disobedience campaign, the Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws. For his role in this effort, he is arrested and convicted based on the anti-Communist legislation instated two years earlier. After release, he is confined to Johannesburg and prohibited from attending political gatherings. During this period he acquires law credentials and becomes a Deputy President of the ANC. Mandela spends subsequent years in the '50s in and out of prison.


The popular male vocal group the Manhattan Brothers chooses Miriam Makeba as their vocalist. Their first song together is "Lakutshona Ilanga," on The Manhattan Brothers. The group tours for three years with Makeba. Later on Makeba will form the Skylarks (with Letta Mbulu, Mary Rabotapa, and Abigail Kubheka).


Pennywhistle player Spokes Mashiyane records "Ace Blues," the major kwela hit of the year.



Trevor Huddleston, an English priest in Sophiatown during the relocation of the black community there, writes in a prominent English newspaper, "I am pleading for a cultural boycott of South Africa."


Sophiatown, a Johannesburg district historically exempt from the Land Act, is emptied by government forces. For decades Sophiatown had represented a cultural melting pot which spawned several developments in art and music (as well as its share of crime and political rebellion). By 1960 the magic of Sophiatown is dead.


Equity, the British Actors' Union, declares that none of its members should participate in any South African theater.


A group of 20,000 women gather before the main government offices in Pretoria and protest the right to passbook access by singing "Nkosi Sikele i' Afrika" (the official protest song of the ANC, written in 1897).



The Jazz Epistles form, featuring pianist Dollar Brand, trumpet player Hugh Masekela, and alto saxophonist Kippi Moeketsi. Their 1960 release Jazz Epistle (on Gallo) is the first modern jazz record to be recorded in South Africa. In 1961 they play at the Cold Castle Jazz Festival in Soweto and win first prize for jazz band.


The musical play King Kong is conceived in South Africa, casting the tragic story of South African heavyweight boxer Ezekial "King Kong" Dhlamini around African musical and theater stars. Members of the Manhattan Brothers, which have become wildly popular, join others in the cast. MB lead singer Nathan Mdledle stars as the main character; Miriam Makeba his lady love, Joyce; and MB Joe Mogotsi as his gangster rival. The score, composed by Tod Matshikiza, incorporates a band of leading South African musicians including Kippie Moeketsi. Black artists who would be unable to gain passports are allowed to perform in London until the governement realizes, in Mogotsi's words, that the musical offers a "great chance to show what we got, to show what SA has." Once the group performs in London in 1960, they realize the true extent of racism in South Africa—and many (including Miriam Makeba, her husband Hugh Masekela, and the Manhattan Brothers) do not return. Masekela goes on to study at Royal Academy of Muisic in London and the Manhattan School of Music in New York. Makeba goes on to win a Grammy for her performance on the album "An Evening with Harry Belafonte & Miriam Makeba."



The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to Albert Luthuli (ANC president from 1952-67). In his acceptance speech, he notes that the South African Minister of the Interior "expressed the view that I did not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for 1960." He goes on to say that "In Africa, as our contribution to peace, we are resolved to end such evils as oppression, white supremacy and racial discrimination, all of which are incompatible with world peace and security."


Most African colonies are granted independence. The reluctance of the British to release South Africa from the Commonwealth because of apartheid is abruptly rendered irrelevant when the South African ruling National Party officially declares independence.


The Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 leads to death and injury of hundreds of African pass protesters, and results in the arrest of hundreds of thousands of people a year over the next decade. As a result of this revolt, the ruling National Party declares the first State of Emergency, essentially establishing a police state. It bans the formation of political groups, establishes new laws blocking the interaction of different racial groups, and sets up new regulations on the employment of non-white labor. After the Sharpeville Massacre, the African National Congress is outlawed. Nelson Mandela, still on trial, is detained.


One of the earliest boycotts of South Africa is propsed by the British Musicians Union, which prohibits its members from performing in racist South Africa. Any member with a British passport is not allowed to be associated with South Africa. As a result, the Rolling Stones concert in 1964 is cancelled. This boycott is followed in the next few years by similar decisions by Irish artists and British screenwriters.


The African National Congress abandons nonviolent protest and takes up arms against the South African Government. In 1962, Mandela leaves the country for military training in Algeria and to arrange training for other MK (ANC military wing) members. His punishment when arrested in South Africa is a sentence of five years in prison.



Dollar Brand leaves South Africa with his trio (with bassist Johnny Gertze and drummer Makaya Ntshoko) to tour Europe. He leaves his very close collaborator, altoist Kippie Moeketsi, behind. Duke Ellington arranges a recording session (and the 1963 record "Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio") after hearing the group at Z'urich's Africana Club. Brand's group continues to perform at European Festivals for the next two years.


Chris McGregor's group performs at the Castle Lager Jazz Festival at Moroka-Jabavu Stadium in Soweto. This performance is a defining moment in McGregor's career, since it introduces him to future Blue Note comrades Dudu Pukwana, Louis Moholo, and Mongezi Feza. A year later McGregor returns to the festival with his band the Blue Notes and wins best jazz band. The Cold Castle series ends a year later due to violence between township gangs.


South African police raid the secret headquarters of the African National Congress's military wing (MK), arresting its leadership. In the subsequent Rivonia trial, they charge the MK's leadership with sedition.


Still serving a five year sentence which began in 1962, Nelson Mandela is sentenced to life imprisonment for fomenting violent rebellion. He spends twenty years in the notorious Robben Island Prison, a maximum security compound on a small island off of Cape Town. While incarcerated, he conducts political education classes with inmates. (In April 1984 he is transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town, and in December 1988 he is moved to the Victor Verster Prison near Paarl.)


After arranging a nationwide tour to raise money, Chris McGregor and the Blue Notes agree to play at the Antibes Jazz Festival in the summer of 1964. They leave South Africa via Mozambique. Their 20-minute performance at the festival earns accolades from Down Beat for "their urgent, angular, unselfconscious music." The Blue Notes never return to South Africa (although tenor player Nikele "Nick" Moyake gets sick and returns home, eventually dying of a brain tumor). After a brief stay in Zurich, the group moves to Britain in 1965. For a while they play weekly gigs at Ronnie Scott's in London, enjoying critical acclaim and the participation of various local musicians. They record their first record since self-imposed exile, Very Urgent, on Polydor.


Dollar Brand marries South African jazz vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin. He plays the Newport Jazz Festival and then tours the United States for the first time. He leads the Duke Ellington Orchestra for five shows one year later, and then joins Elvin Jones for a while. In 1968 he tours as a solo piano artist. The same year, Brand officially changes his name to Abdullah Ibrahim upon his conversion to Islam.



Vocalist Miriam Makeba releases three records on American labels. Her single "Pata Pata" rises to No. 12 on the American singles chart, the first penetration of the American charts by a South African artist. Interestingly, "pata" comes from a Xhosa term meaning "to touch or feel." It eventually comes to describe a sexually suggestive dance style.


Hugh Masekela releases Grazing in the Grass, which reaches No. 1 on the US charts in 1968. Four million copies of the record are sold worldwide.


The UN General Assembly adopts resolution 2396, prohibiting cultural, educational, and sports exchanges with South Africa.


Three years after unveiling his new big band, the Brotherhood of Breath, Chris McGregor activates them for extended performance and recording. The RCA label presents the first BoB recording on its Neon imprint, followed by the acclaimed Brotherhood. The group records a total of eight records, getting together intermittently over the course of the next several years.


Abdullah Ibrahim briefly returns to South Africa in the mid-'70s to record two albums, including the brilliant protest masterpiece Mannenberg. He largely releases these recordings on his own label, Sun (As-shams) Records, run by Rashid Vally. But by 1976, Ibrahim goes back to New York because of the terrible situation in his home country.



A student revolt in Soweto ignites protests throughout South Africa, inspired by the "Black Consciousness" movement of activist Steve Biko. Tensions escalate when Biko is arrested and killed in police custody. The South African government declares a new State of Emergency to quell the unrest.

1981 (Jan. 30-31)

In protest of the apartheid regime, Western European nations agree to an oil embargo against South Africa at the Conference of West European Parliamentarians in Brussels.


The African National Congress declares an international cultural boycott against the apartheid regime.


President P.W. Botha proposes a new parliament which includes coloured (mixed-race) and Indian representatives, but no Africans. His proposal meets with expected hostility from the ignored African majority.


Members of the Rastafarian band Splash are convicted to 17 months' imprisonment for chanting "Je Mandela" (a tribute to Mandela), "Je Biko" (the leader of the Black Consciousness movement), and "Je Oliver Tambo" (the president of the ANC).


The United Nations begins publishing a register of entertainers, actors, and others, who break the boycott and perform in South Africa. This becomes known as the "Blacklist."


The South African National Party Cabinet Minister Stoffel Van der Merwe admits that the apartheid master plan (which included 317 laws) is no longer "realistic."


After eight decades, the National Party finally recognizes shebeens and makes a half-hearted attempt to legalize the omnipresent black-run establishments (see notes from 1908-09). Initially 27 licenses are granted to Soweto shebeen operators, followed by 36 more nationwide. By now there are several hundred licensed shebeens, but that number remains dwarfed by alternative operations. A number of the newly-recognized shebeens have turned into tourist attractions.


Piet Koornof, the incumbent Minister of Cooperation and Development, declares to the world that "apartheid is dead." Ample evidence to the contrary makes his statement an absurd point.



Paul Simon arrives in South Africa to record Graceland with local stars Stimela and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Despite breaking the cultural boycott, Simon pays his performers three times the New York scale. Proceeds from the tour that follows are donated to displaced "Children of Apartheid," as well as other human rights troups.


Sparked by impetus from the African National Congress, township leaders protest apartheid by civil disobedience. In the place of the old administrative system, new democratic structures are installed. Unarmed protesters meet with support from the armed resistance, and as a result of the mass insurrection the National Party establishes a State of Emergency in July (for the third time in South African history). Police and military units engage in guerrila warfare with angry black youths. By mid-1986 the government escalates its condition to a National Emergency which lasts until 1990. Hundreds of thousands of people (including a substantial proportion of young people) are arrested and detained.


177 mineworkers are killed as a result of a polyurethane fire at the Kinross gold mine, the largest mining accident in South African history.


Paul Simon releases his immensely popular record Graceland. The project, controversial because it violated the ANC's cultural boycott, sparks interest among American audiences in South African musicians like Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Outspoken political exiles like Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela join Simon for the Graceland world tour in 1987.


Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath makes its last South African appearance at Greenmarket Square in Cape Town. Following their performance at the North Sea Jazz festival the same year, the Brotherhood of Breath are hailed by a Dutch reporter as "the best free jazz big band in the world." They complete a 1989 tour with Archie Shepp, then plan a US tour. Unfortunately this plan unravels when McGregor dies of cancer on May 26, 1990. The group finishes its current European engagements in his absence as a tribute.


On July 13, 1988 (Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday), a concert is organized at Wembley Stadium by a new organization called Artists Against Apartheid. This is the third biggest media event ever—more than a billion people watch it live. The twelve-hour show, beamed to the world via satellite, draws massive world attention to the disastrous situation in South Africa and serves as a major turning point in the world's perspective on apartheid.

de Klerk

1990 (Feb. 2)

President F.W. de Klerk announces the un-banning the ANC and other political organisations (including the Communist Party). Furthermore, he authorizes the release of political prisoners. As a result, Nelson Mandela is released from Vistor Verster Prison on February 11. After his release, Mandela rejoins the political cause which brought about his incarceration.


Abdullah Ibrahim (n'é Dollar Brand) returns to South Africa, though he continues to divide his time between South Africa and New York. Likewise, Miriam Makeba also comes back in December, holding her first concert after her return in 1991.


The African National Congress holds its first national conference inside South Africa after having been forced to meet outside the country for decades. Nelson Mandela is elected as President and long-term activist Oliver Tambo becomes the National Chairperson.


Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk share the Nobel Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech, Mandela envisions the goal of his life's work: "Thus shall we live, because we will have created a society which recognises that all people are born equal, with each entitled in equal measure to life, liberty, prosperity, human rights and good governance."

Mandela Voting


After negotiations with the African National Congress, South Africa holds its first free elections in late April. The ANC wins these elections easily with over 60% of the vote. On May 10, Nelson Mandela is inaugurated as the President of South Africa. He is supported by an ANC legislative majority and proceeds to build a Government of National Unity in South Africa.

1996 (Dec. 10)

President Mandela signs a new Constitution for the Republic of South Africa after its certification by the Consitutional Court six days prior. The Constitution becomes law in early 1997 and is implemented in phases.

Robben Island

1997 (Jan. 1)

On New Year's Day, Robben Island Prison (the site of Mandela's long incarceration beginning in the '60s) is turned into a monument to the struggle for freedom. Tourists can visit daily.


After a new round of free elections, Thabo Mbeki replaces Nelson Mandela as president. Executive Deputy President Jacob Zuma is sworn in one day later.

This timeline covers a sampling of major political, social, and cultural events in South Africa, with special emphasis on apartheid and South African jazz. It does not purport to provide a complete history of the country. And yes, please do forgive the inaccuracies. We aren't perfect. Please let the editor know if you spot anything that's not right.

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