Portugal's Impact on Africa

Bartholomew Dias' voyage to the Cape of Good Hope in the late 15th century marked the apex of an extraordinary Portuguese expansion overseas and the start of a fateful European impact on South Africa. 

Queen Nzinga in peace negotiations with the Portuguese governor in Luanda, 1657.In 1488, Bartholomew Dias, a Portuguese seaman, reached the Cape of Good Hope on the furthest tip of South Africa. This was the last stage of the Portuguese exploration of the Atlantic coast and its islands. It was also the beginning of five centuries of often strained relations between Europe and South Africa. Two questions arise out of this turning point in the world's fortunes. The first is how did Portugal, a relatively remote and impoverished land at the far ends of medieval Europe, become the pioneer of Atlantic colonisation? And secondly, what were the long-term consequences of the opening of South Africa to alien influences?

The Portuguese domination of the eastern Atlantic took place in six stages, each of which pioneered a new set of colonial experiments. Bartholomew Dias was the heir to two centuries of trial and error as Portugal sought escape from its chronic poverty. The fact that Portugal was able to succeed in becoming an international power was due primarily to the superb shelter which the harbour of Lisbon provided to mariners on the otherwise inhospitable coast of south-eastern Europe.

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