Status: Parliamentary Republic
Population: 55,380,210 (2018 estimate)
Area: 468,909 square miles
Currency: 100 cents = 1 rand (R1 = 7¢ US)
Southern Africa was a barren, sparsely populated land when the Portuguese arrived in 1488. King John II optimistically named Africa’s tip “the Cape of Good Hope,” though his navigators favored the “Cape of Storms.” By the 17th century, the Dutch were the principal maritime power in the region. They established a permanent settlement near Cape Town. Private farmers called Boers raised crops to support the growing ship traffic.
This 1857 Cape of Good Hope 1-penny rose Triangle, Scott 3, was one of the first stamps used in what later became South Africa.
Britain took Dutch settlements as prizes of the Napoleonic Wars. Because of its strategic importance, the British made it the Cape a crown colony in 1815 and encouraged settlement, while the Boers moved further inland onto African lands. Tensions grew between the British, the Boers and the African tribes. The Boers established several states in their migration northward; the South African Republic, the Orange Free State and Transvaal are known to philatelists. The British established new jurisdictions as they subjugated African nations; among those with a philatelic legacy are British Bechuanaland, Zululand, Griqualand West and Natal.
At the end of the 19th century, diamonds and gold were found on Afrikaner lands. Whereas the British had considered the Boers a nuisance, their new wealth made them a strategic threat. From 1880 to 1902, two Anglo-Boer wars were fought before the British finally conquered them.
From 1926 to 1949 regular South African stamps were issued in bilingual pairs with text in English and Afrikaans, like these 1926 6p Orange Trees, Scott 25.
In 1910, the four existing states of Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Natal and Transvaal formed the Union of South Africa. It restricted the rights of non-whites and in 1948 formally adopted the segregationist policy of Apartheid. In 1951, it established so-called black “Homelands” for specific tribal groups. Four of these—Transkei (1976), Bophuthatswana (1977), Venda (1979) and Ciskei (1981) — were nominally independent and issued postage stamps. In the 1990s an accommodation was sought with the African community. Free elections were held in 1994 and, on April 27, 1994, the “Homelands” were re-incorporated into South Africa.
The Cape Colony issued two triangular stamps in 1853, denominated 1p and 4p. Natal was annexed in 1843 to block Boer control of the eastern coast, and issued stamps in 1857. Orange Free State was recognized as an independent republic in 1854 and its stamps appeared in 1868. Transvaal, or the South African Republic, was created in 1857 and issued stamps in 1869.
In World War II South Africa downsized postage and printed so-called Bantam stamps in rouletted pairs, including these 1943 2p bilingual Sailors, Scott 93.
These four states formed the Union of South Africa in 1910, and were intended to have common stamps. A 2½p stamp was issued for the opening of Parliament in November, but failure to agree on a design delayed common definitives until 1913. Provincial stamps were declared valid throughout the Union and continued until 1938, 25 years after the Union was created.
During WWII, Bantam stamps were issued to conserve the available stocks of paper. The paper saved by this war-time measure was equivalent to 556,086,020 stamps.
A century after the first Cape Triangles were issued, this 1953 4p stamp, Scott 194, celebrated their enduring popularity.
Today much South African mail service is provided by a private firm, which many people consider faster and more reliable than the post office. Most post offices use meters and do not sell stamps, though they are still available at post offices near major tourist attractions.