THE first formal post office in southern Africa was opened in Cape Town in 1792.
Letters were sent with indication of payment by the sender, and/or indication of postage to be paid by the recipient.
The first stamps were issued in 1853 by the Cape of Good Hope, a British colony. These stamps, depicting the allegorical figure of “Hope”, were produced in triangular form and are rated as classics in the world of stamp collecting.
By 1864 the Cape stamps changed to the standard square format, still depicting the figure of Hope.
Natal followed with postage stamps in 1857. These were not printed but embossed : a pattern was ‘imprinted’ in relief on coloured paper. Natal had normal printed stamps form 1859.
Next was the Orange Free State republic (1868). The stamp design, showing a tree of the OFS state emblemage, remained unchanged for over 30 years.
The Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (Transvaal) followed in 1869, also with a stamp showing the state coat-of-arms. After the British occupation in 1877 stamps with the insignia and portrait of Queen Victoria followed.
When the republic was restored in 1882, the republican stamps continued.
Following the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) the status of the republics changed to colonies, named Orange River Colony and Transvaal.
Meanwhile two Boer republics also issued stamps, south-west of the ZA Republiek was Stellaland (1884) and south-east of the ZAR the New Republic (Nieuwe Republiek) (1886).
Stellaland was absorbed into British Bechuanaland in 1885 and the New Republic was absorbed into the ZAR in 1888 as the Vryheid district, which became part of Natal after the Anglo-Boer War.
Three stamp-issuing entities were absorbed into the existing colonies. Griqualand West (1874) became part of the Cape colony in 1880, followed by British Bechuanaland in 1895.
Zululand, at a stage a separate colony, had stamps from 1888 but was absorbed into Natal ten years later.
By 1910 the four colonies of the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Orange River Colony and Transvaal were merged into the Union of South Africa. Colonial stamps continued in use as ‘inter-provincials‘ until the first Union definitives were issued in 1913. In 1961 the Union became the Republic of South Africa.
The Anglo-Boer War saw a number of localised stamp issues. The ZA Republiek issued stamps at Vryburg and Pietersburg while British military authorities produced stamp issues at Mafeking, Wolmaransstad, Rustenburg, Schweizer-Reneke and Lydenburg.
Later a number of homelands in South Africa issued own stamps: Transkei (1976) , Bophuthatswana (1977), Venda (1979) and Ciskei (1981). These issues ceased when South Africa became a unified democratic republic in 1994.
Three other predominantly Black areas, known for many years as the High Commission Territories, had different stamp histories. Basutoland had its first stamps in 1933, becoming Lesotho in 1966. Bechuanaland Protectorate had stamps from 1888 to 1966, when its name changed to Botswana.
Swaziland was under the protection of the ZA Republiek (stamps from 1889) and then became a British protectorate, with stamps from 1933, becoming independent in 1968.
The stamp history of Rhodesia starts off in 1892 with stamps inscribed British South Africa Company, followed in 1909 with stamps additionally inscribed Rhodesia. In 1924 stamps came for Southern Rhodesia and in 1925 for Northern Rhodesia.
These two Rhodesias were joined in 1954 as the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Ten years later, in 1964, Northern Rhodesia became Zambia while Southern Rhodesia resumed stamp issues as Rhodesia. In 1980 it became Zimbabwe.
Malawi started its stamp life as British Central Africa (1891), becoming Nyasaland in 1908 and joining the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1954. When the Federation dissolved, it reverted to Nyasaland for a few months before the first stamps for Malawi were issued (1964).
Namibia first had stamps inscribed for German South West Africa (1897), then South West Africa (1923) and finally Namibia in 1990.